Cardinal high draft picks under LaRussa

I normally post over at I-70 Baseball on Fridays, and it’s usually a series preview.  Instead, this week I did an opinion piece on the Colby Rasmus situation.  You can read it here, and I hope you do.  As an aside, there’s a lot of great work being posted at I-70 baseball.  I strongly encourage all of you to add that site to your regular Cardinal blog rotation.

I’ve long thought Anthony Reyes got run out of St Louis.  I’ve written about his treatment before.  When Colby Rasmus’ struggles in the locker room and two trade requests were reported in the news, I immediately thought (a) this is Anthony Reyes all over again, and (b) what is it with the treatment of  first round draft choices under Tony LaRussa?  Point (a) led to the I-70 article.  Point (b) led me to look at Anthony Reyes’ record, where I discovered he was a 15th round choice.  So much for that.

Just for the hell of it, I took a look at all the Cardinal draft choices since LaRussa took over as manager.  Soon I realized that Matt Morris was a first round draftee that played for LaRussa, so I went back to 1990 making it a nice round 20-year look.  There is one other 1st round draft choice who played for LaRussa that I did not include in this search, and that’s Brian Jordan; Jordan was an established major league semi-star by the time LaRussa took over, so I didn’t consider him.  For what it’s worth, he left the Cardinals for Atlanta after the 1997 season.

After the jump, we’ll list these 20 men out.

The Cardinals’ #1 draft picks, 1990-2010.

  • 1990 – Donovan Osborne.  A left-handed pitcher, Osborne debuted with the Cardinals in 1992 and left as a free agent after the 1999 season.  He was 47-45 as a Cardinal.
  • 1991 – Dmitri Young.  Drafted as a third baseman, Young made it to the majors in 1996, LaRussa’s first year.  He played in 126 games as a Cardinal, and was traded on 10 Nov 1997 to Cincinnati for Jeff Brantley.
  • 1992 – Sean Lowe.  Lowe made it to the big club in 1997.  He was 0-5 as a right-handed pitcher, and was traded to the White Sox in Feb 1999 for John Ambrose.  Ambrose never pitched in the majors.
  • 1993 – Alan Benes.  Alan, younger brother of Andy, debuted in 1995.  He was 27-23 in St Louis, and got shipped to Florida in Dec 2001.
  • 1994 – Bret Wagner.  Bret Wagner was a left-handed pitcher taken as the #19 pick.  He never played in the majors, only getting as high as AA.
  • 1995 – Matt Morris.  The most successful pitcher in this sample.  Matt made the majors in 1997 and compiled a 101-62 record, with his best year coming in 2001.  He stayed with the Cardinals until leaving as a free agent after the 2005 season.
  • 1996 – Braden Looper.  Looper is the first of a couple of players who came up, left, then came back later in their career.  Looper made the majors in 1998, but was traded to Florida after that season in the Edgar Renteria deal.  He returned as a free agent in Dec 2005 and left for good after the 2008 season.  33-30 record as a starter and reliever.
  • 1997 – Adam Kennedy.  Adam is the other guy who followed Looper’s path.  Kennedy played on the 1999 Cardinals, then was shipped to Anaheim in the Jim Edmonds deal.  He returned in Nov 2006 as a free agent, and stayed with the club until being released in Feb 2009.  Kennedy played 236 games as a Cardinal.
  • 1998 – JD Drew.  Currently the most successful position player in this sample taken #1.  Drew broke in in 1998, and played with the Cardinals until he was traded (Dec 2003) in the Adam Wainwright deal.  Drew ended up playing 597 games as a Cardinal.
  • 1999 – Chance Caple.  Here begins the Dark Ages of Cardinal high draft picks.  Caple, a right-handed pitcher taken with the #30 pick, never progressed bove A+ ball.
  • 2000 – Shaun Boyd.  Boyd was an outfielder taken #13.  He made it to AAA but never broke through.
  • 2001 – Justin Pope.  Another RHP, he was selected at #28.  Pope also made it to AAA but that’s as far as he got.
  • 2002 – Calvin Hayes.  St Louis did not have a first or second round pick in 2002.  Hayes was the first player the Cardinals drafted in the third round.  Taken as a shortstop, he never made it out of High A.
  • 2003 – Daric Barton.  A catcher later converted to first base.  Barton was traded in Dec 04 to Oakland as part of the ill-fated Mark Mulder deal.  He has played in Oakland the last 2 seasons.
  • 2004 – Chris Lambert.  A RHP taken with the 19th pick.  Lambert was traded to Detroit on 30 Aug 07 for Mike Maroth.  He did make it to the big club there.
  • 2005 – Colby Rasmus.  Broke in in 2009.  Currently the Cardinals CF.
  • 2006 – Adam Ottavino.  The RHP debuted this season against the Cubs.  His MLB record so far is 0-2.  Ottavino is currently on the DL with arm trouble.
  • 2007 – Peter Kozma.  Shortstop.  He hasn’t yet progressed beyond AA.
  • 2008 – Brett Wallace.  Third Baseman/First Baseman.  Traded to Oakland in the Matt Holliday deal.  He’s currently playing first in Houston.
  • 2009 – Shelby Miller.  RHP.  Pitching in the Class A playoffs.
  • 2010 – Zack Cox.  Obviously too soon to discuss.

What’s interesting about this list?  Players drafted in 1998 and before played a combined 43 seasons with the Cardinals (and yes, I’m counting any appearance during a season as a full season).  If you subtract out the seasons Looper and Kennedy played after they returned, it’s still 38.  Since the 1999 draft, first round draft picks have played 3 seasons COMBINED (8 if you add in Looper and Kennedy).  Granted four of those players are now out of baseball, and that speaks more to the difficulty the Cardinals player evaluation team has had in identifying top-tier talent, but it is striking that under La Russa most first round draft choices don’t play for the big club.

If I had time I would look at every MLB club over the last 20 years to see what their success rate has been in getting first round draftees to the big club, and how long they stayed there.  Somehow I think the Cardinals make an extreme case.  What I find interesting about this list is that, with the exception of Osborne, Alan Benes, Morris, and Drew, none of the guys taken first by the Cardinals over the last 20 years have ever played more than 4 seasons with LaRussa.  In fact you can remove Osborne as an exception, since he played half of his 8 Cardinal years before LaRussa was hired.

I wonder why that is.  I wonder if the above trend is somehow a symptom of the difficulty Colby Rasmus has now – that the Cardinals tend to either eat their young, or ship them off for more established/veteran players.

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1 Comment

Filed under analysis, St Louis Cardinals

One response to “Cardinal high draft picks under LaRussa

  1. David James

    It is quite simple and you do a good job with the post not placing blame – just asking the question.

    I think it is because LaRussa is a cantankerous bastard – egomaniac with an inferiority complex.

    No matter what he says about winning, he is jealous of the money and attention these guys get. That they are not taught the fundamentals as well as guys were 50 years ago sends him into a blind rage. The dude can’t cope and it’s been obvious in his comments or answers to media questions this season. Maybe he has a disease other than or in addition to alcoholism.

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