From 1965 to present day, who was the best player drafted in each round?
With the 2021 MLB draft in the rearview, I thought I’d go a little further in the past for what I hope is a fun exercise. Who was the best player the Cardinals drafted in each individual round? I have at least one player through the first 30 rounds. Yes, I was able to find a player for that many rounds. Some players mentioned do include unsigned players, though I tried to only use that player if I had literally nobody else.
For the first round, since there are so many players, I’m going to do the Best Top 5 pick, top 10, top 20, and top 30. The supplemental rounds get their own category, and the rest is fairly straightforward. I’m not doing a strict career WAR with my picks – if a guy had a notable career as a Cardinal but less WAR than someone who got traded while he was in the minors – I’m choosing the Cardinal. But I’m not really aiming for most valuable picks to the Cardinals either. Just who was the best pick in that particular round.
Top 5 Pick – J.D. Drew (44.9 bWAR, 18.1 bWAR as Cardinal)
An immensely valuable, franchise-changing top 5 pick here. Most of that is because he was later traded for Adam Wainwright but still. The Cardinals have only had three top 5 picks in their history – all three were in the 1990s. The other two could be considered busts, although both made the majors and had long careers – but if you’re drafting top 5, you’d be disappointed with both.
Also: Braden Looper (‘96, 3rd overall), Dimitri Young (‘91, 4th overall)
Top 10 Pick – Ted Simmons (50.3 bWAR, 45 bWAR as a Cardinal)
So obviously, it says something that the Cardinals have only had three top 5 picks in 57 years of the MLB draft and none higher than 3rd. It carries over into this next category, which only adds an additional eight players. So 11 total players over 57 drafts in the top 10. None have happened since 1998, when Drew was drafted. Anyone three pretty great selections in this group – Andy Van Slyke and Terry Kennedy weren’t half bad – but the Hall-of-Famer is the easy choice.
Also: Andy Van Slyke (‘79, 6th – 41.3 bWAR), Terry Kennedy (‘77, 6th – 21.6 bWAR)
Top 20 Pick – Garry Templeton (27.8 bWAR, 18.9 as a Cardinal)
It was a toss-up between him and Matt Morris, but getting traded for Ozzie Smith is the tie-breaker on this one. Templeton had more WAR as a Cardinal in less years and more career WAR. I have no connection to Templeton – he was done as a player before I was born – and do with Matt Morris, but I can’t ignore evidence here. Aside from those two, lotta pitchers: Joe Magrane, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Marco Gonzales, and Alan Benes.
Also: Adam Kennedy (‘97, 20 – 20.9 bWAR), Templeton (‘74, 13th – 27.8 bWAR), Magrane (‘85, 18th – 11.4 bWAR), Wacha (‘12, 19th – 7.8 bWAR), Miller (‘09, 19th – 7.4 bWAR), Gonzales (‘13, 19th – 7.1 bWAR)
Top 30 Pick (1st round) – Kolten Wong (18.6 bWAR, 16.5 as a Cardinal)
You’ll soon see why I specify the 1st round aspect. It’s amazing that literally every player the Cards have drafted in the 21st to 30 section is disappointing or “wish we still had him.” Wong obviously. Luke Weaver, if he ever managed to stay healthy, would qualify. Then there’s Colby Rasmus, Tyler Greene, Adam Ottavino, Nick Plummer, Delvin Perez. Oh they did draft Todd Worrell here. So not literally everyone.
Also: Worrell (‘82, 21 – 11.1 bWAR), Ottavino (11.9 bWAR), Weaver (1.1 bWAR – wow 5.9 fWAR – huge difference here)
Supplemental – Brian Jordan (32.9 bWAR, 20 as a Cardinal)
I specified 1st round above because Jordan was drafted 30th overall, but not in the 1st round. When he was drafted in 1988, there were not 30 MLB teams. Easily one of the most underrated players ever somehow even though he excelled at two sports, just completely ignored when two sport athletes come up. Lot of strong picks here – Jack Flaherty, Lance Lynn, Dakota Hudson, Chris Duncan, and Dylan Carlson were all supplemental 1st round picks. I don’t know why this group is so much stronger than the 20-30 group.
