The fact the Cardinals will not have a pick until the third round of this year's draft has changed the focus of scouting director Randy Flores. (File)
By Rob Rains
In preparing for his first time running the amateur draft for the Cardinals last year, scouting director Randy Flores quickly identified where his priorities needed to be.
With three picks in the first round, Flores concentrated on scouting players who could be on the board when it was the Cardinals’ turn to make those selections.
“Last year with so much being a first for me, so much of the focus and time and energy was taking care of making sure I was extremely diligent out of those day one picks,” Flores said.
Sometime after the Cardinals chose Delvin Perez, Dylan Carlson and Dakota Hudson with those three picks – all now among the top prospects in the organization – Flores learned a lesson about the draft which has stayed with him as he moved into preparing for his second draft, now less than a month away.
“We got done with day one and only a fraction of the draft was complete,” Flores said. “All of those picks now have roster spots and all are contributing. Some of those will move up the ladder and some are going to contribute to a big league roster somewhere. At the time I didn’t realize it but now I do realize how vital it is to exhaust yourself in searching for the right pick all the way through the draft.”
The importance of doing that is magnified this year because the Cardinals will not be making any picks in the first round, or even the second round. They will not make their first selection until the 19th pick in the third round, the 94th overall choice, on the second day of the draft on June 13.
The Cardinals lost their first-round pick when they signed free agent Dexter Fowler, and then were stripped of their next two highest picks, the 56th and 75th overall choices, because of the computer hacking scandal involving former scouting director Chris Correa.
Those picks were awarded to the Astros by commissioner Rob Manfred, and along with those picks, the Cardinals also slot the slot money connected to those picks. All of that increases the challenge for Flores and the organization’s scouts to still make this a productive draft.
“I think it’s a fun challenge,” Flores said. “There’s great opportunities there and I think that historically the bar has been set high by this organization and scouting departments before my tenure. There is no hall-pass here; we’ve got to find big leaguers.”
Flores estimates he has traveled just as much this year as he did a year ago even though the Cardinals will not have a first round pick for only the second time in the draft’s history. The other time that happened was in 2002, when they lost their pick as compensation for signing free agent Jason Isringhausen.
“The biggest difference is the focus and time and energy is on a different pool or bucket of players than it was a year ago,” Flores said. “This year being on the sidelines for day one it has been a difference in trying to allocate energy as productively as possible without having to change our department’s routine.”
Flores has instructed the Cardinals’ area scouts to still work to evaluate all of the players in their territories, even if they realize there is very little chance that some of the top players could fall to them.
“I think it’s dangerous any time you try to scout to the draft or to the slot,” Flores said. “You are in danger of not evaluating properly. We have been constantly reminding out scouts especially our area scouts to know their area independent of where we draft, independent of strategy, independent of thinking of who is ‘out of play.’ Their job and our job is to evaluate the landscape and then make the proper pick when the pick comes.
“It allows new scouts to see how the system would work in a normal draft. It also reminds our scouts and department of being true to their eyes. If anything, knowing where we pick at 94 you have to know who you think is a top 20 player so you can begin stacking the rest of your board in comparison.”
The Cardinals are in the middle of their annual regional scouting meetings, beginning their final preparations for the draft. One topic of conversation at those meetings has been how the Cardinals will allocate their meager pool of just under $2.2 million for the eight picks they will make between the third and 10th rounds.
That total is less than the signing bonus they gave top pick Perez by himself last year. In addition to losing the two picks to the Astros, they surrendered about $1.8 million in slot money as well which could have been spread around on all of the top 10 round selections.
Depending on who is on the board when the Cardinals make their first pick, the draft strategy could be to use almost all of that money on one player, and find cheaper players with the other picks, or to stay true to the slot and draft a player who will sign for that amount, about $575,000.
“All the strategy could be great until pick 93 happens,” Flores said. “We’ve got a lot of time to wait so we will be prepped for all scenarios.
“I have no idea what to expect: I think that’s one of the fun things about the job and scouting. I don’t ever hear from our veteran scouts or those in the industry who have been around a long time that, ‘Ho hum, another day at the ballpark or another draft.’ They are all so unique and the situations so complex that to foresee it and to plan for all of them is impossible but it has to be tried.
“One of the big things I am realizing out of billions of lessons is it comes down often times to trusting the eyes of those who work and evaluate talent. Those eyes are different even between other organizations. There are picks made and spots taken where you are trusting what your guys have seen. You make the best decision you can and move on.
“It’s almost sometimes like pitching. You make the best decision you can with the information at hand and all the conviction that you need and then if you trust in the process you move on to the next pick and the next selection and the next round. It comes down to trust.”
One reality of where the Cardinals are picking has been that Flores has not had to read any mock drafts or hear about who the organization should pick.
“That’s been a fun thing about this year,” he said. “We have gotten away from wondering who we are going to pick at 23 (their top pick last year) because we are not close to that. A tremendous amount of energy is going into making sure we make the right pick in every round.”
Flores admits sitting in the draft room during the first two rounds and watching pick after pick go by and not being able to do anything about it will be an unusual experience.
“We’re going to play Pictionary and some board games,” Flores joked. “Seriously, we’ve got some ideas about how we are going to set it up.”
The Cardinals never expected Perez, considered a top five pick by most, to get to them at pick 23 last year, one of the reasons Flores is already thinking about what might happen in this year’s draft.
Other players projected to come off the board early could drop again, either for character or off-field issues, or because of injury concerns which could put the Cardinals in position to select one of those players
As Flores noted, however, it is way too soon to begin making those predictions, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking about it.
“I will be curious to see how it all shakes out,” he said.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains