By Kary Booher for KSDK Sports
ST. LOUIS - He now wears jersey No. 46. But there was a time when he was No. 1,235 - his selection number in the baseball draft.
That was all the way back in 2008, and most late-round picks from that summer either have gone on with their lives, or their careers are only hanging on for dear life.
So, yes, Kevin Siegrist knows that he could have been among the so-called casualties, not here with a firm bullpen spot with the World Series-bound St. Louis Cardinals.
It's nuts. The 6-foot-4 left-handed reliever was once a walk-on at a junior college. Only a few short months ago, he was part of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals.
And in between, his career was in jeopardy, after Siegrist once got demoted to the Rookie-level Appalachian League - the lowest rung in the farm. It was a wake-up call, really.
"You could say that," Siegrist said recently as the Cardinals chased down the National League pennant.
You could also say that Siegrist best illustrates the way St. Louis has carried out a winning strategy top to bottom over the past decade, a stretch in which the Cardinals have advanced to four World Series and played in six National League Championship Series.
In other words, the 2004 NL pennant doesn't sit idle, thanks to a not-so-secret formula (not now anyway) that comes down to this: Scout 'em, develop 'em and get 'em to St. Louis.
Siegrist represents 30 homegrown players who contributed at some point this season. That figure includes 29 players drafted or signed as non-drafted free agents during or after 2005, the year when owner Bill Dewitt bankrolled an overhaul of the scouting department and farm system.
The strategy has not remained static, either. It's evolved, especially within the farm.
While old-fashioned scouting continues to be paired with new-age computer analytics - a modus operandi since '05 - St. Louis' player development system in the past three seasons has shifted to an even greater calculated approach.
Young prospects are challenged in more difficult leagues; some position players must learn other positions; and pitchers are shifted into roles that they likely would hold down in the big leagues. More importantly, instruction in the farm, particularly for position players, is the same from the rookie leagues to St. Louis.
In essence, it's about maximizing every single draft pick, including Siegrist, now among only 18 players - out of 665 - that reached the big leagues after being drafted between the 30th through 50th rounds in 2008.
St. Louis' senior adviser to player development, Gary LaRocque, put it this way: "We've looked at every player and tried to create a vision of how they could help us in the major leagues. The guys in the last two or three years have done it. And they're helping us win."
In recent seasons, the Cardinals skipped slugger Matt Adams as well as now-closer Trevor Rosenthal and prospect second baseman Kolten Wong over a high Class A league and into the Double-A Texas League.
It also helps explain why current shortstop Pete Kozma, a first-round draft pick in 2006, gained experience at second base in 2012 in Triple-A Memphis.
Or why Siegrist, long a starter in the farm, got moved to the bullpen ahead of Springfield's season this year.
And now look at the postseason roster. Seven Cardinals were drafted between the eighth and 41st rounds - the eighth round being RBI machine Allen Craig, the 41st being Siegrist.
The strategy also has meant a cost-savings. Seventeen players on St. Louis' postseason roster each earned no more than $524,000, according to Baseball-Reference.com. That's not much more than the league minimum.
"It's a real credit to them," LaRocque said of the players. "And everybody has played a part in it, from scouting to player development."
In Siegrist, he was scouted, drafted, signed and then developed. Development - and patience - was key.
Just imagine had St. Louis given up on him in rookie ball.
When Siegrist opened in Springfield's bullpen this year, pitching coach Randy Niemann sharpened his curveball and shifted the lefty to the center of the rubber.
Since, he has struck out 93 batters in less than 68 innings, with only 28 walks. That covers all of this season in Double-A, Triple-A and St. Louis. Big-league hitters have not really hit him well at all.
"To his credit, he went to work," said Springfield manager Mike Shildt, who was the Johnson City, Tenn., manager in 2010 when Siegrist got demoted. "The thing that was encouraging for me and our staff was Kevin was able to throw his fastball inside for strikes against righties and lefties."
In doing so, it allowed Siegrist to cover both sides of the plate with all of his pitches. In other words, he set up batters.
"It didn't bother me too much," Siegrist said of the demotion. "You always have to pitch well. You always have to impress people. I went through a bad stretch and kind of regained my confidence in Johnson City (Tenn.) and went from there."
Along the way, his signing scout kept in contact with Shildt, who remembers Charlie Gonzales urging patience with Siegrist.
"It was just a rough patch in my career I guess," Siegrist recalled of his Appalachian League days. "I had to make adjustments and really made adjustments more in the offseason that year."
On the position-player side, one advantage to the Cardinals strategy is the instruction. "The Cardinal Way" manual is a written document distributed to all farmhands. Coaches carry it out.
Overall, it has made for a smooth transition for many of the minor leaguers summoned to St. Louis.
Said Adams, "The Cardinals want us to focus on, from the time we get in the organization, to do the little things right."
During the NL pennant celebration, Kozma acknowledged that there is a reason why the Cardinals play with a nice flow. Instruction on fielding is not different in the minors.
"That's part of it," Kozma said. "We try to teach everything the same - the Cardinal Way - all the way through the system. You teach the same thing down in the minor leagues, it's the same game, it's not a surprise."
Hardly anything seems like a surprise anymore when it comes to the Cardinals. The World Series roster is carrying five first-round draft picks but a handful of others like Adams (23rd round), Rosenthal (21st) and, of course, Siegrist.
"It's been an unbelievable ride so far," Siegrist said. "To share with these guys that I played with in the minor leagues and the veterans that are in here ... I just had to continue to work on my stuff."