Cards have birds in hand for bush leagues

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals' strategy of negotiating with potential draft picks before selecting them continued to pay off Monday, when the team announced 15 more players had signed contracts.

Among the signings were Wilfrido Pujols, the 17-year-old cousin of star first baseman Albert Pujols, and A.J. Van Slyke, whose father Andy Van Slyke was a first-round pick of the Cardinals and played in St. Louis from 1983 to 1986. Both players are scheduled to begin their professional careers at rookie league in Johnson City, Tenn.

The agreements brings the number of players signed from last week's draft to 25, including eight of the top 14 selections. Jeff Luhnow, vice president for player procurement, said during the draft that it was beneficial to gauge draft picks' interest before taking them.

Luhnow said the Cardinals have a lot more leverage before making draft picks than afterward when prospects can weigh signing a professional contract with college opportunities. On the second day of the draft he said the Cardinals already had agreements with the "vast majority" of the draftees.

"It gives you certainty, and it also gives you certainty you're going to be able to fill the rosters," Luhnow said.

Pujols, an outfielder, is from Independence, Mo., and graduated from the same high school, Fort Osage High, as his famous uncle. He was a sixth-round pick.

Van Slyke, from Ladue, Mo., and the University of Kansas, is an outfielder who was taken in the 23rd round. Luhnow, who scouted Van Slyke and watched him hit three or four home runs in Memphis, said he'll play first base at Johnson City.

"He has tremendous raw power, and he throws very much in the same fashion that his dad did with the Cardinals," Luhnow said. "It's exciting for me to watch him. We wanted to keep him in the family."

The Cardinals chose more high school talent, 17 players, than in any recent draft. The list includes outfielder Colby Rasmus, their first-round pick, who signed late last week.

That will mean a lot of youth on the team's lower-class minor league teams, short-season New Jersey and Johnson City.

"We're going to have young players on both of these clubs," Luhnow said. "We're going to need to surround them with more mature players to keep both of these clubs competitive.

"I personally believe in youth and making sure you have players with high up sides."

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