Breaking Rank

Shelby Miller represents a departure from the usual for the Cardinals

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ST. LOUIS—Departing from tradition and torching a reputation with one shocking pick, the Cardinals seized on Texas fireballer Shelby Miller with the 19th overall a pick. A club perceived as a college-first used its first pick on a high school pitcher for the first time since 1991. And, a club famous for being obedient to the slotting system expressed a willing to bend the policy for Miller.
Signing RHP Shelby Miller (first round) will make or break this draft because the rest of the group is a high-risk, high-reward lot. Robert Stock (second) is one of the draft's most intriguing players and is still just 19; he performed poorly as a catcher and hitter this spring but could thrive once he gives up pitching. If healthy, RHPs Scott Bittle (fourth) and Joey Kelly (third) are two of college baseball's better closers over the last three years. OF Virgil Hill (sixth) might have been the most interesting pick, with amazing athletic genes (he's the son of two Olympic medalists).

"He's got a ways to go before he makes it to the big leagues, but he does look like a big league pitcher already and has the stuff that should play up here," vice president and farm director Jeff Luhnow said. "This is the guy I really wanted . . . It's no slam dunk that we're going to sign him quickly, or sign him at all."

Miller, 18, has committed to Texas A&M, and the Cardinals are aware that they may have to veer from slot to sign the righthander. Unlike two years ago with Rick Porcello dangling there for the taking, the Cardinals pounced.

The righthander from Brownwood (Texas) High sported one of the better fastballs available in the draft. He has been known to throw it at 97 mph and let it ride at 93 or better. It also has good movement, and he complements it with a quality curveball. He's learning a changeup because he believes he has the arm path for a "ridiculously" good one.

The Cardinals elected to approach the 2009 Draft with a different tack than in the previous ones under Luhnow's guidance. They had earned and cultivated a reputation for being stat-guided and conservative with many picks. College wasn't the rule, but it was the preference.

Comfortable with their system's depth and unmoved by the draft's depth, the Cardinals elected to accept risk and shoot for upside with their early picks.

That meant embracing the idea of a difficult signing. Not that Miller believes he will be.

"College, I just don't see in my future right now," Miller said. "Ultimtaely my goal is to play with the St. Louis Cardinals as soon as I possibly can."

Redbird Chirps

• Drafted as a catcher, Robert Stock will start for Rookie-level Johnson City and get a crack at staying at catcher. But the Cardinals don't plan to ignore his turn as a pitcher for Southern California. The righthander, taken 67th overall, is a solid defensive catcher, but his bat has to catch up or the Cardinals will shift him back to the mound.

• With the 98th pick, the Cardinals considered stuff over stats, taking the big arm of Joe Kelly, a righthanded reliever with UC Riverside. He didn't pitch much (23 games) and didn't always pitch well (5.65 ERA) but he displayed a 98 mph fastball, a sharp slider and command (23 strikeouts vs. 5 walks). The Cardinals will install him as a starter to begin his pro career.