ST. LOUIS — Intangibles beyond the raw numbers led the St. Louis Cardinals to select Oklahoma high school shortstop Pete Kozma with the 18th overall pick of the baseball draft on Thursday.
Kozma, 18, batted .522 his senior year with 11 home runs, 55 RBIs and only five strikeouts in 113 at-bats. His solo homer was the only run in the Class 6A title game for Owasso High.
Area scout Steve Gossett coached Kozma for a brief time last summer, providing valuable insight. Those impressions helped elevate Kozma’s tools, rated at above average across the board with no major flaws and no major strengths, in the team’s eyes beyond other teams that projected him as a later pick.
“I got to know this kid, I know what’s in his heart,” Gossett said. “I know what kind of family he comes from, his work ethic, and stuff like that.”
The pick was not popular on the first televised draft, though.
“ESPN butchered the kid,” Gossett said. “You listen to these guys just bury him as a player. I said ‘Hey, Pete, you watching this on TV?’ He says, ‘I’m not worried about those guys.’
“That’s the kind of kid he is, he works his butt off.”
The Cardinals ended up with four pitchers, two infielders and an outfielder in the first day, with five rounds completed. Their other six picks were college players, including Gonzaga right-hander Clayton Mortensen, the West Coast Pitcher of the Year as a senior, who was taken with a supplemental pick after the first round.
The team’s draft position was its earliest since 2001, off its 83-78 regular-season record last year. The team had four picks in the first two rounds, due to free agent compensation.
St. Louis has drafted among the top 10 only 11 times in the 42 years of the June draft. One of those picks is pitcher Braden Looper, the third overall selection in 1996.
Kozma, 6-1 and 180 pounds, is the third infielder taken in the first round by the Cardinals since 1997. Second baseman Adam Kennedy was the 20th pick in 1997 and Tyler Greene was selected in 2005.
Kozma had a school-record .553 average as a junior and has a commitment to Wichita State. The team believes it has a good chance of signing him.
“Pete projects as a solid player who has above-average tools for a middle infielder,” said Jeff Luhnow, vice president of amateur scouting and player development. “He has tremendous potential and really upgrades our infield depth in the minor league system.”
The Cardinals took a pair of right-handed college pitchers in the second round: David Kopp of Clemson and Jesse Todd of Arkansas. Third baseman Daniel Descalso of California-Davis went in the third round, outfielder Kyle Russell of Texas in the fourth and right-hander Thomas Eager of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fifth.
Mortensen was 9-2 with a 3.92 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 16 starts, with six complete games and one shutout. Kopp is 6-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 17 starts with team-highs of 75 strikeouts and 98 innings for Clemson, which will play Mississippi in the NCAA Super Regional.
Todd was 9-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 23 games, 10 of them starts, at Arkansas. Descalso led Cal-Davis in nearly every offensive category, and his .397 average, 92 hits and 22 doubles all are second best in school history.
Russell leads the nation with 28 homers, also a school record at Texas. Eager was 11-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 18 starts at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.