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1999 Draft Spotlight: Cardinals Hit Jackpot



Albert Pujols Albert Pujols

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For sheer impact, no player in the class of 1999 came close to matching the achievements of Pujols, especially over the first 11 years of his career in a Cardinals uniform, when he hit .328 with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBIs. Yet for all his accomplishments as a big leaguer, Pujols was an afterthought in the draft, the 402nd player chosen.

Pujols emigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic at age 16 and settled in Independence, Mo. He hit .593 with 35 homers and 124 RBIs in American Legion ball in the summer of 1998. After graduating from Fort Osage High in December and enrolling at Maple Woods (Mo.) Community College in time for the 1999 spring season, Pujols continued to excel, hitting a grand slam off future big leaguer Mark Buehrle in his first game and batting .461 with 17 homers and 60 RBIs for the season.

Scouts acknowledged that Pujols’ bat was a lethal weapon, but expressed concern about his thick body and subpar physical condition, as well as his somewhat stiff actions on defense. There also was a question about his age, whether he was 19, as he claimed, or older.

“They don’t know what the hell they’re doing here in the Midwest as far as drafting,” said Maple Woods coach Marty Kilgore. “There are some idiots here that think they know the game. It is damn ridiculous—13th round. This guy’s not getting paid money that some got that haven’t even stepped on the damn (major league) field yet.

“I had scouts come to me the next year after the draft and tell me they didn’t turn him in (as a guy worth drafting). You got damn poor scouting, that is how you explain it. You have 100 guys who do their job and know what they’re doing and another 200 scouting each other.”

Pujols rejected the Cardinals' initial $10,000 bonus offer and played that summer for Hays, Kan., in the semi-pro Jayhawk League. He continued to stand out as a hitter.

“The ball exploded off his bat, almost like it does now,” Hays manager Frank Leo said after Pujols had established himself as a big league star. “That was his first year using wood bats full time, but his swing was already geared to contact. He hit doubles off the wall, not chinks over the infield. He always understood the game, things like base-running and situations, even at a young age.”

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MLB Milestone Watch Entering 2019

Albert Pujols, Bartolo Colon, Miguel Cabrera, Craig Kimbrel, Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia could all approach significant milestones in 2019.

The Cardinals, realizing they had a potential star in the making, increased their offer to $60,000, and Pujols signed in August. After spending the 2000 season in the minor leagues, he went to the big leagues to stay.

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