Our plan was to manage the portfolio of draft picks to accomplish a few objectives – get a few position player prospects; get at least one power arm; get a top lefty if possible, and infuse some youth into the lower minors. The college players went flying off the board, as we had anticipated. We wanted both Greene and Rasmus, and we managed it in a way where we got both. I was anticipating that we would get one, but not both. I'm sure some teams stayed off of Rasmus because he is a high school player. I don't know how many, but that worked to our advantage. So I guess the answer is yes, we had a plan to get those players, and it worked.
How fluid was your plan based on how other teams were drafting?
We spent several hours during the days leading up to the draft doing scenario planning, so we were prepared for all situations. We had intel on what other teams might do, and for the most part we had it right.
Were you surprised when any particular players fell into your hands? If so, who?
I did not think we would get McCormick in the compensation round. That was huge. I did not think Wilson would be there in the 2nd round. We had him pegged as a first round arm. He is exciting. They both are exciting. We had a good feeling about Herron and Webber being available where we took them. Those four pitchers all have very high ceilings.
Beforehand, you said you would take a few more risks relative to last year. How did that play out?
It worked out fairly close to the plan. We probably took a bit more risk in the first 10 picks, considering 6 of them are high school players, than I thought we would going in. I would have guessed four of ten. But I'm excited about the players we took and think we got players with more talent as a result. We couldn't pass them up because they were younger.
How do you assess risk/return?
Risk is a combination of factors – age, size, tool profile, performance history, how many times we saw the player and how many people saw them, how varied our opinions were about a player, an assessment of their mechanics and potential for injury, and their makeup (based on our scout's assessment and a written test). Return is the probability distribution for the player of reaching various levels of pro ball and the ceiling for that player, given the tools and projected development remaining. A low risk player is a top performing player from a top college program, playing a premium position, with all the necessary tools to play that position in the big leagues, with sound mechanics, a low probability of injury, and solid makeup. Tyler Greene fits that profile. The only fly in the ointment with him is the relatively high strikeout rate compared to the other top college players, but that didn't change his overall risk profile. The upside with Greene is very high… above average to all-star caliber major league short stop. Of course, anything can and many things will happen, but we feel good about the process for collecting and evaluating all the information – which allows us to understand the risk/reward relationships and make the best decisions for the organization.
In another story, you mentioned "chance" players. What are they?
Chance prospects are those who have at least one major league tool (arm, bat, speed, etc.) and as a result, if things go well and they develop in other areas as well, could make it to the big leagues someday. Many have, and many will in the future. I hope some of the guys we took on day 2 make it. Organizational fillers have also made it to the big leagues. That's the beauty of scouting. You never really know. Pujols was probably considered by most to be a chance prospect when we took him, and he's turned out to be the best player on the planet.
Some months ago, you said you were refocusing scouting resources on more fertile areas of the country. Did that play out? (To me it seems like the answer is "yes", with no players from the northwest, mountain states and most of the Midwest.)
We covered all the top players, regardless of geography. Our resource allocation lined up very well relative to where the top talent was this year. That was the intent of the area realignment last year. We took a nice harvest of players from Texas – 10. We did well in California, Florida, the southeast, the Midwest, and the northeast.
31 of your 51 choices were pitchers. Was that a target?
Pretty much. We need loads of arms to fill the rosters of our short season teams. You know what they say…
Were there other positions you particularly wanted to strengthen? If so, how did you do?
Outfield. We raked in that category, with Rasmus and Jones topping the list. Plus Pujols (who can also play third), and Owens. We cleaned up with shortstops as well, with Greene, Rollinger and Garner to help Solano and Nelson who are at extended. We took some young catchers, in Anderson and Gonzalez. Premium positions! We also did well with lefties. There are some sleepers among the lefties. I'm sure everyone is going crazy trying to figure out who Jaime Garcia is… but you won't have to wait long, if we can sort out a visa for him. And if things work out with Quigley, we could be in an enviable position in a few years with the southpaws… because we have some in the DR as well. BTW, Schwartz is an interesting story. He had a record run of wins. 30 plus in a row.
