letter from luhnow

for the second time in two months, cardinal player-development chief jeff luhnow agreed to answer some questions for us via e-mail. (the first Q+A is right here, if you want to look back.) i'm particularly appreciative that jeff took the time to answer these questions during one of his busiest times of the year --- right before the amateur draft, which takes place over two days next week. he e-mailed his answers to me over the weekend, but i didn't want to run them during the holiday. here they are, unabridged --- thank you, jeff, for the very thoughtful and info-packed set of responses:

How many players will you have seen scouting reports on by draft day? Of that total, how many will have been evaluated in-person by a Cardinal scout, and how many will be evaluated remotely (ie, by statistics / video)?
I don't know the exact number, but it will be north of 750 players that we will have turned in for draft day. All of these players have been evaluated in person by at least one of our scouts and met with an area scout. We will have over 2,000 reports for this draft from our scouting staff.

How do you organize this mass of information into some semblance of a ranked list for draft day? Are players prioritized by position? By grade? Some other factor(s)?
Great question. Every club has a different way of organizing their draft board and ranking the players, but I'm sure there are some common elements. Early in the draft, the players are ranked in order of preference. At some point, the players are organized by position, to facilitate filling out rosters. We spend hours . . . actually days, thinking about the ranking process and putting the players in order. It is part science and part art, and it is critical to having a good draft.

Does a player's level of maturity / character factor into the evaluation process? If so, how is that information gathered?
Absolutely. Our scouts meet in person with the players, usually multiple times, both before and during the season. Many of these players we have known as underclassmen and have followed for more than one year. We have several workouts in the weeks leading up to the draft, and that provides many of us, myself included, an opportunity to sit down and talk to the players and get to know them better. We also watch them carefully on the field before, during, and after the game to gather clues about their maturity and character. All of that information is discussed in detail when we meet as a group and is included in our reports.

Do you draft the "best talent" no matter the position, or does the structure of the big-league club get taken into consideration? For example, a player who is limited to first base defensively might not have much future in St. Louis, even if he has a monster bat.
Tough question. First of all, it's hard to say with absolute certainty that we don't need a particular position. We all know that injuries, declining performance, and trades are a reality of today's game. Having said that, we also know who is signed and for what length of time, and that has to factor into the decisions. Also, it's important to look at the depth in our organization by position to make sure we have a good balance at all levels. The first base discussion comes up frequently in our group, not only because we have a superstar there who is signed for many more years, but because it is a position already on one side of the defensive spectrum, and thus the offensive requirements are much higher than at other positions. NL clubs don't have the DH fallback for some of these great bats but questionable fielders that seem to be there every draft.

Is there any emphasis on drafting players from the St. Louis / Midwestern region? Ie, players who might be familiar with the Cardinal tradition and therefore easier to sign both now and in the future? If a player like Max Scherzer were available, would the Cardinals give extra weight to him because he pitched for Mizzou?
We like drafting and signing players who are from the area, and also players who are Cardinal fans. I don't think it makes the signing any easier or cheaper. In general, most of the prospects have tremendous respect for our organization, and they want to join an organization that wins consistently, so that works to our advantage. We have known Scherzer since his high school days, of course, and we continue to follow him and have interest. [The Cardinals drafted Scherzer out of Parkway Central in the 43d round of the 2003 draft, but he chose to play for Missouri --- smart move, as the kid is now a first-rounder. --- LB]

Have the Cardinals, or any other organization, attempted to incorporate sabermetrics into projections of high school players' ceiling? If so, what stat(s) are measured, and how can you accurately account for the quality of competition at that level?
We gather all the information we can about how a high school player has performed, not only this year but also last year and during the summer. There are clues in there that we find important to assessing the player. We do not go to the same extent that we do college players, though, because the data is much more unreliable and there is simply not enough of it. The general rule of thumb is that high school players had better put up impressive numbers, as most big-league players had eye-popping numbers at that level.

