Cardinals' Luhnow Has An Enviable Record
CHICAGO—When Jeff Luhnow joined the Cardinals as vice president of baseball development in 2003, his background was much more extensive in business than in baseball. When he swiftly rose in prominence, taking over St. Louis' international operations in 2004 and its drafts in 2005, baseball veterans inside and outside the organization reacted negatively.
Luhnow, who ascended to his current title of vice president of amateur scouting and player development in 2006, wasn't afraid to do things differently. He divided scouting territories by college conferences, and had scouts who focused on specific demographics, such as pitchers and college players. He and his staff worked diligently to break down NCAA Division I stats, but also spoke of "cracking the code" on numbers from smaller colleges.
The old guard tagged Luhnow with the nickname "Harry Potter," a nod to the glasses he used to wear and a mockery of his supposed wizardry. He didn't win any friends when team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., who promoted Luhnow over GM Walt Jocketty's wishes, fired Jocketty just one year after St. Louis had won the 2006 World Series.
Through no fault of his own, Luhnow is far from the most liked or respected scouting executive in the game. He's unorthodox, sure, but not as dogmatic as many perceive.
Yet no one can deny that he's good at his job. Luhnow's fingerprints were all over the Cardinals' recent World Series championship.
Groundwork For A Title
Luhnow's first three drafts for St. Louis have produced 24 big leaguers, more than any other club has gotten from the 2005-07 crops. Quality matters more than quantity, and the Cardinals have plenty of that too.
Colby Rasmus, Luhnow's first-ever draft pick in 2005, swiftly became the organization's most heralded position prospect since Albert Pujols. Rasmus clashed with manager Tony La Russa and when he didn't produce as consistently as hoped, St. Louis used him in a season-saving trade in July. The Cardinals shipped him to the Blue Jays and bolstered their rotation with Edwin Jackson and bullpen with Octavio Dotel and Mark Rzepczynski.
In the 22nd round in 2005, St. Louis found a former two-way player on the Mexican junior national team whose stock had dropped because he had fallen out of shape. Jaime Garcia quickly reversed course and overcame Tommy John surgery in 2009 to win 13 big league games in each of the next two seasons, including three in September.
Luhnow has an affinity for proven college performers and loaded up on them in 2006. Supplemental first-rounder Chris Perez became a closer in Cleveland after getting traded for Mark DeRosa. Second-rounder Jon Jay took over in center field following the Rasmus trade. Eighth-rounder Allen Craig had a reputation as a productive hitter without a defensive home, and became a World Series hero who hit the go-ahead homer and made an over-the-fence catch in Game Seven.
St. Louis also went to St. Xavier (Ill.), a small NAIA school, in the 28th round to get Luke Gregerson. He has become one of game's more reliable set-up men since joining the Padres in a regrettable deal for Khalil Greene.
The Cardinals may not get an impact player from the '07 draft, but they already have nine big leaguers, led by utilityman Daniel Descalso, whose leadoff single started a 10th-inning rally in Game Six of the World Series. St. Louis used premium picks from 2007 (supplemental first-rounder Clay Mortensen) and 2008 (first-rounder Brett Wallace, second-rounder Shane Peterson) to land Matt Holliday in a 2009 trade with the Athletics. This summer, obscure 2008 10th-rounder Alex Castellanos from equally obscure Belmont Abbey (N.C.) went to the Dodgers for a much-needed shortstop, Rafael Furcal.
Besides running a series of strong drafts, Luhnow also has revived the franchise's international presence, including the opening of a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic in 2004. The fruits of those worldwide efforts have started to show up in St. Louis. Fernando Salas (Mexico, 2007) led the Cardinals with 24 saves this year and Eduardo Sanchez (Venezuela, 2005) chipped in with five more.
More To Come
Luhnow has the organization's prospect pipeline primed and ready to send more blue-chip talent to St. Louis. The Cardinals system is as strong as it has been in years, with a balance of promising arms and bats.
The club's last three first-round picks all are extremely talented and not that far away from Busch Stadium. Shelby Miller (2009) is one of baseball's top pitching prospects, while Zack Cox (2010) and Kolten Wong (2011) profile as solid infield regulars and perhaps more.
Few systems can match St. Louis' 1-2 international punch either. Righthander Carlos Martinez, signed for $1.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, draws Pedro Martinez comparisons and has a fastball that hits 100 mph. Outfielder Oscar Taveras, a Dominican who turned pro for $145,000 in 2008, won the Midwest League batting title with a .386 average—the highest in the low Class A circuit in 55 years.
Luhnow's baseball résumé may have been sparse when he arrived in St. Louis eight years ago. It's looking pretty impressive today.