Interview with Cards VP Jeff Luhnow – Part 3

Concluding our new, exclusive three-part interview series with St. Louis Cardinals Vice President of Baseball Development Jeff Luhnow. Year Three - Part Three

For the third consecutive year, Cardinals Vice President of Baseball Development Jeff Luhnow has granted an exclusive interview to This time, responses to two dozen questions were completed on Friday morning, just prior to the Juan Encarnacion and Junior Spivey signings.


In this new three-part series, Luhnow began with a discussion of the 2005-2006 off-season to date. Yesterday, in Part Two, he explained the investments in the international program and introduced us to several top prospects no one has yet heard of.


Here in Part Three, Luhnow includes a review of the 2005 Amateur and Rule 5 drafts, a player valuation update and much, much more.



What is your assessment of the Cardinals' take in the 2005 Amateur Draft?


On June 8th of this year I believed that we had a successful draft - an impact draft for the organization.  I believe that today more than ever after seeing these players complete the short season and watch many of them in instructional programs.  Baseball America gave us recognition by rating our draft the fourth best in baseball this year.  We also received a very good organizational report from them for the first time in a while.  While that is not why we do this, it's nice to be near the top of the list for a change.


With many of the players from last year's draft, 2006 will be crucial.  This is especially true for the high school pitchers.  Most of them probably pitched more in 2005 than they ever have in their lives, and that has to affect their stuff and performance.  We know that.  They should come to Spring Training this year rested and ready to go... and we should see the stuff that we saw last year prior to the draft. With a year of pro ball under their belt, it should be a fun crop to watch pitch and develop. 


We also will see Jaime Garcia and Kenneth Maiques pitch pro ball for the first time.  Both of these pitchers are exciting.  Jaime absolutely tore up both instructional programs - the one in Florida as well as the one in Dominican Republic.  He has yet to give up an earned run while wearing a Cardinal uniform and has struck out an astounding number of batters, while walking very few.  Kenneth is progressing well from his surgery and his timetable looks better than expected at this point.


What does it tell you when you see so many 2005 draftees rank so high on lists of Cardinals organization prospects?


Two things.  First, we had a good draft.  Second, that our system was thinner than most other organizations.  Neither of those are a huge surprise.


What is your current thinking on the high school versus college question?


What question is that?  Just kidding.  My thinking is that we need to find and sign the best players for the organization, regardless of where we find them.  The odds are longer with younger players, because more can happen as they mature.  But that by no means suggests that we won't draft and sign high school players.  We drafted 17 in 2005 (probably a record for our organization) and we signed almost all of them.  We also drafted some legitimate college prospects... like Greene, McCormick and Boggs.  Plus, we found some nice surprises among the college group with Stavinoha, Daniels, and Van Slyke.


What is your view of the Cardinals' 2005 Rule 5 Draft?


By its very nature, the Rule 5 is a bit of a crapshoot.  Finding someone like Hector Luna who sticks and helps a team win is the exception rather than the rule. We picked up three interesting players all of whom have upside.  On the major league side, (Juan) Mateo has a good arm and because he has demonstrated control in the past, he will have a chance to make the team and help the bullpen.  Having said that, he is young and has only pitched in A ball... and it's a big step from there to a perennial playoff team in the big leagues.


What is your overall impression of this year's Rule 5 draft?


A few things stuck out to me.  First, not that many players were taken in the major league portion.  Also, almost all of the players that the pundits predicted would be taken were not touched.  Finally, it's always interesting to see which teams take a lot of players and which don't.


Tell me about your off-season travels this year. Where have you gone and what are you looking for? What is next?


After the playoffs were over for us, I resumed my travels.  I took two separate trips to the Dominican Republic, including one to officially inaugurate our academy.  I also took two trips to Venezuela, including the trip last week.  In addition to that, I went to the Perfect Game tournament in Jupiter, Florida and a quick trip to California to see some of the top prospects for the 2006 draft.  I'm looking for future big leaguers who will wear the birds on the bat. 


I am planning scouting trips to Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia and Curacao in January and February, plus likely another trip to Venezuela to sort out our playing location for the summer and beyond.  Then in February, the domestic scouting season starts in earnest and it will be hectic from then until the draft.  Off-season is really only "off" for the fans!


Tell me a little bit about what happened behind the scenes at the Winter Meetings.


I only left the hotel once in four days.  The place is huge and the weather outside was bad.  We spent a lot of time cooped up in Walt's suite talking about players and ordering room service.  Nobody got much sleep.  We worked hard into the night every night.  That's it really... not a lot of sexy behind the scenes stuff!


What can you say to fans who are impatient and don't see progress being made?


It depends how you define progress.  At the major league level, we've won the division and have the most wins in baseball over the past two years, and we won the National League in 2004.  I know that's not enough for many fans, and I understand that... it's not for me either, but it's certainly better than what a lot of other teams have experienced.


As far as the pipeline goes, we are making progress and that should be evident soon to everyone.  Baseball America seems to have recognized it.  We have a new stadium almost complete.  So progress has been made and continues to be made across many areas.


With two years in the job now, how do you rate your performance and that of the organization?


It's frustrating having the best record and losing in the playoffs... whether it's in the World Series or in the NLCS.  Even with that, it's impossible to deny that this team has been successful in the past two years.  Hopefully, we are a couple of tweaks and a string of luck in the playoffs away from the next championship for St. Louis. 


I think we would have beaten the White Sox if we had represented the National League.  So, to compete at that level while still being able to improve the pipeline of players for the future, as we have done, is a good sign.  So overall I'd say we've done well as an organization.


As for myself, that's not a question that I would address in a forum like this, for obvious reasons.  My track record will speak for itself in many ways, so let's just wait and see what happens.


How long is it fair to wait until another World Championship?


We'd all like to see that as soon as possible.  We have a chance every year, and this year is no different.


What do you have to say to those who are concerned about the makeup and competitiveness of the 2006 Cardinals?


Don't pass judgment until you see how it all shakes out.  Even then, remember this is a game and anything can and will happen.  We have the best player in the game.  We have a lot of great players. We've had success in the past, and we all want the same win the 10th World Series now!


Any final thoughts about the team's future?


Really, Brian, just to reiterate what I was trying to say earlier... I'd rather be us than just about any other team in baseball.   That means we must be on the right path.  But complacency is not an option, as far as I'm concerned.  I work like we are last at everything, and I expect the same of my colleagues and those people that work for me.  We owe it to the city and to the fans.


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