Sunday Morning Coffee with Ray Mileur

Selected in the 18th round (556th overall) of the June, 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Amaury Marti, a Cuban defector, may be the most intriguing prospect in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Marti immigrated to the United States (is more politically correct than saying ‘escaped from') from Cuba in April, 2005, after playing for their national team under the name of Amaury Marti since 1997. The Cardinal's selection of Marti sent fans and bloggers into a Google-induced frenzy in search of any information on the new mystery man.

One of the first things that would suggest that Marti was going to be the subject of much discussion and debate was that, his actual age remains somewhat of a mystery. At the time he was drafted, Marti claimed to be 28-years-old, with many informed sources agreeing; but many other sources swore he was 32-33 years old.

The debate about his age is similar to the debates a few years back about two-time National League MVP, Albert Pujols and the ongoing debate between my mother and me. At some point, with the erosion of my hair and the graying of what hair is left, my mother now claims that she is three years younger than I. Go figure.

One thing you can be sure of, Marti is a great athlete. He has very strong arms and ferocious bat speed, with great Bunyon-esque raw power, that has contributed to stories and reports about this ballplayer that in time will become baseball legend to almost mythical proportions.

Cardinals Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, Jeff Luhnow, who oversees the club's amateur scouting, international and player development departments, further fueled expectations when he was quoted widely on the Cardinals website and elsewhere saying, "I think (Marti's) one of the strongest baseball players I've ever seen. You look at his arms, you look at his legs, and this guy is incredibly strong. He has bat speed that you can't teach."

Herein lies the rub, at some point, whether it was on the basis of this report, or amisunderstanding of something that I thought I heard the Cardinals Vice President say, I was under the impression that Jeff Luhnow had made a comment that would suggest that Amaury Marti was the best prospect that he had ever seen. It wouldn't be so bad normally, other than I had made a report in the November 23rd, Sunday's edition of Morning Coffee with Ray Mileur, that Luhnow said just that.

Looking back on it now, with all the facts in front of me, I should have known that wasn't the case. If Luhnow, sincerely believed that Marti was the best prospect he had ever seen, he probably wouldn't have been the only one saying that, and even with all the mystery and intrigue that surrounded Marti, he would have gone much higher in the 2006 draft.

On a personal level, I always had trouble accepting that Luhnow believed Marti was that great of a prospect. Yet it was based on what I thought Luhnow said, that led to trips to Springfield Missouri and West Palm Beach Florida to watch the Cuban defector play.

The first time I saw Amaury, he reminded me of a little shorter version of the former Cubs' star, Andre "The Hawk" Dawson. Dawson, one of my favorite players of all-time, played 21 seasons in the Major Leagues, (Montreal, Cubs, Red Sox, and Marlins) notching 438 home runs and 1591 He also added 314 stolen bases and eight Gold Gloves and was an eight time All-Star, and looked to me like the perfect baseball player, with the perfect body.

My impression of Marti was very similar; this guy looked like what I would imagine a Greek baseball God would look like, only to be disappointed time and time again, by my watching his play on the field. I often wondered to myself, what was it that Luhnow saw, that I'm not seeing?

If memory serves me correct and it often doesn't, I think I first met Jeff Luhnow, at a Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) meeting at Mike Shannon's restaurant in 2003. My first impression of Luhnow was that he didn't look like a typical baseball man, but probably more like the kind of guy whose dad owned the team. Luhnow is a graduate from the Wharton School of Business, with an MBA from Northwestern University so you can imagine how much we had in common, other than both of us were eating at Mike Shannon's.

I was impressed with young Mr. Luhnow immediately. I wasn't sure how he was going to do it, but I was confident that he had a grasp on the dynamics of how a successful business gets things done and, if given the time, his analytical approach to the game would turn the Cardinals farm system around.

The Cardinals last four drafts under Luhnow's watch have produced all of the club's Top-25 prospects, including; OF Colby Rasmus, RHP Chris Perez, C Bryan Anderson, RHP Clayton Mortensen and 2008's first round draft pick, 3B Brett Wallace. Missing among this group of course is OF Amaury Marti. Again, I should have known better.

Now with hindsight being 20-20, I don't really have an excuse to offer for misquoting Mr. Luhnow, other than perhaps, I just need a translator when talking with him in the future.


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