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06/08/10 7:05 PM ET

Cards balance risk, reward in picking Wilson

Talented prospect falls to 12th round due to signability concerns

ST. LOUIS -- Before the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft began Monday, vice president of player procurement Jeff Luhnow said the Cardinals would be willing to take a chance on uber-talented prospects that other teams were scared away from because of "difficult signability."

Draft Central

St. Louis quickly backed up that statement, grabbing a hitter many believed to be the best college bat in the Draft, third basemen Zach Cox. An eligible sophomore, Cox has leverage to demand price tag that exceeds his slot as the No. 25 overall pick.

While picking Cox so late in the first round can be qualified as a steal, the Cardinals will have pulled off an absolute coup if they can persuade 12th-round pick and Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) High School senior Austin Wilson to start his professional baseball career this summer.

Considered by most experts to be a first-round talent, Wilson has all the tools scouts salivate over in high school prospects. He has solid speed, a strong outfield arm and possesses what has been described as "plus, plus power." To top it off, he has been universally described with adjectives like smart, hard working and extremely coachable. In short, an organization's dream come true.

But of course, there is one large caveat. Some of the same factors that make Wilson a top prospect -- smart, hard working and coachable -- also make him a likely candidate to put off pro ball and attend college classes for at least three years.

And with Wilson committed to a top academic school such as Stanford, chances are that is just what he will do.

"There is no question about it, that Austin has expressed the desire throughout the entire recruiting process, including the courting period with Major League Baseball, that becoming a college student has always been something he has been looking forward to," Wilson's high school coach Matt LaCour said. "Teams have been hesitant with him through the entire process, because he has expressed such a strong interest in going to Stanford."

Which isn't to say that Wilson and Stanford are a completely done deal.

Like many high school prospects weighing their options, there is always a chance Wilson might be persuaded before the signing deadline on Aug. 16th -- for the right price.

"Taking into account where he got drafted, he is not going to want 12th round money," LaCour said. "He really likes what Stanford has to offer, and I don't think 12th-round money will change his mind about that."

Though LaCour would not commit to predicting Wilson's decision, he did say he left his star senior with a bit of advice, applying to his life both on and off the field.

"Everyone who comes in contact with Austin during baseball, is going to want to leave their mark on him," LaCour said. "He needs to figure out when to accept coaching, and when to rely on his own instincts and talents. When everyone is pulling you in a different direction, sometimes you just have to shut it all out."

Michael Bleach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.