With draft day coming up, I imagine it must be a busy time for you. How are you and your crew preparing for the big day?
This is a very busy time of year. Just to give you a feel for it, I’ll tell you where I’ve been since mid-April. I saw us play the Brewers at home on the 15th of April. From there I went to Georgia, Orlando, three locations in Arizona, back to Georgia, to Jupiter, and Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, then back to St Louis. I was home for all three Cards-Cubs games, then off to Venezuela, Florida (where I am now), and Saturday I head to the Dominican Republic. All of our scouts are equally busy right now evaluating players, talking to them about the upcoming draft, and writing reports. I’ve been to Memphis and Palm Beach and Extended Spring Training, and plan to visit Quad Cities and Springfield soon. We have five draft workouts planned around the county the last weeks of May plus regional draft meetings with all the local scouts.
This draft seems to be full of power hitting 1st baseman. With El Hombre well entrenched at first for a good number of years to come, would you still consider taking a big bat like a Yonder Alonso, Eric Hosmer or Justin Smoak with hopes of moving them a spot or two left of the defensive spectrum like the Brewers have done with Matt LaPorta?
There are some very good hitting first baseman in this draft that will go early. We have evaluated all of them thoroughly and one of the key questions we ask ourselves is whether or not they could play another position. That will factor into our decision about who to take and where we would take them, how much we would pay for them, etc. This is not a new problem though, because often the best hitters are at the corner positions. There just seem to be a few more of them this year, and that is a good thing because there are some good choices among the bats.
I wanted to ask you about the “classic mechanics” that Brent Strom is preaching to the pitchers currently in the minors, and how it could pertain to the draft. Do the Cardinals intentionally look to draft pitchers who already have “classic mechanics”? Are you willing to take chances on a pitcher that has a few “hitches” with hopes Brent and the other coaches can help them?
Our pitching philosophy in both scouting and player development has been evolving every year, with input and influence from all of our pitching coaches, including Dave and Marty in St. Louis. We definitely look for pitchers in the draft that we think will have major league tools and hold up physically. That is not an easy task and we spend hundreds of hours trying to get any edge we can in this area. We take video of every pitcher that we would consider giving money to sign and analyze them, as well as scout them extensively. It’s not an exact science, but we do feel like we are making progress. We have found that the pitchers who conform most closely to our ideal model are less likely to get hurt. That evidence is still somewhat anecdotal, but encouraging nonetheless.
With last year’s slotting system debacle, from what I understand, more teams are now more willing to go over suggested bonus if needed in order to take the best player available on the board this time. Would the Cardinals to be one of those teams willing to go over slot if necessary?
We will evaluate every player on a case by case basis. A key question we ask ourselves about every prospect is how much is this player worth, to us, in dollars? If a player is available where we pick and the value we have placed on them is consistent with what they are seeking, then there could be a match. If that number is higher than the recommended amount, then we would discuss it with the commissioner’s office and then make a decision based on what’s in the best interest of the Cardinal organization. We’ve done this several times in the past…in fact, almost every year. We’ve done it at the top of the draft before, with Ankiel, and we’ve done it later in the draft several times, like with Zawacki, Pham, and Garceau.
Pete Kozma wasn’t considered to be a “sexy” pick at the time he was drafted. A lot of different media outlets said that while he had solid tools across the board, other then power, he possesses no standout tool. But so far, Pete has been played extremely well. Are you surprised at how well Pete’s performed thus far?
If we wanted a “sexy” pick, we would read Baseball America, read Keith Law’s articles, and pick based on their opinions. But we don’t, and neither do any other clubs, because while the journalists are doing a good job of expressing their opinions based on the information they have, we have to live and die with our selections and the future of the organization is impacted by these picks. If the journalist is wrong, he just admits it (maybe) and keeps writing about the next guy or the next draft. They will still sell papers or get eyeballs. If we are wrong, we’ve missed a huge opportunity to make our organization better, and nobody wants to do that.
