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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cards learned from '04 draft

Mike Parisi
DENVER — Chatting one day this spring in the clubhouse, pitching prospect Mike Parisi and a few of his 2004 draft classmates took a head count and realized just how few of them are still around.

"It's like we looked around and are there really only five guys left?" Parisi said. "These are guys we played with in rookie ball, in Single-A, and now there aren't many of us. It's very eye-opening for me. Don't get comfortable."

Called up Sunday to serve in the bullpen, Parisi is the first member of the Cardinals' 2004 draft to reach the major leagues. While the righthander sees the lack of peers as a cautionary tale, the Cardinals take a harder message from a college-heavy draft that has been more maligned than productive.

Lesson learned.

"We just ramped up our approach and our commitment to the draft and our evaluation of (amateur players)," said general manager John Mozeliak, who was a director during the 2004 draft. "We added scouts. We added new ways to become more efficient, and our (statistical analysis) is more polished and refined."

Of the Cardinals' first 10 picks in that draft, only two remain in the organization. Their first-round pick, pitcher Chris Lambert, was the player to be named later in last summer's deal with Detroit that netted Mike Maroth. Lambert, taken 19th overall and signed to a $1.5 million bonus, is 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA for Detroit's Class AAA affiliate.

The next three picks the Cardinals had were all released this past spring. Others have retired, including one to pursue a singing career.

While league-leading Arizona picked the left side of its infield in 2004, two other teams in the National League had yet to have a pick from that draft debut in the majors. And several, like San Diego with the No. 1 overall pick, were still looking for a return.

As one official said, the Cardinals were looking for "quick hits," and that meant college picks. Of the 47 players the Cardinals drafted, 43 were college or junior college players. In the first round, the Cardinals chose Lambert over Philip Hughes — now a Yankees starter. Lambert was a college pitcher, and college pitchers had a better statistical track record.

In the drafts that followed, the Cardinals have restructured the process. There is an expanded pool of information — from a larger group of scouts and better statistics. All of the Cardinals' top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America, were drafted after 2004.

There are others from 2004 coming, however. Parisi caught pitching coach Dave Duncan's eye in spring training with his feistiness and above-average breaking ball. Second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir is hitting .283, and righthander Mark Worrell projects as a reliever.

"We took some chances on trying things that year, and we didn't have the success we hoped," Mozeliak said. "But we have still some '04 players (coming up), and moving forward we've improved our approach."

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