Also: Lynn (28.4 bWAR)
2nd Round – Dan Haren (32.9 bWAR, 0.2 as a Cardinal)
So bizarre. Haren and Reuss both could be here. Both had identical career bWAR and both were traded in bad trades and then went on and became great pitchers. Plesac, the fourth most valuable guy, wasn’t signed. So three of the four best players the Cards drafted did almost nothing for the Cards. Cardinal WAR leader here, Jon Jay, joins Todd Zeile, and Rick Ankiel as players who at least provided value as Cardinals.
Also: Reuss (32.9 bWAR), Todd Zeile (19.4 bWAR), Dan Plesac (17.1 bWAR), Jay (12.7 bWAR), Ankiel (9.1 bWAR)
3rd Round – Ray Lankford (38.2 bWAR, 37.1 as a Cardinal)
Some really strong recent selections – Harrison Bader, Joe Kelly, Jordan Hicks, and Zac Gallen – but not really much of a contest anyway.
Also: Clay Kirby (8.9 bWAR), Bader (7.6), Gallen (5.9), Kelly (5.7), Eli Marrero (4.9)
4th round – Yadier Molina (55.5 fWAR, all as a Cardinal)
I’ve been using bWAR purely because it’s easier to figure out WAR as a Cardinal. I vastly prefer Fangraphs. So I’ll of course use it here, for a guy who was always a Cardinal. Jerry Mumphrey, who I’ve never heard of, was the clear winner here before Yadi. In more recent years, Paul DeJong and Austin Gomber were drafted in the 4th.
Also: Jerry Mumphrey (22.3 bWAR), Jim Gott (9.8), Ricky Horton (4.9)
5th round – Skip Schumaker (1.4 bWAR, 4.9 bWAR as a Cardinal)
You are in fact reading that right. Schumaker was worth -3.5 bWAR on teams not named the Cardinals. He beat out Sam Gavligio, who never pitched an inning for the Cards, but has more career bWAR than Schumaker (1.9), Mitchell Boggs, and Ryan Helsley, who could certainly top Schumaker with time.
6th round – Lance Johnson (30.2 bWAR, -0.4 bWAR as Cardinal)
The best value as a Cardinal is far and away Tommy Edman, who maybe eventually would be my pick if he gets enough WAR as a Cardinal despite not surpassing the career WAR. But 7.3 is too low for me to make that move. Rheal Cormier, who made his bones as a reliever mostly, was also drafted, but was a not very good starter for the Cards.
Also: Cormier (8.6 bWAR), Edman (7.3)
7th Round- Terry Pendleton (28.5 bWAR, 15.1 as a Cardinal)
Weirdly strong group of 7th rounders here. Coco Crisp was actually drafted by the Cards but traded before he made the majors. Brendan Ryan, Greg Garcia, Kyle Barraclough, and Andrew Knizner won’t be too high on WAR leaderboards, but is insanely good value for this round.
Also: Crisp (28.9 bWAR), Ryan (15)
8th Round – Tom Pagnozzi (7.7 bWAR, all as a Cardinal)
Fun fact! Growing up, I had frame of all 30 MLB teams – and for some reason – it was signed by Tom Pagnozzi. Nobody else. No idea why. Clearly the work of my parents. It was in my room for a very long time too. I never really questioned it until now. Anyway, Allen Craig was also drafted here, obviously he was on pace to surpass Tom, but well you know the story.
Also: Craig (5.7 bWAR)
9th Round – Jack Wilson (23.5 bWAR, none as Cardinal)
Well, he might be involved in just about the most under the radar AWFUL trade in Cardinals history. Wilson was traded for a season and a half of Jason Christenson, who was not any good at the time of the trade. Wilson debuted the next year at 23, and wound up getting real good at about the time Edgar Renteria departed. They drafted Bucky Dent here, who didn’t sign. Rowan Wick, Tyler Lyons, and Daniel Poncedeleon were all drafted in this round as well.
Also: Dent (17.5 BWAR), Mark Clark (7.8)
10th Round – Vince Coleman (12.4 bWAR, 10.5 as a Cardinal)
I am very grateful to only other competitor, Lenny Randle, for making this easy by not having as much career WAR as Coleman – though they are close. The Whiteyball Cardinal fans would kill me if I chose Randle over Coleman, whose WAR is probably not as high as it felt like at the time (if you knew what WAR was)
Also: Randle (11.6 bWAR)
11th Round – Bill Madlock (38.2 bWAR, none as a Cardinal)
The Cardinals did not trade him, he just didn’t sign. They also drafted Rob Dibble, who went on unsigned as well. Among players who actually signed, Seth Maness and his 2.2 bWAR as a Cardinal is the only guy who went on to be a Cardinal.