How important was "roster filling" versus getting the best player available and did that change later in the draft?
We did both. That was the plan.
You selected six high school players in your first ten and 17 overall. Did you preset an expectation of the desired mix between high school and college?
As I mentioned before, we wanted to get young. It worked. I didn't anticipate us taking that many, but I'm delighted we did. It will be fun and interesting to watch their progress. We will need to have patience… all of us, including your readers. But there are some gems in there, I can assure you of that!
A recent P-D story about Cardinals' scouting was headlined "Back to the Drawing Board". Do you feel that is an accurate representation of the Cardinals' approach?
This is only my second season with the club. We did many different things last year, and again this year. We continue to evolve. I don't think it's "back" to anything. We are moving forward, as we should be!
That same article equated a statistics-based approach to a drive to select college players. Do you see those as being one and the same?
College players are generally older and safer. One of the reasons they are safer is that you have much more information about their performance, especially the D-1 players. We use an "analytical" approach, which includes some statistics, but much more as well. There are some college stat stars that we don't believe have a very good chance to succeed at the major league level, for a variety of reasons. Our "analytical" approach extends to all player categories, including international. The information we have to work with is different, and we adjust our approach accordingly.
How important was signability in your decision criteria compared to the other factors?
It is a very important consideration. We don't draft players we don't think we can sign. Most of the players we drafted that aren't tagged as "draft and follow" players will likely be signed quickly and get out to play. That's how it should work. Once you have players bucketed into roughly equivalent talent groupings, then signability becomes very critical in making the final selection.
Did you worry about previous commitments players made to colleges?
No. We had deals in place with all the high school players we wanted to sign outright. The draft and follows will need to make a decision, once we have had a chance to further evaluate them and make an offer.
A P-D story quoted you as saying that deals are in place to sign all high draftees, so that must have affected your selection priority, yes?
Not really. Most everyone we wanted we were able to get a deal done, at least in principle, before we took them. As you can imagine, there were tons of phone calls between each selection. In a few cases we had to lay off because the player or agent wouldn't come down from a number that we believed was too high, but that only happened once or twice.
How many picks deep into the draft did you try to pre-arrange deals?
We were still doing it late in the second day.
Given at least two Scott Boras clients in your top tier of draftees, is it fair to assume you had no trepidation selecting his charges?
That is correct. Of course, contracts for those two players are still not signed, as they are both still playing. But we feel very optimistic about moving rapidly. They both want to play, and we want them to start as soon as possible.
Are you able to share any targets on numbers of draftees you want to sign now versus draft and follow?
We are following a handful. The rest will start flooding into Florida on Sunday and then trickle in over the coming weeks, as we open up the short seasons.
How many agreements are in place already?
Keep an eye out for the announcements, and that question will answer itself.
Do you have a position on the proposal to allow trading of draft picks?
I haven't thought about it much, to be honest. As an MBA from a top school, I'm a free market person generally, so I would probably support something like that, but I haven't considered the ramifications yet and how it might affect the competitive balance.
Any updates on the international program, both in terms of getting the processes in place and players emerging from it?
Donovan Solano is having a great spring and will head north with the Johnson City team, as will Jose Martinez, Alberto Guerrero and Jose DelaRosa, and Steward Chacin. Three of those players (Solano, Martinez and DelaRosa) were signed late last year. That's a good crop for the first year.
We are 4-1 in the DSL so far. It's early, and our team is completely new and was not expected to compete out of the gate. That is exciting. I'll be there next week and report back to you when I return.
Juan Lucena is starting to hit his stride in Quad Cities.
Any other points you'd like to make?
Keep up the good work with the web site.
(Link to earlier Jeff Luhnow interviews here: Luhnow interviews
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.