Cards tab prep infielder with top pick
Shortstop was named Oklahoma's player of the year
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals went off the map a little bit with their first pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. St. Louis selected shortstop Peter Kozma of Owasso (Okla.) High School with the No. 18 overall choice, bucking nearly all pre-Draft projections.
After that, though, the Cardinals' Draft looked a whole lot like a Cardinals Draft. Four of the remaining six St. Louis selections were college pitchers, starting with supplemental first-rounder Clayton Mortensen from Gonzaga.
After Mortensen, the Redbirds took two more right-handers in the second round: David Kopp from Clemson and Jess Todd from the University of Arkansas. Daniel Descalso, a third baseman from the University of California-Davis, was the Cards' third-round pick.
The team's most intriguing pick of day one may have been the fourth-rounder. Outfielder Kyle Russell from the University of Texas set a school record and led Division I with 28 home runs for the Longhorns. He's a draft-eligible sophomore, so he could be a difficult sign, but he's a player with tremendous potential. The Cardinals rated Russell as one of their top-20 players, and only waited until the fourth round because of money concerns.
Righty Thomas Eager from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo was the Cards' fifth-round pick, their final choice of the day.
Club representatives raved about Kozma's "makeup," characterizing him as a player with great desire to succeed and a love for the game. He was the first player taken in the '07 Draft who projects to remain in the middle infield as a professional.
"The one thing that stuck out in my mind about Pete is you look in his eyes and you see a kid that you really feel is going to play in the big leagues," said Steve Gossett, who scouted Kozma. "He's got a look that you don't see in many guys."
Kozma, who turned 19 in April, was named Oklahoma's high school player of the year by both Gatorade and Rise Magazine. He hit .522 in his senior season with 11 home runs and 14 stolen bases. Yet draft experts weren't the only ones surprised when the Cards called Kozma's name -- the player himself wasn't expecting it either.
"It caught me off guard a little bit," he said. "I've been talking to my adviser and he didn't tell me too much about the Cardinals. So I was a little surprised."
The right-handed-hitting infielder is not expected to be a difficult player to sign. Kozma is committed to Wichita State, but according to Gossett and farm director Jeff Luhnow, Kozma should sign a contract relatively quickly.
"We haven't nailed anything down, but we're pretty confident we're going to have a deal quickly and that he'll play this year," Luhnow said.
|1. TB||LHP||David Price||Vanderbilt U|
|2. KC||SS||Michael Moustakas||Chatsworth HS (Calif.)|
|3. CHC||3B||Josh Vitters||Cypress HS (Calif.)|
|4. PIT||LHP||Daniel Moskos||Clemson U|
|5. BAL||C||Matthew Wieters||Georgia Tech|
|6. WSH||LHP||Ross Detwiler||Missouri St U|
|7. MIL||LF||Matthew LaPorta||U Florida|
|8. COL||RHP||Casey Weathers||Vanderbilt U|
|9. ARI||RHP||Jarrod Parker||Norwell HS|
|10. SF||LHP||Madison Bumgarner||South Caldwell HS|
Kozma said he's eager to begin playing after a memorable Draft day.
"You're waiting for the Draft, waiting for it to get started," he said. "It's pretty nerve-wracking. I was pretty excited when I did get drafted. It's been pretty fun throughout the whole day. An all-around good day, I'd say."
The Cardinals have a history of taking college pitchers with their top Draft selections. However, their No. 1 prospect is also a hitter drafted out of high school, center fielder Colby Rasmus. St. Louis chose Rasmus in the first round in 2005.
"We've been on [Kozma] all year," said Luhnow, who also serves as the Cards' head of amateur scouting. "He's a guy that sort of came on a little bit late, so not a lot of teams knew about him."
Two players high on the Cardinals' board went in the two picks immediately before the Redbirds were on the clock. A pair of Texas high school products, infielder Kevin Ahrens and pitcher Blake Beavan, went 16th and 17th, respectively. Both players were ranked highly by St. Louis, but so was Kozma.
One player the Cardinals pondered, but didn't seriously consider drafting, was high school pitcher Rick Porcello. Rated as the top prep arm in the draft, Porcello is also widely believed to have extremely high contract demands.
"Obviously they're talking about Porcello, but when you're talking about that kind of money, that's a tough sign," Gossett said. "We had calls in to him, and I don't think the kid could really make a decision because he's got Scott Boras and he's kind of driving that whole thing."
Luhnow said that Porcello, who went 27th to the Tigers, was simply a higher risk for the money than the club was willing to take.
"When you look at the chance that this guy pays back that investment, it's not a slam dunk," Luhnow said. "At some point, those lines cross and you say it's worthwhile to take this gamble. But given the numbers that we were hearing, those lines didn't cross for us."
Comparisons for Kozma, meanwhile, vary widely. The first name Luhnow dropped was that of Nomar Garciaparra, but Gossett also drew parallels to Jack Wilson and Mark Loretta. The club believes Kozma will hit for average and will be able to play shortstop in the Major Leagues.
"He's got a great swing that doesn't need to be changed from aluminum to wood," Luhnow said. "He should have a successful pro career. And being a middle infielder, he won't get blocked by anybody ahead of him, despite the fact that we took a shortstop [Tyler Greene] two years ago and we've signed a lot of shortstops out of Latin America. He's the type of guy that, if he hits -- and we're pretty confident he'll hit -- he's going to play every day."
Luhnow was every bit as excited about Mortensen, who came on strong in his final year at Gonzaga. He pitched complete games in his last four appearances of the year, including a win over top-10 San Diego and a dominating, 15-strikeout performance against nationally ranked Pepperdine -- both on the road.
The right-hander throws a two-seam fastball, curve, slider and changeup. He throws his sinker with heavy downward movement, and gets on top of the ball just the way the Cardinals love.
"This guy has got everything we're looking for as a pitcher," Luhnow said. "He's got size. He's got stuff. He didn't have command of his stuff completely at the beginning of the year, but he ended the season with four straight complete games. He's a groundball pitcher. He's everything we look for in a Cardinal pitcher."
Kopp and Todd were both overshadowed by better-known teammates -- each played with a pitcher who was taken in the first round, Clemson's Daniel Moskos and Arkansas' Nick Schmidt. But the Cards were high on both, though they consider Todd a candidate for a move to the bullpen.
Descalso hit .397 for Davis but doesn't have much power. He may move to second base at some point down the road, but he is expected to play third when he starts out.
And then there's Russell, considered by some to be a first-round talent. He absolutely shattered the UT home run record, which had been 20, but he also strikes out quite a bit.
"He's the type of player we had on our board in a very high spot," Luhnow said. "We kept looking at him. We considered him with our first pick, and we certainly considered him with every pick after that. It got to the point where we felt we needed to have the exclusive rights to try to get a deal done, because he's a special player."
Russell, like Kozma, is represented by Alan and Randy Hendricks.
"Maybe we'll get a two-for-one," Luhnow joked.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.