JUPITER, Fla.â€”Jeff Luhnow joined the Cardinalsâ€™ organization in 2003 as vice president of baseball development. After three seasons in that role, St. Louis promoted him to vice president of amateur scouting and player developmentâ€”overseeing both departments, as well as the clubâ€™s international scouting efforts.
But unlike many others in his position, Luhnow isnâ€™t a baseball lifer. The 40-year-old is the founder, former president and chief operating officer of Archetype Solutions, Inc. He was also the general manager and VP of marketing for Petstore.com and spent five years with a global management consulting firm before moving to a career in the game.
We sat downâ€”at Starbucks–with Luhnow to discuss the state of the 2006 World Series championâ€™s system, and what he’s tried to implement on tightening the relationship between player development, scouting and the international side of the club’s operations.
Baseball America: So as one of the few organizations that has one person oversee both scouting and player development, how big of a challenge is that?
Jeff Luhnow: I have to figure out different ways to leverage my time now. And I rely on people in each department more than maybe somebody would that didnâ€™t have both those roles.
But weâ€™ve got some outstanding people across both departments. And then there is the international side and actually a fourth area of responsibility is our research/analytical group, so itâ€™s those four areas that I spend my time onâ€”which is something Iâ€™m used to. I was a senior manager in business, and you run multiple functions: you run manufacturing, you run research development, you run marketing . . . You have to rely on the people that work for you and the people the experts in each area and figure out how to leverage them and leverage yourself to make the best decisions. So a lot of it comes to resource allocationâ€”if weâ€™re going to invest in a particular area–should we budget a little more for the draft this year or more for international? Or should we add another Gulf Coast league team?
If Iâ€™m going to go to (general manager) Walt (Jocketty) and ask him for additional resources, where are we going to get the biggest bang for our buck? The more you know about the four areas and how they produce and where the diminishing returns are, the smarter you can be about making the decision.
It really is very analogous to what you see out in the business world.
BA: So how much does having that business experience help on the international side?
JL: In my business careerâ€”two times–I was involved with starting a company from scratch and taking it through to something that was real . . . and complicated and large. I think here, those skills and that experience help me a lot in the international area. We had essentially taken a breather and were trying to re-evaluate if we needed to be international, and if so, coming up with a plan on how to do it.
Thatâ€™s very similar to starting a business from scratch and having to look at the market, assess where you want to make investments, how to raise money and all of that. Fortunately we donâ€™t have to go out and raise venture capital money to fund our international operations . . . that would be kind of cool to put that business plan together. Can you imagine that? Weâ€™d have to pay (investors) backâ€”theyâ€™d have the rights. So if we had a prospect that made it to the big leagues, theyâ€™d have to get 50 percent of that guyâ€™s salary or something . . . itâ€™s not a bad idea, actually . . .
So for me I think the way my background applies to what Iâ€™ve done in baseballâ€”combination of being able to oversee multiple critical functions simultaneously, as well as bring in new technologies and start new things . . . the innovation side. Weâ€™ve done a lot of new things and a lot of it I canâ€™t share with you, but suffice it to say Iâ€™d be surprised if there were more than two or three clubs that have done more than we have in terms of innovating different areas.
BA: Iâ€™m surprised not more clubs do itâ€”have one person oversee both departmentsâ€”but you really must have wide open lanes for communication.
JL: Communication is huge. And I think my understanding is in the past, clubs were more likely to be the way we are today. The general manager was also more likely to be involved intimately in each area. But now there are just so many issues to deal with at the major league level alone that the GMâ€™s job is very difficult to be that intimately involved in the details enough across the board.
Communication is hugeâ€”itâ€™s one of the first things in the first six months that weâ€™ve really tried to establish. Not just myself and the people running each department, but everyone involved. Iâ€™ve had scouts come in and participate in our player-development discussions about whoâ€™s going to make a certain team and whoâ€™s not. Iâ€™ve had player development people go out and look at some of the top (amateur) prospects in Florida and other places. Part of communication is empathizing a little bit with the other sideâ€™s job. Itâ€™s so easy for a scout to criticize player development for making a bad decision, especially if itâ€™s your player theyâ€™re letting go or your player theyâ€™ve changed his mechanics. Likewise itâ€™s easy for a player development person to say, â€˜Where are these players coming from? Why arenâ€™t we getting better players?â€™
The reality is after a certain point in the draft, all of those five-tool, high-performance players are gone. Youâ€™re left compromising in one area or another, whether itâ€™s performance guys that donâ€™t have tools that you dream on or tools guys who havenâ€™t performed. Then you get to a point where you have neither of those and youâ€™re just picking guys that can come in and help your prospects develop.
So at the front lines, having them understand a little bit more about what the challenges are on each side.
BA: And then thereâ€™s the whole other side of thatâ€”getting both departments to understand the international side, which is a completely different animal both in terms of scouting there and the playerâ€™s mindset and development curve when he gets to the States.
JL: I ended up taking every single one of our coaches (player development) and every one of our scouts to Latin America this past winter. It was a major investment that we made, and we had week-long training sessions in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and also in Nicaragua.
Each group was made up with one third of the people from player development, one third scouting and one third international staff. We opened a lot of eyesâ€”some people had never been out of the country before. So they went and they saw what life is like in the Dominican Republic and where these kids come from. They saw how baseball is a religion down there. They saw the quality of the athleticismâ€”the types of players there are there.
They also saw how difficult it is to bring guys in to basically a workout environment and make a decision thatâ€™s going to cost the club $100,000, $200,000. Itâ€™s different than looking at a college player for three years and making an investment there. In Latin America, a guyâ€™s 16-years-old, heâ€™s got an above-average arm, shows a good BP, heâ€™s an average runner . . . how much is that worth? When you start talking the numbers about how much that guyâ€™s going to get, some of the coaches get really nervous.
So you get him in the complex for a week, get him in three or four games and you increase your level of comfortâ€”but stillâ€”itâ€™s a week.
So that was an important trip for us. The feedback was great. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s something we can logistically handle every year, but it was a good way to sort of break the ice across all the groups.
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