How was the 8-man rotation at Quad Cities presented to the eight guys involved? Did anybody have a problem with it? Was any "selling" of the idea necessary?
Our pitching coordinator and pitching coach introduced the idea to the players and explained the reasons why we were doing it. I'm sure some of the guys would have preferred to be in a traditional 5-man rotation, but I'm also sure the three guys who would have been left out were delighted to get a chance.

If one or more of the 8 guys gets promoted, demoted, or injured during the season, will the 8-man structure be maintained via promotions from lower levels, or from the bullpen? Or is it possible that personnel decisions might lead QC to revert to the more traditional 5-man rotation?
Not "if" but "when" is probably more realistic. So far, we have been very fortunate and all the pitchers have both done well and been healthy. That was the goal. We will continue to be open-minded and evaluate the situation, but at this point there is no reason to change it. I'm sure one or more of the tandem starters will move up to Palm Beach this year, but no timetable has been set yet. We stress to them that it's more important to do well at the current level than to worry about being at the next level. If they perform, they will get an opportunity.

Derrick Goold wrote an article last week suggesting that the 8-man might be implemented at short-season A and in Rookie ball. Will that depend in part on personnel, or has it already been decided to go that route?
We started the tandem system in the VSL [Venezuelan Summer League] already and are planning to do it in the DSL [Dominican Summer League], too. It looks like we will have enough starting pitchers that need innings at both the GCL [Gulf Coast League] and Johnson City level, so I'd say at this point that could happen. The Batavia club [short-season A] will be primarily filled by the draft, so it's too early to say.

The 8-man rotation is a clear point of difference that sets the Cards' development program apart from other clubs. Are there any other clear points of difference about the way the Cardinals evaluate, draft and develop talent?
There are many ways that we are different and many ways that we are alike. The 8-man rotation is actually used by several organizations . . . we didn't invent it. Like that Geico ad with the gecko talking about the company's strategy, it does not make sense to share your secrets in a public place!

Looking over the farm system, are any Cardinal prospects making better progress than the early-season stats would suggest? Who are those guys, and what "hidden" factors might indicate that improvement is taking place, even if it's not apparent in the stat sheet?
Good question. I'm assuming your readers already know about the years that Allan Craig, Mark Hamilton, Brandon Buckman, PJ Walters, Luke Gregerson, Adam Ottavino, and others are having. Their performance numbers tell the story. Some guys that might not have great numbers but who are making progress are Parisi, Cooper, Zuercher, Webber, and others who have moved up a level, struggled initially, but are learning to perform at the higher level. That's what it's all about. As far as position players go, I'd put Greene, Robinson, Southard, and Martinez in that category as well. We get reports from the coaches every day after the game and then bi-monthly summaries of their progress, and those are often times more telling than the statistics.

Why do organizations sometimes move their best-hitting middle infielders (e.g. --- 2005 Travis Hanson, 2006 Brandon Wood) from SS/2B to 3B/1B? Wouldn't their value be higher at positions that are traditionally weaker offensively? Also, I've heard Allan Craig may be moving to 1B --- is that true? If so, what becomes of the incumbent 1B on Craig's team, Mark Hamilton?
If we think someone can play a premium defensive position in the big leagues, we leave them there, unless you have two guys at the same position at the same level --- then one of them has to move to get playing time. Often times, the best hitters, especially those with power, are bigger and stronger, and that may limit their ability to get good jumps and cover ground like a shortstop or centerfielder needs to do. Craig has impressed us with his bat both last year and this year, but he also has improved defensively and we don't know what his position will be down the road. He must have worked out a lot during the offseason, because he came into camp in great shape. I wish all the players would do that! For now he will stay at third base, and Hamilton will stay at first.

What do you look for when considering whether a prospect is ready to advance to the next level of the farm system?
We look at the numbers, like you do, but we also look at how he is generating those numbers. Our staff makes a determination about his chances of having success at the next level. Each level is more difficult to master. At the end of the day, though, you really don't know until you send the player up a level and let him play. Who knew Sean Danielson, a player who went undrafted and was signed after the [2004] draft, would get to AA this season and produce results so quickly? He went to fill a need and took advantage of the opportunity.

