With Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright serving as the bookends, the Cardinals feature a fascinating trio in the middle of their starting rotation. Beginning with Friday night’s starter — and budding star — Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals will roll out 3 consecutive 1st-round* picks. The aforementioned Flaherty was the 34th overall pick in 2014, Saturday’s starter Dakota Hudson also went 34th overall, in 2016. And the veteran of the group, Michael Wacha, was the 19th overall pick in 2012.
*1st-Round includes compensation and competitive balances picks that follow. Flaherty’s pick was compensation for losing Carlos Beltran in free agency, Hudson’s was for losing John Lackey in free agency, and Wacha was actually the Angels’ pick, forfeited when they signed Albert Pujols. Thanks, guys.
While the Cardinals typical 19th or lower draft position has aided in their struggled to draft and develop elite offensive talent — Nolan Gorman being available at #19 was a freaking miracle, folks — they have been adept at hitting on their pitching picks.
Focusing only on the three current rotation pieces, they hightlight a lineage of successful homegrown pitchers.
Flaherty was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the entire talent hotbed that is the state of California in 2014. He is a former Top 100 prospect, and 5th place finisher in Rookie of the Year while leading all major league rookies with 182 strikeouts in 2018.
Hudson is one of only two 2016 1st round picks to reach the majors before the end of 2018. In 2017 he was the Texas League pitcher of the year. In 2018, in a little over half a season, he was the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year.
Wacha, despite fighting with a stress reaction condition in the past and running into a stubborn oblique strain in 2018, still carries a solid career ERA of 3.77. Oh by the way, he made his MLB debut just 12 months after being drafted and out-dueled Clayton Kershaw to earn the NLCS MVP honors in his rookie year of 2013.
These three are exceedingly talented and have the accolades to back it up.
For the organization, rolling out these three pitchers is not just impressive, it’s also unique.
Running through all 1st round picks from 2012 through 2018, 23 are members of a MLB starting rotation to open 2019. Only 14 of those are doing so with the team that drafted them. 3 of those are on the Cardinals. And yes, that is the most of any team. Next best are the Rockies with 2 — Gray and Freeland — and the Astros will have 2 when Whitley debuts (McCullers is the other).
Two more starting pitchers — Luke Weaver and Marco Gonzales — were also Cardinals 1st-rounders, meaning they selected a whopping 22% (5/23) of the 2012-18 drafted starting pitchers in baseball. The Padres are next best with 3.
I focus on starting pitching because it’s also impressive how many Cardinals draftees have stuck in the role, as many starters turn into relievers by the time they reach the majors.
The proof is the numbers, with the Cardinals currently standing as the most successful team in regards to hitting on recent 1st-round starting pitching.
The 1st-round trio — whether just for the next 3 games or for the next 3 months — serve as just some of the headliners for a team that has found successful major league pitchers throughout the draft, as well as in the international pool. (See: Alex Reyes, who may be the best of the bunch.)
Homegrown pitching is their calling card, their bread and butter. They do it better than almost any team, and without the benefit of a Top 10 pick. Unless another gift falls to them at (you guessed it) #19, there’s a good a chance this year’s first rounder will be another pitcher. Don’t be surprised when that guy turns out to be legit in 2021 or ’22.
As for right now, the meat of the 2019 rotation should be really fun to watch.
Thanks for reading!