Also: Dibble (9.6 bWAR), Maness (2.3)
12th Round – Mark Worrell (-0.8 bWAR, 0.0 as a Cardinal)
Okay here’s a reason I don’t like bWAR – he was worth -0.9 bWAR in two innings. That seems ridiculous. They were, to be clear, very bad innings. But still. Anyway, he was worth -0.1 as a pitcher and 0.1 as a hitter, because he hit a home run in one of his two at-bats – jesus he had two at-bats? Wasn’t he a reliever? Anyway, he pitched only 7.2 career innings and still allowed two more home runs than he hit.
13th Round – Albert Pujols (99.7 bWAR, 81.4 as a Cardinal)
bWAR is much kinder to Pujols than Fangraphs let me tell you that. Ten years after Pujols was drafted, Matt Carpenter made his mark. Ten years after that, Tommy Jew was drafted. No pressure, Je- nope full name always. That said, he has a 96 wRC+ with a 37.5 K%, so methinks the Cardinals didn’t strike lightning three times on this one.
Also: Matt Carpenter (27.4 bWAR), Danny Cox (10.5)
14th Round – Ian Kennedy (16.8 bWAR, none as Cardinal)
The Cardinals drafted another guy they didn’t sign who made the majors in the 14th round. He was worth -2.9 career bWAR. Sorry Todd Greene. I guess if I was really sorry, I could have not said your name.
15th Round – Jason Michaels (5.6 bWAR, none as a Cardinal)
Michaels was drafted four times – and each time drafted higher. This was his third time being drafted. The next year he was drafted in the 4th round by the Phillies, where he spent most of his 11-year career.
16th Round – Tommy Pham (16.3 bWAR, 8.3 as a Cardinal)
As tough of a choice as it was, if you’re reading this and you may very well be given your job, I’m sorry I didn’t pick you, Brad Thompson. I hope you understand.
17th Round – Britt Reames (-0.9 bWAR, 0.7 as a Cardinal)
He was in the inexplicably good Fernando Tatis for Dustin Hermanson and Steve Kline trade. Tatis fell off a cliff and as you can see, Reames was not particularly good after the trade. Hermanson was replacement level, but Kline was very good most of the time he was here. That was enough to win the trade.
18th Round – Tim Sherrill (-0.6 bWAR, all as Cardinal)
I could be cute and just pick someone who never made the majors, who technically provided more value to the Cards than this guy. But he made the majors and that’s more than most 18th rounders can say.
19th Round – Placido Polanco (41.9 bWAR, 6.5 as Cardinal)
I’ve mentioned it before, but the Cardinals didn’t technically win the Scott Rolen trade (they didn’t lose it either, obviously) and Polanco is basically the reason why. Polanco was crazy underrated and maybe still is, but hell of a value for the 19th round.
20th Round – Aramis Garcia (-0.6 bWAR, none as a Cardinal)
Garcia is one of those unsigned players. He made a good decision, as he was later drafted in the 2nd round.
21st Round – Trevor Rosenthal (6 bWAR, 6 as a Cardinal)
The Cardinals also drafted a guy who went unsigned and later was drafted 10th overall. He was worth an astounding -3.9 career bWAR in four seasons. He was worth 1.1 fWAR. I do not understand why his bWAR is so low. Anyway, Rosenthal – seems the Cards got all his good years.
22nd Round – Jeff Fassero (25.2 bWAR, -0.3 as a Cardinal)
I saw both Jaime Garcia and Jeff Fassero and was so sure Garcia was better, I wrote a whole blurb about it. And then I checked Fassero and what the hell he was way better than I remember. Which makes sense. He sucked when he was on the Cards. He was also 39 and 40 at the time. He was drafted in 1984 and pitched until 2006. He didn’t debut until he was 28. What a weird career. Then there’s Garcia. Oh yeah and Luke Voit. And some guy named Ray Searage. What an absurdly successful 22nd round history for the Cards.