Before too long, the major-league team will need replacements for our aging team anchors at 3B, CF, ace, and closer. Are replacements at these four positions already in the system --- guys who project as above-average major-league players --- or have these players yet to be drafted?
The true answer is probably both. For 3B, the players with the highest major league upside are on the younger side --- Wilmer Alvarado and Casey Mulligan --- but we don't want to rule out Craig and Hansen being able to make it there. There are some good 3Bs in this year's draft. In CF, we have a number of players who could ultimately end up there --- Rasmus, Jay, Robinson, Jones, Rapaport, and some of the younger players. Ace --- long list of possibilities: McCormick, Ottavino, Boggs, Garcia, Daley, and others. Closer --- Perez, Gregerson, Maiques, Worrell, Dove, Motte. With all of these it's so hard to tell what will happen, but they all have a chance if they continue to develop and ultimately get an opportunity.

One of the Cardinals' more productive scouts, Joe Almaraz, will be managing at Johnson City this year. Does that mean he had to give up his scouting duties, or will he serve in both capacities? Why was he chosen for this post?
Joe will continue to scout and coach. He has coached both of the last two years at Johnson City; the only difference this year is that he will be managing the club. He has managerial experience in rookie ball and is capable to helping the team win and developing the players. He is an outstanding baseball man who can wear many hats.

Is anybody performing well at extended spring training who we should keep an eye out for when the short-season leagues begin? Yes: Alvarado. Pham. Bolivar. Garcia. [Romulo] Ruiz. [Frederick] Parejo. Mitchell. Edwards. The list goes on. The difficult thing about evaluating a player's stats in extended spring training is that they don't get into a regular routine of playing every day, and the quality of the competition changes day to day. Some days you are facing big-league pitchers and hitters who are rehabbing, and other days you are facing young 17-year-old Latin players who have no professional experience but throw really hard. Our Latin pitchers have all been impressive, so it would be premature to single any out at this point.

Recent articles by Ken Rosenthal and Bernie Miklasz spoke of a sharp division in the Cardinal organization between the "sabermetric" and "old-school" wings. A lot of fans are very curious about that situation, which has been hinted at before. Did you read those articles, and do you have any response to them?
When the big-league team struggles, the fans and the media start to scrutinize all areas of the organization. That is to be expected, and anyone who has been in the game knows that will occur. I think we are doing a good job of integrating different perspectives and balancing the short-term and long-term. Every person has their own point of view about the value of player development, scouting, signing free agents, using statistics, etc . . . . that is natural and doesn't mean as an organization we can't find a balance that works. The track record speaks for itself... now we just need to focus on ensuring we can continue to deliver a winning team in St Louis for years to come.

How does someone without a baseball background get into baseball? How did you get your foot in the door, and how difficult was it?
It is hard but not impossible. There are many examples of people who didn't play the game who are in front offices. Most of our front office didn't play baseball beyond high school, so I am not alone there. I'm not going to mislead anyone and say that it's easy to get into baseball, but it is possible. As with any endeavor, it takes determination, sacrifice and some lucky breaks along the way. I got a chance because I had credentials and a track record from outside the game that someone believed would have some value to the Cardinals. Other people build their credentials in the game. Either way, diversity is good, and a variety of backgrounds and opinions can only make us all better.

Given Colby Rasmus's rapid adjustment to double A and Edmonds' struggles at the big-league level, might we see Colby at Memphis by late summer? In St. Louis at some point next summer?
It's too early to tell. Remember, it's only May; we still have three long months of minor league baseball up ahead. AA is not easy, even though Colby is making it look easy out of the gate. I think we will be patient with Colby, but I also think he will get a chance to play in the big leagues someday. Many players have made the jump from AA to the big leagues, so it's not a prerequisite that he spend a certain amount of time at AAA in order to be considered. His talent and the results will tell us when he's ready.

