The Cardinals' top pick in the draft Thursday night was Florida State right-hander Luke Weaver, the 27th overall selection
By Rob Rains
When it comes to draft strategies, the Cardinals seem to have a formula which works – which is way scouting director Dan Kantrovitz does not see any need to make major alterations.
For the second year in a row, armed with two first-round picks, the Cardinals selected a polished college arm and a high school prospect with a big upside as the three-day draft began Thursday night. The only difference from last year was that the two pitchers selected were both right-handers instead of left-handers.
The Cardinals used their top pick, the 27th overall selection, on Florida State’s Luke Weaver, then came back with the 34th choice, the pick they received as compensation for losing free agent Carlos Beltran to the Yankees, on Jack Flaherty, a high schooler from Studio City, Calif.
The Cardinals continued their run on right-handed pitchers with their two picks in the second round, taking a high schooler from Hialeah, Fla., Ronnie Williams, and a college senior, Andrew Morales, from UC-Irvine.
“I wouldn’t have imagined that going into the draft, but opportunity presented itself,” Kantrovitz said.
Both Weaver and Flaherty said they had hoped to be selected by the Cardinals.
“Believe it or not, this was the team that was number one in my book,” Weaver said during a conference call. “I was dreaming for it to happen. My heart dropped to the ground, I was so pumped and excited. It was something I will never forget.”
Said Flaherty, “It’s an unbelievable organization, great city, great fans. I was kind of shocked. I’m kind of speechless about it. I was secretly rooting, hoping my name would be called.”
Weaver, who was a freshman at Florida State when Cardinals outfield prospect James Ramsey was a senior before becoming a first-round pick in 2012, is advised by the same agent as Michael Wacha.
Weaver, 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, was 8-4 this year as a junior with a 2.62 ERA. In 106 innings, he allowed 88 hits, walked 23 and struck out 85.
Kantrovitz admitted that some similarities can be drawn between the selections of Wacha in 2012, Marco Gonzales last year and Weaver.
“Honestly going into it it hasn’t been a situation where we want to get a college pitcher,” Kantrovitz said. “But those three pitchers share a lot of common traits. When you find people where we pick that has the command that these pitchers do, have the track record of performance and also get the scout love from our staff, those are three checked boxes that are tough to pass up.”
The other connection is like Wacha and Gonzales, Weaver possesses an outstanding changeup to go along with a fastball that sits in the mid 90s.
“The changeup is definitely a connector of those three,” Kantrovitz said. “Maybe one of the main points if you could compare them is it’s tough to have a good changeup as an amateur. You don’t often see it, either in high school or the college level. We don’t see too many things that this pitcher needs to add to his arsenal to be successful in pro ball.”
Flaherty, like the high school pitcher selected by the Cardinals last year, Rob Kaminsky, is committed to the University of North Carolina but said he was hopeful an agreement could be reached with the Cardinals.
“Everything is going crazy right now,” he said. “We are just trying to take it all in. Our family is going to discuss that and figure it all out.”
Flaherty threw a no-hitter in his final high school start, in the state playoffs, which completed a 10-0 season. He finished the year for Harvard-Westlake High School with a 0.63 ERA, striking out 125 batters in 78 innings while allowing only 32 hits and 12 walks.
The 6-foot-3 Flaherty, who also played third base, was named the Gatorade High School Player of the Year in California.
His record as a junior was even better, going 13-0, making him a combined 23-0 over his final two high school seasons.
Flaherty reportedly wants an over-slot signing bonus to keep him from going to North Carolina, but Kantrovitz said the Cardinals would not have made the pick if the organization did not believe he would sign.
“It’s by no means a done deal,” Kantrovitz said. “We have work to do in all four of these scenarios. Until we actually sign contracts we have to approach it as there is some uncertainty there.”
What Flaherty has going for him, more so than most high school pitchers, Kantrovitz said, is great command and control of all of his pitches, including a changeup.
“Sometime that drew us to Jack was that he has exceptional command,” Kantrovitz said. “You don’t often see high school kids with really good command. It’s as good as you are going to see at the high school level. That’s really the biggest risk when it comes to high school pitchers – you can’t really project command as much as we’d like but with Jack it’s there. That gives us a lot of confidence that he’s going to go out and have some success.”
The selection of Morales, not expected by draft experts to go until later in the draft, gives the Cardinals some flexibility with spreading their bonus pool money around in an attempt to sign Flaherty.
Still, Kantrovitz said, the Cardinals liked Morales, who as 10-2 this year with a 1.64 ERA. UC-Irvine is still alive in the NCAA tournament, and will play Oklahoma State in the Super Regionals this weekend.
In his college career, which included two years at a California junior college, Morales has a combined record of 40-3.
The Cardinals’ other selection, Williams, was a player Kantrovitz believes not many other teams were monitoring as closely as his team. He was 8-2 this year with a 0.97 ERA.
“Ronnie is an electric athlete,” Kantrovitz said. “Two of our scouts were at a game and texting me that he was up to 96-97, electric. I was trying to look him up and we didn’t have a whole lot on him, but from that point on we saw every one of his starts. He wasn’t a highly publicized player because he kind of came on the scene late. I’d be surprised if other teams had that kind of comprehensive coverage on him.”
The draft continues Friday and Saturday, eventually completing 40 rounds.
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