Also: Garcia (10.4 bWAR), Voit (4.8), Searage (4.5)
23rd Round – Craig Swan (12.7 bWAR, none as a Cardinal)
The hell’s going on guys? Matt Adams was famously drafted in this round and you’re telling me the Cards have drafted someone who had a better career. WHAT THE HELL? This is the 23rd round, how do we have a history in this round? Anyway sorry Matt.
Also: Adams (5 bWAR)
24th Round – Keith Butler (-0.1 bWAR, all as Cardinal)
Do you guys remember this guy, like at all? Because I sure don’t. He threw 22 innings in 2013 and 2014. He had a 4.05 ERA in 20 innings in 2013. Is someone playing a prank on me? I mean I was in college at the time, but I surely watched a few games he’s pitched in. Who is this guy?
25th round – Kyle McCllelan (2.5 bWAR, 2.7 as a Cardinal)
We removed these rounds because nobody got value out of them right? Cardinals: challenge accepted.
26th Round – Bob Forsch (18.8 bWAR, 20.6 as a Cardinal)
Holy crap. Bob Forsch was drafted in the 26th round? I’m starting to feel a bit sad that the 21st round and up are getting removed.
27th Round – Kodi Whitley (-0.2 bWAR, as a Cardinal)
I still have hope for you Whitley.
28th Round – Paul Molitor (75.7 bWAR, none as a Cardinal)
If you were wondering, and I doubt you were because you already know the answer, Paul Molitor did not sign with the Cardinals. He later got drafted 3rd overall. Three other guys made the Cards from this round though! Joe McEwing, Ryan Sherriff, and Luke Gregerson. Kind of wild.
Also: Gregerson (6.4 bWAR)
29th Round – John Denny (31.1 bWAR, 10.4 as a Cardinal)
Man…. they just didn’t have scouting figured out in the 70s did they, huh? Cards somehow have multiple examples of 10+ year starting MLB careers post the 20th round and maybe they’re unique, but I kind of think they weren’t the only ones?
30th Round – Alex Fagalde (N/A)
Okay so I don’t actually have anybody but FaGalde appears to be the last ever 30th Round pick still in the system. He seemed like a good one, but seems to have been completely derailed by the pandemic. He was old for a draftee at 23 and is now 27.
Other Notable Picks
31st Round – Ken Reitz -3.2 bWAR, -2.1 as Cardinal
His defensive stats do not match up with his reputation, but the bigger problem is that he was just a dreadful hitter at 3B, so even if those are wrong, he probably wasn’t good.
32nd Round – Sam Freeman – 2.9 bWAR, 0.5 as Cardinal
Freeman sure lasted longer than I would have thought.
36nd Round – TJ Mathews – 5 bWAR, 3.7 as Cardinal
Pretty good reliever for a few years before being traded for MARK MCGWIRE. You just don’t find 36 round picks like this.
37nd Round – Rick Aguilera – 20.7, none as a Cardinal
He went unsigned, but for the record Andy Young – in the Paul Goldschmidt trade – also was drafted here more recently.
41st Round – Kevin Siegrist – 4.5 bWAR, 4.4 as Cardinal
He had a good, but short run. Probably didn’t know he was this low in the draft, did you?
42nd Round – Keith Hernandez – 60.3 bWAR, 34.5 as Cardinal
Insane pick here. Also insane? That it took him this long to be inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
43rd Round – Max Scherzer – 62.2 bWAR, none as Cardinal
Obviously, he went unsigned and later got drafted 11th overall. I think he made a good decision, especially since it took him some time to become MAX SCHERZER, you know?
54th Round – Cliff Politte – 3.8 bWAR, -0.8 as Cardinal
Was drafted out of Vianney High School, which is probably why he signed with the Cardinals, but unfortunately for him was traded after just 37 innings. I thought he was with the Cards longer, because I believe he was on the Cards roster, or organization, when Ken Griffey Baseball N64 came out, and I played that sucker for at least three years, so he was “on the Cards” much longer for me.
55th Round – John Sipin – 0.3 bWAR, none as Cardinal
Drafted in the first ever MLB Draft, he was traded before making his debut, and only lasted 241 PAs.
That’s all I could find, I’m sure there are more, but it started getting late, my internet went down, I fixed my internet, then SB Nation Chorus was shut down for a couple hours for repairs or something, and I had to finish this in the morning. But this seems like a good list of players.