Cardinals' best homegrown Draft picks

Since the MLB Draft was installed in 1965, the Cardinals have done wonders uncovering franchise icons through the trade market. Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Adam Wainwright, Jim Edmonds and several others were acquired and starred in St. Louis only after first being discovered by other clubs.

But the Cardinals’ Draft history has produced plenty of stars in its own right, with one Hall of Famer, two likely on their way and several other key members of past teams found through the process.

These are St. Louis’ best homegrown Draft picks:

Was this ever in question? Pound for pound, Pujols might be one of the best Draft picks in MLB history, taken in the 13th round and now bound for Cooperstown as soon as he’s eligible after he retires. The Machine debuted just two years after he was drafted at the age of 21, unanimously capturing Rookie of the Year honors before three National League MVP Awards (including back to back from 2008-09), two Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers, a batting title and nine of his 10 All-Star nods in St. Louis. The legend from Santo Domingo sits within the franchise’s Top 10 of nearly every offensive category, including second in slugging, OPS, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBIs and walks. Part of two World Series clubs, Pujols left on a megadeal with the Angels in 2012, but even by then his status in Cardinals lore -- on and off the field -- was unquestioned.

Has a club ever drafted two players as iconic to a franchise one year apart like the Cardinals did with Pujols and Molina? The story of how the Cards found Yadi is made for Hollywood, with area scout Steve Turco telling then-scouting director (now president of baseball ops) John Mozeliak to “give him anything he wants” to ensure he signs. That ended up being $325,000, and the Cards have not regretted a penny. Molina, the younger brother to two other Major League catchers, debuted in 2004, won his first of nine Gold Gloves in 2008 and this year will start the 18th season of a career likely bound for Cooperstown.

3.
Drafted: First round (10th overall) in 1967

Simmons would start his Hall of Fame career as an 18-year-old just a year after his drafting, but it would take him some time to win the starting role. MVP candidate Tim McCarver still stood in his way on the depth chart, and even after McCarver was traded to the Phillies, Simmons was called into the Army Reserve for six months in December 1969, further delaying his full arrival. But when he did, Simmons would go on to hit over .300 in seven seasons, leading catchers in several offensive categories by the time he retired in 1988, having gone on to play for the Brewers and Braves. Despite Molina’s longer tenure, it’s Simmons who leads Cardinals catchers with a 45.0 bWAR.

Few players from the 1971 Draft compiled a higher WAR than Hernandez, and 775 were selected before him. He gives the likes of Pujols and Mike Piazza (62nd round) some competition in terms of pound-for-pound Draft picks in MLB history. Selected out of Capuchino High School, Hernandez debuted in 1974 at the age of 20 but didn’t become a full-time first baseman until '76. Three years later, he would earn his first All-Star nod, win a batting title and take home NL MVP honors, leading the Majors in doubles alongside a 151 OPS+. Three years after that, he would win his first World Series ring as part of the 1982 club before being traded to the Mets a year later in exchange for right-handers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey, winning another ring there in '86.

5.
Drafted: 26th round (594th overall) in 1968

There were several deserving candidates for the No. 5 spot, but we’re going with Forsch for several reasons. First, he was drafted as a third baseman, playing in the field for three Minor League seasons before fully converting to pitcher in 1971. He debuted in the Majors there three years later, kick-starting a 15-year career in St. Louis. (That third-base history certainly helped with his two Silver Sluggers.) Second, he was a key part of the 1982 World Series team, making the second-most starts (34) behind Joaquin Andujar, including a shutout in Game 1 of the NLCS vs. the Braves. Third, he is part of an elite list with two no-hitters to his name, one in 1978 and one in '83. Despite some advanced analytics giving the nod to other draftees, Forsch’s lengthy, milestone-filled tenure puts him over the top.

Honorable mentions
Right-hander Joe DiFabio (first round, 1965) was the Cardinals’ first-ever Draft pick, but he failed to reach the Majors. … (first round, 1986) just missed out on the No. 5 spot here, though his 37.7 St. Louis WAR outdoes Forsch’s 21.3. … (first round, 2008) is one of the Cardinals’ best recently drafted pitchers, with (first round, 2014) not far behind him. … (16th round, 2006), (13th round, 2009), (first round, 2011) and (fourth round, 2015) are all recent homegrown Draft prospects who have found success at the Majors.

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