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listening to luhnow

cross-posted at Future Redbirds --- add'l discussion over there.

i sent these questions to jeff luhnow on monday; got the answers on tuesday, and would have posted them yesterday if wednesday were a regular posting day for me. wouldn't that have been interesting . . . . dewitt ruled out luhnow as a candidate for the gm position, which comes as no surprise --- i never bought into the idea that he was being groomed for the job. he's still got much to learn about the business.

this is the 4th e-mail exchange luhnow has done with VEB; the others posted on march 23, may 29, and july 31. as always, my thanks to jeff for taking the time to give us a snapshot.

Who do you think will do well in the playoffs this year, and why?
I'd much rather be getting ready for our first game of the playoffs. Having said that, I do enjoy watching these games as a fan. This year's playoffs should be good for baseball and very entertaining. You have the big markets involved (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Boston), so ratings should be high. There is also the intrigue of the other teams (Cleveland, Arizona and Colorado). None of the 2006 LCS teams made it to the playoffs this year, so we know we will have a new pennant winners and a new champion. I can't predict who that will be, nor will I be rooting for any particular team.

A number of teams with largely homegrown rosters either made the playoffs this year or just missed. I'm thinking specifically of the Rockies, Indians, Angels, Dbacks, Dodgers, Brewers, and Braves. You might even argue that the Phils and Mets relied heavily on homegrown talent. Do any of those organizations stand out as ones that you particularly admire, or would like to emulate?
You are correct that many of the contributing players on all the teams (Yankees included with the three young pitchers, plus many of their star players) were drafted or signed and developed by the organization's scouting and player development system. All of those organizations have good scouts and good coaches in their systems, as do the Cardinals. No team could survive for long, much less compete consistently, without some homegrown talent. We do study carefully what other organizations do, and there are elements of each organization that we admire and try to emulate.

How will you spend your time over the next few weeks / months? Describe what you and your staff will be doing between now and February.
It's a busy time. Currently we are reviewing our spending and proposing budgets for next year across all areas. We are also doing performance evaluations for our scouts, coaches and front office personnel and determining any staffing needs. Our instructional program has been going for a few weeks now and will continue through the first two weeks of October. I have already been twice and will likely go one more time. The Arizona Fall League starts soon, as do the Hawaii league and Team USA, and we have a program up and running in Venezuela and soon in the DR.

On top of that, we are sending several players to winter-ball programs in Latin America. At some point this fall, I will see all of those programs in person and meet with our staff and players. We have already started working on both major league and minor league free agents to prioritize our needs and review the players likely to be available. We have college scout days underway for next year's draft, and we still have a few showcases coming up this fall for the top high school players.

Looking back over the last 12 months, what's the most significant step forward made by the organization? What's the biggest disappointment?
From my perspective, it was the addition of the extra minor league team (in the GCL), which allows both the high school kids from the draft and the younger Latin players to get their feet wet in US-based pro ball. There were several players (Rosales, Morales, Lara, Ingram, Hooker, Blazek, among others) that were able to compete effectively at that level and become better baseball players. Had they gone directly to Johnson City or stayed back in Latin America, they would not likely have progressed as far or would have lost some confidence in their abilities.

The biggest disappointment this year for me was the position-player injuries and the lost development time as a result. We did well on the pitching side this year, but we sustained some injuries on the position-player side. For example, John Jay, Tyler Greene, and Cody Haerther all missed significant time. I expect them all to be healthy for spring training and to make up for lost time, but it's been frustrating.

When big-league decision makers self-evaluate, they're guided by a very stark bottom line --- the won-loss record. But won-loss records in the minor leagues aren't necessarily a true gauge of how well player-development decisions are working out. Do you have some other bottom-line metric against which you measure your decisions and evaluate your processes?
We look at several elements to grade ourselves in player development. The record can be deceiving because the experience level and age can vary so much at various levels. Of course we all want to win, and it was exciting watching our AA team compete for the Texas League championship, but there are several other important considerations, many of which are difficult to measure. We constantly try to improve our player development curriculum, our teaching methods, our staff, and our facilities in order to enable our players to reach their potential. Evaluating our success there is somewhat subjective, but it can be done. At the end of the day, what matters most is how many players we developed that were able to help the organization --- either in a trade or by making it to St. Louis and contributing. This year, we had several players that contributed in St. Louis that spent time in our minor league system --- Ryan, Ankiel, Ludwick, Schumaker, Falkenberg, Jimenez, Cavazos... I'm sure I'm forgetting some. That's not a bad list. We traded a few players to get some help in St. Louis... for Maroth we traded Lambert, for Piniero we traded... wait, we don't know yet (gotcha!). [ Sean Danielson was announced as the PTBNL yesterday --- ed.] Anyway, we always want to get better, and we look for ways to get better players ready faster. . . . The bar will always be set higher than we can achieve, and that keeps us motivated.

What's the health status of Jaime Garcia? Will he do any throwing before spring training? What's the outlook for Tyler Greene? Mark McCormick? Adam Reifer?
Jaime is throwing and feeling good. He won't get into any games this fall, but he and the doctors feel he is healthy and once he is done with his throwing program, he will be shut down and ramped up in time for spring training. Of course we never know for sure, but all signs are positive right now. Reifer is down in Florida on a throwing program and looks good. Greene and McCormick are rehabbing and both should be 100 percent for spring training.

Did Garcia exhibit enough progress to merit a promotion to triple A next year in spite of his injury? Same question for Tyler Greene --- is he projected to move up, or is there a chance he'll open next year at Springfield?
I can't tell you that right now, because it's too early. As usual, we will make some adjustments during March. For now, I have both of them penciled in to start the year in Springfield.