You've mentioned that you're a believer in Brandon Buckman --- what in particular impresses you about him?
How about a 1.000 OPS? Brandon is a run producer with big-time power, and he can field his position. He is a leader on the team and is a true competitor. He was a steal where we took him in last year's draft [the 19th round], and he will get a chance to move up at some point.

Can you give us the lowdown on Angel Rivera, the high school age Mexican outfielder who was signed this winter?
He prefers to be called Francisco and not Angel. Francisco has a bat and he is aggressive at the plate. He's the type of young player you know is going to hit. Joe Almaraz compared him to Matt Sulentic [the Athletics' 3d-round draft pick last season] when he saw him. Unfortunately, Francisco had an injury that required knee surgery, so he is currently on rehab. I am anxious for him to get healthy and get back into games.

Is Bryan Anderson a good enough athlete that he might be able to handle third base or a corner outfield spot? Does he project as a good enough hitter for those spots?
Bryan is a catcher, and that is where we want him to stay. He is a left-handed hitter with gap and over-the-fence power. There is no reason to move him, as he is playing a premium position, one that is harder to find than any other position --- especially with a bat.

Cody Haerther has been overshadowed by other outfielders' hot starts (e.g., Mather, Ankiel, Rasmus), but he's healthy again and off to a hot start of his own. Where does he fit into the outfield mix?
Haerther is a prospect and he will play full time in Springfield for the time being. He is finally 100% and started quickly. He is still young (a year younger than Mather), so we have time. He has a track record of hitting and I expect that to continue. [Alas, Haerther got injured again --- busted his hand on Sunday and will be out for at least 6 weeks. --- LB]

What's the biggest area of improvement needed in Jaime Garcia's game?
He needs to gain experience and learn how to get big league hitters out consistently. From my perspective, he has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues in the not-too-distant future. We give him innings and cross our fingers that he stays healthy. The rest will take care of itself. He's a bulldog who wants to be out there and wants to win every time. I wouldn't bet against him.

Which of the Cardinals' power relievers --- Dove, Perez, Motte, Maiques, Scherer, Gregerson --- is on the fastest track to the big leagues?
That's hard to say. They all have tools. Dove, Perez, and Motte all have plus plus fastballs. Perez, Maiquez, and Gregerson have advanced breaking balls. Scherer has an outpitch in his split-fingered fastball. I can't predict who will get there first and stick, but I'm sure glad we have them all.

A buddy of mine met Scott Vander Weg's father recently. His stats look pretty good at Palm Beach; what kind of reports are you getting on him?
Scott has helped the team in Palm Beach and done exactly what we hoped. 3 walks and 18 strikeouts in 21 innings is what I love to see!

* * * * * * * *

derrick goold's article about ottavino and the 2-seamer didn't appear until after i sent off the questions; i would have liked to hear jeff's reflections about that piece. some of nuggets i found most interesting from his answers:
  • re colby rasmus: "Many players have made the jump from AA to the big leagues, so it's not a prerequisite that he spend a certain amount of time at AAA in order to be considered."
  • re brandon buckman: "He is a leader on the team and is a true competitor."
  • re the question about extended spring training: over half the guys he named are products of the cards' two-year-old venezuelan scouting / development operation. sounds as if a number of them are ticketed for johnson city this year.
  • re bryan anderson: "Bryan is a catcher, and that is where we want him to stay. . . . There is no reason to move him." better keep hitting, yadi.
  • re the dynamics of the organization: "Every person has their own point of view about the value of player development, scouting, signing free agents, using statistics, etc." --- ie, yes there are differences of philosophy within the organization. luhnow seems to be characterizing this as creative tension --- a constructive dynamic --- rather than as something that's tearing the organization apart, and let's all hope this is really the case. the creative tension between, say, jefferson and hamilton, or between lennon and mccartney, produced some outstanding results. so in theory, the luhnow and la russa wings don't have to agree on every point in order to produce a fruitful collaboration. time will tell whether this can actually happen in practice . . . .
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