In the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals took Pete Kozma, a high school shortstop out of Oklahoma as the 18th overall pick. This was an underwhelming pick by itself. Kozma didn’t particularly distinguish himself in any fashion, and the best thing the scouting reports had to say about him was how hard he played.
Comparisons to David Eckstein and Aaron Miles immediately sprung to mind, which wasn’t exactly fair. Kozma isn’t built in their mold. He started off with far more talent than them, and just because some scouts decided to call him gritty (likely because he’s thin and white and plays shortstop) didn’t mean he was an undersized utilityman-in-waiting. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the kind of impact player you look to draft in the first round.
2007 was a top-heavy draft, a lot of talent was gone by pick 18, and in retrospect I think a lot of fans would have forgiven the Kozma pick. I say they would have forgiven the pick, and not that they have, because Rick Porcello was on the board.
Porcello was arguably the second best arm in the draft after #1 pick David Price. He wasn’t some diamond in the rough. Everyone knew how good he was. The Cardinals didn’t pick him because he was looking to receive one of the largest contracts in MLB draft history. In fact, the only reason he fell to #18 was because of his contract demands. Otherwise, he would have easily been taken in the first few picks.
To be fair to the Cardinals, several more teams, including large market clubs like the Dodgers and Phillies, passed on Porcello before he went to the Tigers at #27. And of course several passed on Porcello before them. Of course, Cardinal fans don’t remember that when they look at Pete Kozma’s .245/.320/.353 line in the minors and compare it to the fact that Porcello is contributing in the majors at age 21. Given how much money teams shell out to the likes of Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, and Ryan Franklin (to name a few overpaid pitchers), even Porcello’s ludicrous $11.1 million looks reasonable.
Cards fans still harp on that draft, and they’re right to do so. So are the fans of at least a dozen other teams, who would undoubtedly go back and pay Porcello $11.1 million to pitch for their club right now. Fortunately, unlike some of those teams, the Cardinals have learned their lesson.
In the next two drafts (2008 and 2009) the Cards drafted the best player available. First it was Brett Wallace, an already-polished college power hitter who would later help them snag Matt Holliday. Then it was Shelby Miller, a high school RHP who didn’t have the lofty demands of Rick Porcello, but who confronted the Cardinals with a similar conundrum. Miller, like Porcello, would have gone earlier in the draft if not for signability concerns. He fell to the Cardinals, they snatched him up, and they paid his price tag. Now he’s putting up better peripherals in single-A than Porcello did at the same age, Miller’s comically inflated ERA be damned.
Today, the Cardinals were faced with the Porcello problem once more. When they went on the clock with the 25th pick, a top 10 talent was still on the board. Zack Cox was, by some estimations, the best college position player in the draft. Most mock drafts had him going at #7 to the Mets. But, like Porcello before him, Cox scared off teams with his contract demands (which will likely be even larger than what Porcello asked for) and was on the board at 25.
This time the Cardinals didn’t play it safe. They didn’t pick Pete Kozma. They chose the best player available at #25, arguably the best player available well before that. I’ll be honest, I was shocked when the pick was announced. But maybe I’ve underestimated the front office. Maybe I should have learned from Wallace and Miller that they really do know what they’re doing now. That we’re not going to see another Pete Kozma at #18.
2007 was a mistake. Today I learned that, unlike some other teams, the Cardinals learn from their mistakes.