Is there a specific skill (or set of them) these players need to exhibit next spring to warrant promotion? Ie, consistency with a certain pitch? Ability to recognize / hit a certain pitch?
Greene was getting more comfortable at the plate in Springfield prior to his injury, so he just needs to pick up where he left off. His pitch recognition is improving. The power, speed, and fielding combination is exciting, and he should keep moving up, but as we all know the pitching gets better and better with each level. Jaime was performing well, but he is young and since he did have an injury, we don't want to push him too fast. He needs to throw strikes with his fastball so he can use his hammer to get guys out. He does that at times, but he needs to be consistent.

Do Mike Parisi and Blake Hawksworth each have at least one big-league pitch? Evaluate their overall strengths / weaknesses, and what they need to do to have a shot at pitching for the Cardinals.
I expect both of them to do better in their second year at Memphis, if they don't make the big club. There are so many good, major league-caliber hitters in AAA that most pitchers will experience some struggles. Both of them went through some tough times this year, but both improved as pitchers. Mike's best pitch right now is his curveball, but he has at least an average fastball with movement and he could develop a big-league change and slider. Blake's best pitch right now is his changeup, but he also could have four major-league-average pitches.

What's Mitchell Boggs' best pitch? What's the area he most needs to improve in? Is there a specific pitch or skill you want him to work on in the AFL?
Mitchell is a fastball/slider guy with electric stuff. Our coaches feel he needs a slower pitch (most likely the changeup) to keep hitters off balance and set up the hard stuff. The changeup and command of his pitches are both areas he will work on while in Arizona.

It seems as though this year's position-player draftees, as a group, are very patient hitters. Antonio DeJesus, Nick Derba, Oliver Marmol, Ty Henley, Arnoldi Cruz, Daniel Descalso all had above-average walk rates, in some cases way above average. Did you consciously seek that skill when you went into the draft? Did you feel it was an area of weakness within the organization that needed to be addressed?
We didn't target those players because of their eye, but it happens to be something that they all have in common that makes them successful baseball players. We look at run production, and there are many ways to create runs at the plate. Certainly getting free passes by having an advanced eye is one way, but it helps if you can drive the ball hard and hit to all fields. Oh, and we certainly need to look at defense, and all of those players have advanced skills defensively too. It will be fun to watch that group play next year and see them get better. They are all at our instructional program as we speak.

Andres Rosales: in 94 professional innings, he has struck out 127 guys and allowed only 1 homer. What's the story on him? Where'd you find him, what type of pitcher is he, and is he a real prospect?
We found Andres at a tryout in Cartagena back in 2005, when he was only 16. He had just finished pitching the game of his life representing Colombia against Mexico in an international tournament. I was with Enrique Brito and Neder Horta, and we all three agreed to take a chance on him. We liked the pop on his fastball and his feel for the curveball and changeup at a young age. During and after the signing process, I have come to know both the player and his family well. His parents are both professionals, well educated, and great people, and it shows in Andres. They live in Barranquilla, and every time I go they insist on having me over or out for dinner. They LOVE the Cardinals. Andres took a big step forward this year. I credit Dennis Martinez and the other pitching coaches who worked with him. His control and his command improved this year, and he really blossomed. For me he is a prospect, and I can't wait to see what he does on a full-season club. This is the type of player we would be very proud to have represent the organization.

Where do you expect Brett Zawacki and Adam Reifer to start next year? Will they be in full-season ball, or extended ST?
I would imagine Reifer would start at Quad Cities since he is a college guy. Brett will have to compete for a spot on that team with the other high school pitchers from this last draft, the year before, the Latin players (like Rosales) and last year's college pitchers. There are too many good players for not enough spots, but that is how it should be. Those that come ready to spring training and have worked hard in the off-season will have an advantage.

In Joe Strauss's article Sunday, Bill Dewitt acknowledged some tension within the front office. The article contained a rather striking statement from an anonymous farm-system employee: "It's not a healthy environment when you're worried about who you're seen speaking to. If you speak to someone, you risk making someone else in the front office mad. If you don't speak, you alienate the person in front of you. It's tough when you're caught in the middle of something like that." What's your reaction to that statement? To the extent that a clash of philosophies does exist, what do you think can and should be done to help the clashing wings of the front office work together more cohesively?
I don't know who "anonymous" is, so it's hard for me to respond. Communication is critical between me and the coaches and scouts, and across all parts of the organization. We also need to be on the same page, striving towards the same goal. I suspect the goal for everyone is similar, although we might have different paths or beliefs about how to achieve the goal. That is natural in any organization, and I think that is Mr. DeWitt's point. From my standpoint, we need to discuss and debate everyone's point of view, and we do plenty of that among the scouts, coaches, and front office people. Everyone has their own unique perspective based on their time in the game, their experiences, their education, their background, and other aspects of their life. Input from a variety of people can be and should be used to come up with the ultimate decisions, time permitting.

While we're on this subject: It's conceivable the entire starting lineup, rotation, and bullpen at triple A next year will consist of prospects who've moved up through the system --- ie, players with no big-league experience. This would be a big change from the club's longstanding philosophy of stocking the triple A roster with veteran depth --- guys like Ryan Ludwick, Randy Keisler, Tagg Bozied, Matt Ginter. Is everybody in the organization in favor of this sort of change, or do you anticipate any resistance to it?
We need to field a team in Memphis that accomplishes several goals simultaneously. We want to have players ready to fill in for St. Louis when a need arises. We'd like to develop players that can have an impact in St. Louis once they are ready. We'd like to have a competitive team and give the fans in Memphis a winning experience. We've fallen short on that last goal the past few years, and we all want to improve there. That might mean bringing in a select few veteran players that can help the team win, and provide depth for St. Louis.