ST. LOUIS -- There was a lot to be learned from the First-Year Player Draft a year ago, as the Cardinals followed the lead of a new scouting director and strategized within the parameters of new spending limits.
And for the organization, one lesson still looms particularly largely: Expect the unexpected.
The unexpected arrived last year when the organization watched as Texas A&M pitcher Michael Wacha fell far enough for the Cardinals to nab him with the No. 19 overall pick. The Cardinals were high on Wacha, but feared he'd be off the board long before they made their first of five first-round selections.
But the implementation of spending rules fostered various Draft strategies among all the clubs. It made predicting what would happen early in the first round more challenging, and the Cardinals expect there to be similar surprises when the Draft begins on Thursday.
"Plan B, C, and D is sometimes more important than Plan A," said second-year scouting director Dan Kantrovitz. "It's sometimes just unpredictable. We don't know the strategy of teams in front of us, so we have to be prepared for anything. Last year, things unfolded in a way we were prepared for. It wasn't totally what we expected to happen in front of us, but it was reasonable. This year, being the second year of the rules, we might see something even more unpredictable."
The 2013 Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
In order to be as prepared as possible, the Cardinals have already had several of their own mock drafts, looking at how various first-round scenarios could affect what they do. The possibility that top-talent players will fall due to signability concerns also forced the Cards to be exhaustive in their scouting process. The club scouted without assumptions on who might be taken before they make the first of their two first-round selections.
"I think it's a situation where even some of the players that third parties or scouts expect to fly off the board, we have to be prepared for the scenario of how they get to us and what that means for the rest of our Draft," Kantrovitz said. "We have to make sure we stay within that [financial] cap. Being prepared for each of those scenarios doesn't mean we can take the player that comes to us. But if it fits into our budget constraints, we certainly won't shy away."
St. Louis is one of five teams with multiple first-round picks. The Cardinals will chose 19th, a pick they earned based on their 2012 record. The club also has the 28th overall selection, which was obtained by Kyle Lohse declining the organization's qualifying offer in November and then signing elsewhere.
Last year, the Cardinals used their first-round selection on Wacha, who made his highly-anticipated Major League debut on Thursday.
"I think that's going to be a tough one to replicate this year," Kantrovitz said. "We still see some exciting guys on the board. We're going to focus on the best guys with those first two picks, but we have to mindful that we have a budget that we have to work within. At the end of the Draft, we want to make sure we maximize that pool."
Here's a glance at what the Cardinals have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The Cards have multiple first-round picks for the second straight year. In a Draft that has several highly touted college pitchers, the Cardinals are likely to use at least one of those first two picks on an advanced pitcher. All selections, though, will be made with spending limits in mind.
There is a feel across the scouting ranks that the talent level in this year's Draft class is down a bit from 2012. However, the Cards are intrigued by several standout college and high school pitchers, as well as a few college bats. In terms of top talent, the Draft seems to be deeper in pitching than with position players. However, because pitching is so widely coveted, the expectation is that the top hurlers will come off the board quickly.
With little clarity as to which players will go off the Draft board first, it's nearly impossible to predict who St. Louis will select with its first-round picks. In his latest mock Draft, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo had the Cardinals taking Indiana State lefty Sean Manaea at No. 19 and Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford at No. 28. The Cardinals like the idea of taking college pitchers with their early picks, so don't be surprised if the organization does go that direction.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Cardinals, who have 11 picks in the first 10 rounds, have been assigned a pool of $6.9079 million. That total ranks 11th most in the Majors. The values assigned to the Cards' first-round picks are $2.0558 million (19th) and $1.7853 million (28th).
The Cardinals will approach the Draft with the intention of taking the best players available -- not filling specific areas of positional needs. Because it typically takes several years for Draft picks to rise through the system, the Cards are not going to Draft based on current holes on the Major League roster. That said, the organization has seen recently how imperative it is to have a farm system stocked with pitching. The Cardinals would like to add some additional high-impact arms through this Draft class.
In four of the last five Drafts, the Cardinals have used their first selection to snag a college player. The only exception during that span was in 2009, when the organization chose Texas high school pitcher Shelby Miller. While the Cards are not opposed to taking a high schooler early, if all else is equal, they'll likely lean college.
• Recent Draft History •
Wacha, selected 19th overall last season, rose so fast that he has already dented the Major League roster. He made his debut on Thursday as the newest member of the Cardinals' rotation. Wacha arrived in St. Louis after having logged only 73 2/3 Minor League innings.
Second baseman Kolten Wong, the Cardinals' top selection in 2011, is likely not far behind Wacha. He, too, began the season in Triple-A and has been one of the Pacific Coast League's best so far. Through May 28, Wong ranked fourth in the PCL in hits (62) and seventh in total bases (95). In his first 46 games, Wong delivered 21 multi-hit performances.
The Cardinals currently have three players on their active roster who were drafted after the 20th round. Setup man Trevor Rosenthal was the organization's 21st-round pick in 2009. Two rounds later, the club drafted first baseman Matt Adams, who is now a critical piece on the Major League bench. Backup catcher Tony Cruz was taken with a 26th-round pick in 2007.
In The Show
The Cardinals began to re-prioritize the Draft and development system about a decade ago and are currently reaping the benefits of that renewed focus. The club has already had eight rookie pitchers on its 25-man roster this season, and currently has 17 players drafted and developed by the organization on the Major League roster. That includes four members of the five-man rotation and five of the most regularly used eight starting position players.
The Cardinals' recent top picks
2012: Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2011: Kolten Wong, 2B, Triple-A Memphis
2010: Zack Cox, 3B, Double-A Jacksonville (Marlins)
2009: Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2008: Brett Wallace, 1B, Triple-A Oklahoma City (Astros)