Last night, the St. Louis Cardinals selected Nolan Gorman from Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix, AZ with the 19th overall selection in the first round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. If you are looking for an in-depth scouting report on this pick, this is the right place. By which I mean the internet is the right place. This blog post is a terrible place for that.
I do not follow college baseball and I certainly don’t follow high school baseball and I can’t tell you if the Cardinals made the right pick. What I can tell you, however, is what the nineteenth overall pick has generally meant for baseball teams in the modern era (1965-present) of the MLB Draft.
Unsurprisingly, the average #19 overall pick doesn’t have as productive of a career as the average #1 overall pick. Only three number-one overall picks have failed to reach Major League Baseball–Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, and Mark Appel (who, at 26, I’m not entirely counting out from making another run at it; #1 overall pick Matt Bush didn’t make it to the big leagues until he was 30, and he switched from shortstop to relief pitcher in that time). Many more #19 picks do not make the Majors.
But most do. And many of these picks go on to extraordinarily productive MLB careers. Here are the top five #19 picks so far, as ranked by Wins Above Replacement.
5. Shannon Stewart–1992: The Toronto Blue Jays selected Stewart and he remained in the organization until 2003. He made it to the Majors by age 21 and in 2003, the year in which the Blue Jays traded him to the Minnesota Twins, Stewart finished fourth in American League MVP voting.
4. Mike Scioscia–1976: The Los Angeles Dodgers selected the catcher who would eventually become the primary backstop for two World Series winners in his thirteen-year career. He received MVP votes in 1985, was a two-time All-Star, later went on to be Manager For Life with the
Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and helped guide the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team to the 1992 City Championship.
3. Alex Rios–1999: Strikingly similar to Scioscia, in that he too is a two-time All-Star who received MVP votes in a different season, Rios had a quietly great three-year peak from 2006 through 2008 in which he was worth 16.2 WAR.
2. Bobby Grich–1967: Like Graig Nettles or Dwight Evans, Grich is one of those Extremely Late 70s-Early 80s baseball players who might not be a Hall of Famer but certainly deserved a closer look at it. A six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner who split his career between the Baltimore Orioles and California Angels, Grich is the seventh greatest second baseman in Major League Baseball history by Wins Above Replacement.
1. Roger Clemens–1983: So I guess the short version is that there has never been a Hall of Famer drafted at #19, merely one of the great second basemen in baseball history and the greatest pitcher of the Live Ball Era.
Clemens and Grich may not be Hall of Famers (nor is anybody else drafted #19 overall, though Scioscia may have the best chance, though as a manager), but current players are making an impact in the big leagues that, look, they’re probably not going to Cooperstown because that’s just basic probability of any given baseball player, but you never know!
Andrew Cashner has had his solid, often firmly above-average career somewhat minimized in the public consciousness by virtue of being on the light end of one of the decade’s most lopsided trades–the Chicago Cubs traded him to the San Diego Padres for Anthony Rizzo (though, if we are counting Anthony Rizzo’s club control years as part of the residual value of the #19 pick, that just makes it all the more potent). After shaky early returns, now-Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Foltyniewicz appears to be turning a corner with the surprising first-place Cobb County Braves. And there are, of course, the four twenty-first century Cardinals drafted at nineteen.
First came Chris Lambert, the least consequential of the picks, but it would be disingenuous and obvious homerism to exclude the duds (this post is only meant to promote moderate homerism). Lambert was selected out of Boston College in 2004, perhaps the apex of the Walt Jocketty era hallmark of decimating what little farm system you have to keep extending the MLB window. He did make the Majors, to the tune of 33 innings in 2008 and 2009, but not with the Cardinals–he was sent to the Detroit Tigers as the player to be named later in the Mike Maroth trade. Those who remember Mike Maroth should not be shocked to learn that, by this point, Chris Lambert was not an especially esteemed prospect in the Cardinals’ system.
The next three, however, were a bit more in line with what Cardinals fans dreamed about when they tuned in to MLB Network last night. In 2009, the Cardinals drafted Shelby Miller–ignoring for a moment whom the Cardinals did not draft, and they got a Rookie of the Year-candidate 2013, an existent 2014, and they exchanged Miller for a terrific, very necessary Jason Heyward for the 2015 season. Sure, Miller didn’t turn into a world-beating superstar at the head of the Cardinals’ rotation, but it’s hard to complain too much about the overall production. 2013 pick Marco Gonzalez flatlined a bit, but he was on the 2014 playoff roster and was later flipped for exciting slugging outfield prospect Tyler O’Neill. And on Sunday, former #19 overall pick Michael Wacha pitched eight no-hit innings, his longest no-hit bid since his magical 2013 run, less than a year and a half removed from his collegiate days at Texas A&M.
Again, none of this is a scouting report on Nolan Gorman, who sounds exciting in my extremely amateurish opinion but whose existence meant nothing to me 14 hours ago. But the #19 pick has produced for baseball teams in the past, and there are plenty of examples which justify blind excitement at what the future may hold for the Cardinals.