Jeff Luhnow is the St. Louis Cardinals‘ vice president of amateur scouting and player development, a dual position that he has held since September, 2006. A 41-year-old graduate of the Wharton School of Business who earned an MBA from Northwestern University, Luhnow joined the Cardinals organization in 2003. David talked to Luhnow about the analytical approach he brings to the St. Louis front office and some of the organization’s most promising young prospects.
David Laurila: After assuming your current role, you said that your joint responsibilities should eliminate the natural tension that exists between scouting and development. Can you expand on that?
Jeff Luhnow: Scouts evaluate players and have to project future development and performance. They dream on the players they recommend because they see potential. Once they decide that they like and want a player then they become an advocate for the player–think of it as the player’s marketing department within the organization. Once the player signs, they continue to be an advocate and cheerleader, hoping that the player will develop and ultimately make a contribution. Coaches have a different perspective; their primary task besides teaching during spring training is to help the farm director make cuts and to put together the best team they can with limited observations. Then, during the season, they get to know the players in a very different way than the scouts. They see the good, the bad, and the ugly in every player. Ideally, everyone is on the same page, working towards the same goal, and making decisions that benefit the organization. Inevitably, though, the player development department has to send guys home that the scouts signed, and that is the natural tension to which I referred. Nobody can eliminate that tension, but we try to channel it in a constructive direction.
DL: In an interview last October, you were quoted as saying, “I have picked up a few labels over the years. I hope that I shed a few of them in the next few years.” Which labels were you referring to, and why do you feel they were attached to you?
JL: If I were trying to shed labels, why would I repeat them to you in this interview?! I’m not worried about labels. This industry is constantly evolving, and the backgrounds of front office executives have become much more diverse. Any time diversity is introduced, there is some resistance. That should be expected. Over time, though, if the diversity leads to a different perspective that can add value, it tends to wane. Our front office is very diverse at this point and we have a mutual respect for each other’s opinion and backgrounds.
DL: In November, an article by Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch referred to “the organization’s philosophical shift to a more youth-based roster.” What was the genesis of that philosophy, and how do you see it evolving?
JL: In one sense, the Cardinals are doing exactly what we have always done. Every great Cardinal team has had major contributions from homegrown players–who tend to be young–including the 2006 World Champions. Our scouts and development staff aspire to continue that tradition and provide impact players who can help St. Louis win more championships. On the other hand, the industry appears to be evolving, as several clubs are focusing on internal player development rather than relying on free agency, and for some that seems to work well. Three of the four teams in the championship series last year were very young and mostly homegrown, and even the Red Sox had significant contributions from homegrown players. We have a long and rich history of producing our own players, and we plan to continue that in the future. This season, with Edmonds, Rolen, and Eckstein all playing elsewhere, there will be plenty of opportunity for younger players to step up and contribute.
DL: Do you look at drafting and developing players as more of an art or as more of a science?
JL: Great question. It is an art and always will be, in my opinion. Having said that, there is enough science in it that we invest heavily in analyzing every angle.
DL: How, and to what extent, do you utilize statistical analysis within scouting and development? And is the preference you’ve shown to drafting college players directly related to that philosophy?
JL: We look at past performance as an indicator of future performance across all categories of players. All clubs do this. How we each do it differs, and it’s not something we share with outsiders because we consider it proprietary. I’m sure your BP readers know a lot about how to do this and anything we could reveal that would be interesting to them would be well beyond what we are comfortable sharing. As for college players, I’d be interested to know why you think we have a preference for drafting college players? In both 2005 and 2007, our first pick in the draft was a high school player. In 2005 we selected 17 high school players, including Rasmus, Anderson, Herron, and Garcia. We took several in 2006 including Pham, Edwards and Additon. In 2007 we took Zawacki, Hooker, Blazek, Hage and others. Far more college players are taken in the draft overall for many reasons that go beyond individual club preference. We continue to look for the best players, independent of source.
DL: When scouting and drafting pitchers, is there a specific prototype the Cardinals are looking for?
JL: We look for pitchers who will be successful in the major leagues. There are many ways for pitchers to do that, so we don’t restrict ourselves to one model. Pitchers find ways to avoid runs in as many different ways as hitters find ways to score runs. As long as they can accomplish that objective, we don’t worry too much about how they got there. If, however, our experts think that their way of getting guys out in college won’t work down the road in the majors, then we might make some changes.
DL: After taking Pete Kozma in the first round of last year’s draft, your next three selections were pitchers. What do Clayton Mortensen, David Kopp, and Jess Todd have in common, and in which ways do they differ?
JL: They are all college right-handed pitchers. They all had success in college. They all have stuff that gets our scouts excited. They all have solid makeup. Beyond that, they are all unique in various ways; physically they are very different, and stuff-wise, each has a unique repertoire. I’m excited about all three of them, and hoping for good seasons.
DL: How do you project Kozma, and how aggressively might we see him being promoted within the system?
JL: Pete didn’t play much last year, so the key for this year is playing time. I’m not concerned with the level, but rather that he is on a club where he can play regularly, work with our best coaches, and develop. His promotion timeframe will be driven by him and not by us. Rasmus set a high bar for Pete, but I won’t be concerned if Pete doesn’t replicate that timing. Ultimately what matters is how ready they are when they finally get to St Louis.
DL: What are your expectations for Colby Rasmus in the 2008 season?
JL: The same as they have been since we drafted him. Work hard, stay healthy, and compete.
DL: How close to major league ready is Bryan Anderson, and what goals has the organization set for him this year?
JL: Anybody who has a good year at Double-A at the age of 20 is not far away. Andy has been to big league camp three straight years now and has done well every time. The expectation is the same as for Rasmus. Catcher is the most demanding position on the field, and also one where experience greatly benefits the player. The more experience he can have prior to reaching St. Louis, the better he will be when he gets there.
DL: What is the status of Brian Barton right now, specifically from a health standpoint?
JL: He is playing without restrictions.
DL: Your first two picks in the 2006 draft were Adam Ottavino and John Jay. Where are they developmentally right now?
JL: Adam is right on schedule, having been invited to big-league camp after a good year in High-A. John lost a large part of last year and has some catching up to do, but I’m confident he will get there. Both should see significant time in Double-A this year.
DL: Can you give us an update, and brief scouting reports, on Jaime Garcia and Chris Perez?
JL: Chris has an electric arm, no doubt about it. He has a fastball in the mid-nineties and he will occasionally touch the upper nineties. His slider is hard and sharp, and he has a slower curveball to complement those two hard pitches. If he commands his stuff and stays healthy, Chris will be a successful major league pitcher. This is only his second full professional season, so there is no reason to rush him. Jaime features three pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup), all of which could be above average at the major league level. He will be in the mix for a rotation spot in Triple-A or Double-A coming out of spring training. Few lefties have his skill and repertoire, and he has a tremendous aptitude for and attitude about the game. He is young, and has a bright future in front of him.
DL: Randy Newsom, a pitching prospect in the Cleveland organization, has helped to start a company called Real Sports Investments. From both a front office and MBA perspective, how do view his business venture?
JL: I don’t know enough about it. I’ll take a few shares of Garcia, Perez, and Rasmus if the price is right!
DL: How would you assess the current state of the Cardinals’ farm system?
JL: As I said during the winter warm-up, I am optimistic. We have a ton of quality players and a terrific staff. If they stay clear of injuries, there are more big league players in our system than there ever could be spots for them in St. Louis. That’s a good problem to have.