This past Saturday, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow took time out of his busy schedule to come speak to the local Society for American Baseball Researchers (SABR). He was delayed in arriving likely because he was coming back into Houston from scouting potential number one overall picks. Of course, he wouldn’t divulge who he was scouting or even where he had been, but he did answer some questions from the audience. Some of them concerned the draft and that is what most people are interested in.
With the changes in the collective bargaining agreement, how will your draft strategy change?
Luhnow actually said that teams will have a little more freedom than they once did. In the past, they would have to contact the commissioner’s office every time they went over the suggested slot for that player’s draft position. Now, the first ten rounds are given an overall number. There are taxes if you exceed that total by five percent and you begin losing picks if you exceed by ten percent or more. He said the organization is still discussing the topic.
How do you balance the gut feelings of scouts with the new decision sciences?
This is something he actually addressed early on. He spoke at length about what he did when he was with the Cardinals. When he got into the war room with his scouts he gave each of them two or three stars they could post on any player on the board. The scouts didn’t even have to explain why they preferred that player and many cases it came down to their gut reaction. Of course, he didn’t make selections based solely on the stars, but if the evidence was close he would go with the scout’s preference.
The system has worked out well in St. Louis as a number of different current Cardinals were low round selections. There are also players currently in the pipeline that will be making their debuts with the Cardinals in the next year or so. If you were to profile a typical draft as a whole, once you get past the fifth round you typically don’t find many big leaguers. The Cardinals have had more players advance to the big leagues in the past five years than any organization in baseball. That includes a number of low round selections.
Do you plan to return to Venezuela?
Luhnow told the group that he had actually recommended that the Cardinals pull out of Venezuela a year after the Astros did. He said he was hopeful that the new elections this summer will create a better political climate. As it stands now, talented prospects are moved to the Dominican Republic before they are transferred to the U.S. He feels that allowing prospects to stay in their home country is beneficial to their development, but the political climate is just to dangerous to continue that practice for the time being.
In addition to being the editor of hardballchat.com, Scott Barzilla is also the proud father of one and the author of four books. His books can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Barzilla's Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical advancement.