Delvin Perez is a shortstop with incredible range and a strong throwing arm.
But when the St. Louis Cardinals drafted the 17-year-old native of Puerto Rico with the 23rd pick in the first round of the amateur draft Thursday, they assumed some risk.
Perez tested positive in May for an unnamed performance-enhancing drug. He was a projected top-five pick until teams learned of the failed test.
“I’m sure many people in this room have an opinion on whether this was a good idea or a bad idea,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said to a group of reporters. “Our takeaway on this is we understand he made a mistake. We understand he realizes that this cost him a lot. But he also realized that at 17, his future’s still ahead of him.
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“What we tried to decide was, basically, ‘Are we willing to forgive?’ After meeting with him, talking to him, he understood where he was at. We felt like if we could find a way to get a deal done, it would make sense.
“There’s still a moment where he’s going to have to grow up. He’s going to have to face the music on this. But you realize people do make mistakes and we also believe it’s something that makes sense to at least give him that second chance.”
Major League Baseball tests the top 200 prospects for PEDs and reports results to team that make inquiries about specific players. Players who test positive remain eligible for the draft.
Scouting Director Randy Flores, a former Cardinals reliever, called Perez “an exciting player,” then faced questions about whether choosing him was a wise decision under the cloud of the failed PED test.
“I would say the message is ‘forgiveness’ and ‘future’ and ‘a prospect,’” Flores said. “You look at someone and just acknowledge that we’ve all made mistakes. I certainly have not been in his shoes or his situation, or what he thought or what was going through his mind. But I do know he has a long future ahead of him and I’m thrilled that future begins with the Cardinals.”
Mozeliak said the Cardinals have a scout who knows Perez and his family well.
“He really felt this was someone who was remorseful for the mistake he made,” Mozeliak said. “We really believe this is a good opportunity for him to move forward.
“Let’s be honest: He was going to get picked. Someone’s going to have to answer questions on this, but the history and what you deal with in baseball, it’s not something that we’re running from. We really feel like giving him an opportunity is the right move here. Clearly, there will be counseling and things that are a part of his curriculum that might not have been part of someone who hasn’t tested positive for PEDs.”
Perez comes from a rough neighborhood, and his family is extremely poor.
“He definitely comes from a tough upbringing,” Mozeliak said. “He and his family are trying to make the most of it. The demographics of who uses this is probably pretty wide. I don’t necessarily believe (the upbringing) was the reason why.”
After the Cardinals chose Perez, MLB Metwork personality Harold Reynolds said the pick was a “bad message for baseball.” MLB Network televised the first two rounds of the draft.
“I’m disappointed he said it,” Mozeliak said. “But I certainly hope people understand that he was going to be chosen at some point. If we have to take a black eye for being that team, we’ll live with that. We’ve always said we’re not perfect.”
The 6-foot-3, 165-pound Perez has been compared to another Puerto Rican shortstop, the Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa, who was taken first overall in the 2012 draft.
But Perez is considered to be a more polished defender than Correa, with exceptional range to both sides and a plus arm that he still is trying to harness.
Perez, a right-handed hitter, still is developing on offense, although he has plus speed. He is said to have excellent bat speed capable of producing hard line drives, but struggles with pitch recognition.
“He has lightning-quick bat speed, great range, a great arm,” Flores said. “He’s someone who normally isn’t looking at us at (No.) 23.”
The Cardinals also had the Nos. 33 and 34 picks, compensation selections between the first and second rounds for the loss of free agents John Lackey and Jason Heyward to the Chicago Cubs.
With the 33rd pick, the Cardinals chose outfielder Dylan Carlson, 17, a switch-hitting outfielder from Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove, Calif., outside Sacramento. Carlson was coached at Elk Grove by his father, Jeff.
I’m very excited,” Carlson said. “This is something I’ve been working for my whole life. It’s something I’m very grateful for. I’d like to thank the Cardinals for this opportunity. I’m going to go out there and make the most out of it.”
Carlson, a 6-3, 195-pounder, is a switch-hitter who, according to scouts, has average speed and an average arm. The Cal State Fullerton recruit batted .407 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs in 36 games this season.
“I’m going to be playing professional baseball,” said Carlson, who no longer has designs to play at Cal State Fullerton. “(Pro baseball) has been a goal of mine. For it to come true now, I’m very grateful. ... I’m very excited to get out there and start playing.”
Carlson also plays first base, where scouts consider him an above-average defender. Flores said the Cardinals see him as an outfielder.
“He’s agile,” Flores said. “He’s big, he’s young and we’re going to give him every opportunity to put some grass under his spikes.”
Offensively, Carlson said he’s balanced from both sides of the plate.
“I feel I’m pretty equal from both sides as far as my power,” Carlson said. “I started switch-hitting when I was around 5 years old. I grew at the baseball field. I was a little guy. I’m natural right-handed hitter. I saw some of the older players in high school ... hitting left-handed, so I started hitting left-handed with them, too. Ever since then, I’ve been a switch-hitter. It’s been awesome.”
Carlson also had a perfect grade-point average of 3.9 on a 4.0 scale as a senior at Elk Grove.
With the 34th pick, St. Louis selected right-handed pitcher Dakota Hudson, a junior at Mississippi State who is 9-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 16 starts. The 6-5, 215-pound Hudson, of Dunlap, Tenn., has 34 walks and 109 strikeouts in 106 2/3 innings.
Hudson, 21, throws a mid-90s fastball, a curveball, cutter and changeup.
“I’m super-excited for the opportunity,” said Hudson, who remembers watching a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium as a young boy and said many of his family members are Cardinals fans.
Hudson describes himself as a “power sink” pitcher.
“I have swing-and-miss stuff through and through,” he said. “I see myself as a guy who can get outs quick and punch out guys whenever I need to. I’ve had some experience in college relieving, but I feel like whatever the Cardinals need me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Mississippi State’s season is ongoing and it will play Arizona in the NCAA Super-Regional on Friday in Starkville, Miss. Hudson is scheduled to pitch for the Bulldogs.
Hudson said his changeup has come a long way and he and teammate Austin Sexton experiment with the pitch every day.
“It’s definitely one of my better pitches now and it will be huge for me later on in my career,” said Hudson, who grew between his freshman and sophomore years. “In high school, I was watching (San Francisco’s) Tim Lincecum because I really wasn’t expecting to be that tall. My parents are both around 5-8. I guess I got a little bit of my grandfather’s height. He stands about 6-3.”
The Cardinals’ final pick Thursday came in the second round (70th overall) and they selected left-handed pitcher Connor Jones of the University of Virginia.
Jones, a junior, was 11-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 15 starts. Jones allowed hitters a .225 average, although he had just 72 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings.
Philadelphia had the first overall pick and took Mickey Moniak, an outfielder from La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, Calif. Cincinnati had the second pick and chose infielder Nick Senzel, who just completed his junior season at the University of Tennessee.
University of Illinois right-hander Cody Sedlock was drafted 27th overall by the Baltimore Orioles.