The Cardinals placed 11 pitchers in our top 20 prospect list this year. One item that sticks out is that while the Cardinals have had the occasional late round break through (Trevor Rosenthal was drafted in the 21st round), the Cardinals have drafted well with their early round picks.
Consider that there are 3 first round picks on that list: Shelby Miller, Tyrell Jenkins and Lance Lynn. It’s still a long way for Jenkins to get into any kind of realistic”when will he arrive” conversation but Miller is not far removed from the majors and Lance Lynn is all but in the majors permanently.
The Cardinals also selected Jordan Swagerty with a second round pick and Joe Kelly with a third round. Both pitchers have moved all the way up to Springfield though their games are very different. Kelly is far more fastball dependent that Swagerty but also generates more groundballs. Kelly is often discussed as a future reliever despite being a starter throughout the minors while Swagerty is discussed as a starter despite being a reliever in the minors (and sometimes starter).
The other late round pitchers include the aforementioned Rosenthal, 11th rounder Adam Reifer, non-drafted free agent Brandon Dickson and 18th rounder Boone Whiting. In many ways, a list like this is survivor bias writ large. Singling out these four from the dozens and dozens of later round arms drafted showcases their talent and ability to progress but understates just how many pitching corpses they stepped over along the way.
While the draft has done well for the Cardinals, it’s hard to ignore their highest profile international signing Carlos Martinez who ranks #2 on virtually every prospect list behind Shelby Miller. While Martinez is now the poster child for the Cardinals Latin program, he’s joined by another Latin signing, Eduardo Sanchez, from the Cardinals early developmental days in the region. in 2005, the Cardinals were ramping up their academies and making a serious push into the region. The Cardinals also acquired Maikel Cleto, a Dominican prospect, from the Mariners in the trade for Brendan Ryan.
Consider that the first half of the Jeff Luhnow draft era (2005-2007) included many early draft pick arms that faltered badly. In 2005, none of the four consecutive pitchers selected in the first supplemental and second round even received a cup-of-coffee visit to the majors or were considered valuable prospects after two years in the minors. 2006 fared a little better with Chris Perez forging a career with the Indians (don’t look his peripherals in the eye, however) and Adam Ottavino hanging on in AAA looking for an opening as a reliever. It also had Brad Furnish, Gary Daley and Eddie Degerman who all flamed out in Springfield. 2007 featured Clayton Mortensen and Jess Todd who have struggled to be more than replacement level in the majors.
Now the Cardinals are looking at Shelby Miller as a future ace, Lance Lynn as a high end reliever or mid-rotation starter and Tyrell Jenkins as a higher upside prospect than any of the names from 2005-2007. The Cardinals may have just gotten luckier in recent drafts. They may have gotten better at developing pitchers once they are in the system. Regardless, the current crop of early round draft picks is undeniably the best of any moment from the Jeff Luhnow era.