Even as they changed the fundamental nature of the rivalry and built a World Series team with a strong group of young hitters, the Cubs studied the Cardinals and marveled at their ability to produce homegrown pitchers.
Now Dan Kantrovitz—a St. Louis native raised on The Cardinal Way—will be running drafts for the Cubs.
As part of the sweeping changes to Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department, Kantrovitz recently left the Athletics to join a club that has struggled to develop young pitchers from within, an issue that forced the Cubs to mortgage the farm system and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on free agent starters.
As scouting director for the Cardinals, Kantrovitz oversaw the 2012, 2013 and 2014 drafts that yielded pitchers Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzales, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty as well as position players Stephen Piscotty, Carson Kelly and Luke Voit.
“To be able to hire somebody to run our drafts who’s already held that position and already run successful drafts in the past, it’s a unique opportunity,” Epstein said. “Guys don’t usually go back once they reach the assistant (general manager) level. But in Dan’s case, he’s just discovered that his passion is running the draft.”
Kantrovitz, an all-Ivy League shortstop at Brown, went on to earn a master’s degree in statistics from Harvard. During two separate stints with the A’s, he became involved in all aspects of baseball operations, primarily focusing on the statistical analysis behind the evaluations of players in the draft, the free agent market and potential trades. He also has a background in international scouting.
The Cubs are trying to blend the art and science of the draft and rebuild what was once the best farm system in the game.
“He really fits the exact profile we were looking for,” Epstein said. “He can scout. He goes out and sees 200 players a year when he’s running the draft. He can really relate very well to scouts, and he’s also got experience building advanced analytical models and combining both those worlds in a really effective manner, so he fills a big void for us.”
— Kantrovitz is supposed to be a change agent after senior vice president Jason McLeod shifted into a role closer to the big league team and longtime scouting director Matt Dorey took over as farm director.
— The Cubs will miss Sam Hughes, who started out as a part-time scout in 1996 and rose to become a national crosschecker, the same job he recently took with the Yankees. Within the amateur scouting department, Hughes was widely admired for his player evaluations, institutional knowledge and personable nature. Hughes’ father Gary is a revered figure within the scouting community and now works for the Diamondbacks.
— The Cubs added top catching prospect Miguel Amaya, shortstop Zack Short and righthander Tyson Miller and Manuel Rodriguez to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Short (as a backup shortstop) and Miller (as Triple-A rotation depth) could both factor into the big league team’s 2020 contingency plans. Rodriguez, a 23-year-old from Mexico, flashed enough stuff and earned a 40-man roster spot by putting up 65 strikeouts in 47 innings at high Class A Myrtle Beach this year.
Patrick Mooney is a senior writer for The Athletic Chicago.