(DAVID J. PHILLIP ~ Associated Press)
ST. LOUIS -- Keeping the pipeline stocked with homegrown talent is going to be a stiffer challenge than usual for the St. Louis Cardinals. They'll be watching a lot of picks fly off the board in this year's draft.
Jeff Luhnow, the team's director of scouting, acknowledges there's pressure to hit the mark with the 22nd pick in the first round tonight. The Cardinals lost their second-rounder as compensation for signing free agent Lance Berkman, and the odds on finding impact players gets tougher as the draft progresses.
Their next pick is No. 79 in the third round.
"Once you get past the second and third rounds you still can produce major leaguers, but it's a lot more of a crap shoot," Luhnow said. "If you miss on that first-round pick your draft has a lot lower chance of having an impact."
Luhnow said that doesn't mean the Cardinals wouldn't take a player with risk attached.
"There's no such thing as a safe pick," Luhnow said. "Every pick is risky because none of them are ready to play in the big leagues right now. We're prepared."
The business model is to devote a huge chunk of payroll to a handful of stars and surround them with cheap, developing players. Beyond Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, and pitchers Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook, the roster is dotted with youngsters.
Pitchers Kyle McClellan and Lance Lynn were supplemental first-rounders in 2008 and Brett Wallace, now starting at first base for the Astros, was a first-rounder that year who was part of the trade with Oakland to get Holliday. Infielder Pete Kozma was a first-rounder in 2008 and infielder Daniel Descalso was taken in the third in 2007.
The Cardinals drafted outfielder-first baseman Mark Hamilton, a supplemental second-rounder, and outfielder Jon Jay, a second-rounder, in 2006. Outfielder Colby Rasmus and infielder Tyler Greene were taken in the first round in 2005.
"Think about where we are in the standings. They've really played well," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "They've played clutch. That was one of the plusses last year."
Last year's first-rounder, third baseman Zach Cox, already has advanced to Class AA Springfield. Pitcher Shelby Miller, the first-rounder two years ago, made the Florida State League All-Star game before getting promoted to Springfield.
The hard-throwing Miller was the Cardinals' minor league pitcher of the year last season and was rated the Cardinals' top prospect by Baseball America entering this season. He had a 2.89 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 53 innings at Class-A Palm Beach.
Infielder Matt Carpenter, a 13th-rounder last year, nearly made the team in spring training and got two starts last weekend at third base, where the Cardinals have been trying several players while David Freese rehabs from a broken hand.
"The fact we're starting to get returns is a positive," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "When we've had multiple picks, we've taken advantage of it."