Cards take risk on Puerto Rican SS Perez at No. 23

Cards take risk on Puerto Rican SS Perez at No. 23

ST. LOUIS -- The name Delvin Perez came up often when new scouting director Randy Flores would check in with general manager John Mozeliak throughout the spring scouting period. But convinced that Perez would be plucked well before the Cardinals' first pick of the 2016 MLB Draft arrived at No. 23, the two would quickly move on to the next name.

That all changed late last week, when Major League Baseball informed teams that the 17-year-old shortstop out of Ceiba, Puerto Rico, had tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

"Obviously, when the results of that test came out and we were made aware of it, it was something we had to think about," Mozeliak said. "And it definitely changed our calculus."

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With a short window in which to work, the Cardinals vetted the situation and then felt comfortable enough to take Perez after he had been passed over by 22 other teams. Perez, ranked ninth on MLB.com's Top 200 Draft prospect list, almost certainly would have been nabbed earlier had his circumstances been different.

"Our takeaway on this is that we understand he made a mistake," Mozeliak said. "We understand that he realizes that this cost him a lot. But he also realizes that at 17, his future is still ahead of him. What we tried to decide basically is, 'Are we willing to forgive?'"

Reynolds on Cards picking Perez

The selection had to be signed off by owner Bill DeWitt Jr., as the organization understood it would take criticism for its choice. The slot value for the 23rd-overall pick is $2.2225 million.

"I certainly hope people understand that he was going to be chosen at some point," Mozeliak said. "If we have to take a black eye for being that team, we'll live with that."

Over the weekend, the Cardinals had an area scout in Puerto Rico meet with Perez to discuss the circumstances behind the positive test. Through that and additional background checks, the Cardinals became confident that Perez's PED use began this spring under the advisement of an acquaintance. MLB tested him in May.

The timing of all this was critical for the Cardinals in assessing the authenticity of Perez's performance.

"We're betting on his future," Flores said. "He has lightning-quick bat speed, great range, a great arm. He's someone who normally isn't looking at us at [No.] 23."

With those tools, Perez should be able to stay at shortstop for the long term. Naturally, he has drawn comparisons to fellow Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, the No. 1 pick by the Astros in the 2012 Draft. Perez is not believed to be as polished as Correa was at that time, but he has the upside to be a similarly impactful Major League player.

Perez's backstory, though, may be even more extraordinary than his tools. He grew up in one of the island's rougher neighborhoods and in a family that ran a cockfighting ring. A decade ago, however, his father, Delvin Sr., transformed Gallera La Palmeras into an evangelical church. Since then, the family has lived on the second floor, above the church sanctuary.

Cardinals on Day 1 Draft picks

As for what's ahead, Perez will undergo counseling and will be required to take additional follow-up tests. Players who test positive for PEDs prior to the Draft, however, are not subject to suspension. Perez was not available for comment on Thursday.

"He's still going to have to face the music on this," Mozeliak said. "But you realize that people do make mistakes, and we also believe that it's something that makes sense to at least give him that second chance."

The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 11:30 a.m. CT, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 12 p.m. CT.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.