"As a result of that, we have more man-hours put into this draft," said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of player procurement. "We're clearly making the investment, because there's going to be an investment required to sign these players, and that's the appropriate thing to do for a team that has that many picks."
In 2004, with assistant general manager John Mozeliak serving as essentially the interim scouting director, the Cards took Division I college players with their first 12 selections. Luhnow doesn't figure to oversee a dramatic change in strategy. However, he insists that the club will be open to selections from any and all backgrounds.
"Where we pick, down at 28 and 30, a lot of the premium position players will fly off the board earlier," he said. "The premium shortstops, premium left-handed pitchers, premium center fielders, those guys.
"Whether it's high school or college, those guys are probably going to go early. But there's a good crop of college position players. And there's a good crop of college right-handers and left-handers. In general, left-handed pitchers are always in short supply. I don't know if it's any different from before."
Luhnow has a different background than a traditional scouting director: he's never been a scout. He was hired in 2003 to oversee new methods of player evaluation, but since then his assignment has become more about player procurement. Now he's heading up the draft, and the results will be interesting to watch.
Luhnow is learning to be something of a scout as he goes along, getting out in the field and watching players play.
"More than likely, I've seen almost every player we're considering in the top two rounds," he said. "I rely quite heavily on the experience around me, and I've probably been to two games daily.
"I've come up a very steep learning curve in gaining confidence in my own ability to assess a player's tools. I think that's essential. I think it's difficult to get a picture without seeing how scouts work and how they measure tools and predict future development. Most of the time, I'm out there with two or three people who work in that area."
The Cardinals start picking at No. 28, courtesy of the Red Sox for Boston's signing of Edgar Renteria. Then they're back on the clock almost immediately with the 30th selection, which is their own pick. St. Louis has a pair of supplemental picks between the first and second rounds: No. 43 overall, compensation for Renteria, and 46 for the loss of Mike Matheny to the Giants.
It keeps going. St. Louis gets the Giants' second-round pick, No. 72 overall, for Matheny, and then has its own selection at No. 80. The bonanza wraps up with the 112th overall pick, at the end of the third round, and from there, the Redbirds choose at the end of each round -- thanks to having the best record in baseball in 2004.
It seems that fewer and fewer premier free agents are offered arbitration each year, but St. Louis was willing to offer it to Matheny and Renteria -- leading to four extra picks when the two stalwarts departed.
"This year, we had two amazing players that we were willing to take that risk on," said Luhnow. "I don't see that happening again any time soon, so this is a unique opportunity for us to bring some great players into the organization."
Last year the Cardinals took pitchers with three of their first four picks, but from there, they focused on bringing position-player talent into the organization. The depth in the Minor League system is still much more on the pitching side. Luhnow echoes the familiar "best player" mantra, but it's no secret that the Cardinals need bats in the Minors.
"If we're at a point in the draft where the talent is roughly equivalent, and we wouldn't be sacrificing quality of a player, then I think we'd love to get some exciting position players," he said.
The Cardinals will be watching the draft board closely overall, of course. But they'll have a particularly sharp eye on the Florida Marlins. That's because the Marlins pick 29th, in between the Redbirds' first two selections. Having seven picks in the first three rounds is an opportunity; having two in a three-pick span is an anomaly.
"There's a real benefit to that, and that is that you basically put a group of players all in the same area and you know you're going to get two of them," Luhnow said. "That's exciting.
"Ideally we'd like to take at 28 someone that (Florida) might take at 29. And if they're not going to take him at 29, then we take him at 30. For me it's exciting because it means we get two players of that caliber right in a row. That's fun."
Cardinals draft history: The draft has been a mixed bag for the Cardinals in recent years. They've rarely had so many picks, and the top picks have enjoyed varying degrees of success.
Last three top picks
Chris Lambert, RHP, 2004, pick No. 19: Lambert, a Boston College product, had a good news-bad news pro debut in 2004, with lots of strikeouts and a nice 2.58 ERA but nearly six walks per nine innings. He's cut down the walks at high Class A Palm Beach in his first full pro season, and is pitching consistently well in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Lambert has been named the No. 4 prospect in the St. Louis organization by Baseball America.
Daric Barton, C, 2003, pick No. 28: Barton rapidly emerged as an elite hitting prospect, tearing up the Midwest League at age 18 in his first full year of pro ball. The Cardinals traded him this past winter to Oakland as part of a package that brought them left-hander Mark Mulder.
Calvin Hayes, SS, 2002, third round: With no pick in the first two rounds -- thanks to signing Tino Martinez and Jason Isringhausen -- the Cardinals had a long wait before they dipped into the draft. Still just 21, Hayes is struggling at Palm Beach. He's hitting .195 with a .280 on-base percentage and two steals in five attempts. He had a strong but injury-shortened 2004 season at Class A Peoria, hitting .304 with 16 walks in 158 at-bats.