Short on cash, Cards focus on signable college players in 2017 d -

Short on cash, Cards focus on signable college players in 2017 draft

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ST. LOUIS ( -- The Cardinals were finally able to join the MLB draft Tuesday, making their first selection at pick 94.

St. Louis forfeited their first round pick by signing Dexter Fowler this offseason. He declined a qualifying offer from the Cubs, so whichever team signed him gave up their first pick to Chicago. The Cardinals didn’t make any qualifying offers themselves, so weren’t able to recoup the lost draft selection.

Their next two picks went to the Houston Astros, punishment for the hacking scandal perpetrated by former scouting director Chris Correa.

Read: Baseball will quickly move on from Cards' punishment, right or wrong

So, after watching 93 players go off the board, the Cardinals selected outfielder Scott Hurst with their first move.

Hurst is a junior from Cal State Fullerton, a perennial College World Series contender. He is a righty but bats from the left side, and tore through Big West pitching this season to the tune of a .339 average and 1.022 OPS.

The 5’10 outfielder played for USA’s 18U national team in 2013 and was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, but a back injury disrupted his freshman campaign and he spent much of the next season regaining his feel at the plate.

Hurst is projected to have the speed to play center at the MLB level, and his defensive reputation is that of a good route runner with a strong arm. He was ranked as the 28th best outfielder in the draft by Baseball America.

IF Kramer Robertson, senior, LSU (Rd 4, pick 124)

St. Louis’ next pick came in fourth round, which they used on LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson. After spending two seasons as a backup, Robertson took the reigns of the Tigers’ infield in his junior and senior seasons.

He’s lauded as a rangy defender, but questions about his arm strength mean he may end up as a second baseman in the long run. He’s considered a disciplined hitter (OBP around .420 in the last two years), albeit one without significant power.

Robertson was ranked 40th among shortstops by Baseball America (and 359th overall), so taking him with the 124th pick may seem strange. But the Cardinals are playing with their financial strategy by selecting a senior in the fourth round.

College seniors traditionally sign for much less money, principally because they lack any sort of leverage. With their amateur careers at an end, they tend to take deals that are far below slot values for signing bonuses just to get a chance at playing professionally. They don’t really have a choice if they want to play.

Each pick in the first 10 rounds has a financial value assigned to it. A team’s budget is essentially the sum of where their picks fall in the first 10 rounds. So the slot value of their first pick (let’s say $1.2 million) plus their second ($750,000) and so on through the first 10 rounds. The Cardinals have the lowest bonus pool in the majors at $2,176,000.

If a team wants to make sure a certain pick signs, they can offer him more than slot value. But if a team exceeds their total budget by more than five percent, the MLB can issue draft pick penalties. That means if you want to overspend on one draft pick, you need to find a way to save elsewhere.

*It’s also important to note that if a player in the first 10 rounds doesn’t sign with the team, the team loses that slot money from their total.

That’s why they target college seniors, who are guaranteed to sign, and likely for way under slot value. By taking them in the first 10 rounds, teams save big. Their budget is determined by the slot value of their picks, not who they take there. The 124th pick in the 2017 draft has a value of $424,800. A senior with very little negotiating leverage (like Robertson) will sign for $100,000 or less, meaning the team now has $324,800 in extra money to spend toward other picks, and in doing so, don’t risk any penalties.

IF Zach Kirtley, junior, St. Mary’s (Rd 5, pick 154) 

The Cardinals continued their run on college players by taking arguably the Gaels’ best bat. Kirtley made the WCC All-Freshman team in 2015, hitting .346 with an on base percentage of .429.  

His sophomore campaign was even more impressive, leading St. Mary’s in on base percentage (.428), slugging percentage (.504), RBIs (43), doubles (20) and walks (35). He finished second in home runs (7) and was selected to play in the prestigious Cape Cod summer league.

He came into 2017 on the watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the best amateur player in the country.

He finished with a .292 average and a .433 OBP. His power dipped but he drove in 42 runs. He also shifted to second base from third base, but questions linger about his range in the field. Kirtley was ranked 315 by Baseball America.

C Zach Jackson, Winter Haven High School (Rd 6, pick 184)

In the sixth round, the Cards selected their first top-200 prospect in Jackson. Ranked 182 by Baseball America, the Florida commit has promise at the plate. Hitting from the left side, the 6’6 200 pound backstop found his power this season, hitting a Polk-County-best nine homers while batting .441 with 26 RBIs. Power-hitting catchers that bat from the left side are a rare commodity in baseball, so Jackson certainly intrigues.

He’s reportedly a work in progress behind the plate, sporting a strong arm but lacking agility. Should he sign with the Cardinals, he would join an organization lauded for shaping great receivers.

Read: Backstop Brotherhood: What it takes to be a a Cardinal catcher

OF Chase Pinder, senior, Clemson (Rd 7, pick 214)

Another signable senior, Pinder is a contact bat with a high OBP. He switched from second base to center field in 2016, and served as the team’s leadoff hitter. He finished his career with a .289 average and a .402 OBP with 21 homers.

Pinder likely doesn’t have the speed for center in the majors (he’s ranked as the 47th outfielder), but will sign with the club and save them some slot money.  He is the brother of Oakland A’s utility man Chad Pinder.

P Wilberto Rivera, Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy (Rd 8, pick 244)

The 6'3 18-year-old is the first pitcher the club took in the draft, and the second high school player. Rivera is a big righty with a mid-90s fastball, but like many pitchers his age, is in need of stronger secondary pitches. 

P Evan Kruczynski, senior, East Carolina (Rd 9, pick 274)

Kruczynski was a third team All-American last year after finishing 8-1 with a 2.01 ERA while striking out 95 and walking 27 in 116 innings. He was listed as a preseason All-American this season, but suffered an ankle injury and missed most of the year. He was 4-3 with a 4.47 ERA before he was hurt. His name isn't anywhere on any top prospect list, but at 6'5 land more than 200 pounds, the lefty has size on his side. 

P Brett Seeburger, senior, San Diego State (Rd 10, pick 304)

Seeburger was the team's number three starter in 2015, but moved to the bullpen mid-season. He split time in both roles in 2016, starting 11 games and appearing 14 times. He had a five-to-one strikeout to walk ratio (55-11) and struck out 10 hitters in seven innings against Fresno State. 

This year, he went 10-3 but had an ERA above four. He struck out 69 hitters but walked 30. 

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