Pete’s performance is not a surprise to me or to our scouts. I’m happy he is doing well and I sure hope and expect he will keep it up. I know he will have his rough patches as he goes through our system, everybody except Albert does. By the way, a player with average tools across the board who plays a premium position is incredibly valuable! When we as scouts say “average”, we mean average at the major league level. Theoretically, he would be in the top 15 shortstops at the major league level if that were true. Those players get paid well because they are so valuable.
While we’re talking about the 2007 draft, the first three pitchers you drafted are all performing really well. Tell us a little bit about your impressions thus far of Mortensen, Todd and Kopp, and what are your expectations for them going forward?
While it’s still early, a month into the minor league season is a good time to get a first read on performance. Todd has done exceptionally well and earned a promotion to AA. Kopp has competed at Palm Beach and could get a chance to join Todd before the year is out. Mortensen has had ups and downs in Springfield, which is really no surprise. Pitching depth has been a goal for our organization, and having these three will help us get there. My expectation is that they stay healthy, keep learning how to pitch and turn up the heat with better and better competition as they have success. We expect every one of them to struggle at some point and how they get through that and learn from it will also influence how fast they move.
I see the piggyback/tandem starting is back, not only at Quad Cities but also with Palm Beach. What do you feel the benefits are to the 8-man rotation? How long do you intend to continue with it?
There are two primary reasons why we use the tandem structure at A ball. The first is to spread the innings out among our top pitchers. In both A ball levels, we have more than five guys who we feel need to have innings to develop. When you use a five man rotation, you can be assured that those five guys will get the needed innings, but what tends to happen is the bullpen innings get allocated to the older, more reliable guys who might not be the top prospects. Managers want to win, of course, so they tend to rely on guys who can win at that level. That is not always consistent with who the organization feels needs to have innings in order to get better.
The second reason is to closely monitor their pitch counts and inning load to prevent injury. Knock on wood, but since we started the tandem approach last year, we have had almost no arm injuries among our starters. This, as we all know, is a key to maintaining depth in our system.
Adam Ottavino has struggled so far adjusting to AA. What’s the area he most needs to improve in? Is there a specific pitch or skill you want him to work on?
From my perspective, in our system, the jump from Palm Beach to Springfield for pitchers is the most challenging move they will make. The FSL is considered a pitcher’s league due to the big ballparks. The Texas League is considered a hitter’s league. Adam has struggled early this year and is currently working his way back from a minor injury. I expect he will be fully recovered and be back in the rotation soon. He has big league stuff, and now that he is facing better hitters, he needs to trust his stuff and figure out when and how to use each one of his pitches. That is a process that takes longer for some, but I feel Adam will figure it out at AA this year. Keeping the walks down and using the change up more frequently are two keys to Adam having success at that level.
Tyler Henley is really tearing up Palm Beach. The club went over slot to sign him and so far that investment is paying off. What can you tell us about him? I’ve heard some Lenny Dykstra comparisons. Is that a fair comparison?
Tyler was having a great start but unfortunately he will be out for a while now. I do like the Lenny Dykstra comparison… gritty, short and stocky, hard nosed player who gets his uniform dirty and can play anywhere in the outfield. Let’s all hope he has a career like Lenny’s!
Nick Additon, one of the team’s final draft and follows, has thrown 76.2 innings of pro ball, with 92 K’s to just 17 walks. What does he throw? how is he achieving those results?
Additon does get strikeouts and he limits his walks. He is a young left handed pitcher who is just starting to come into his own. He has had a few bad outings at Quad Cities this year but some outstanding performances as well. His fastball is in the mid to high eighties and he has a plus curveball at times and a changeup that works well and which he throws for strikes.
I was at the official site the other day and happened to notice the name and title- Rob Fidler, Coordinator, Asian Development. I wasn’t aware the Cardinals had a presence in Asia. Tell us a little bit about what the club is currently doing out East, and what they hope to accomplish there. (Feel free to tell me the club has plans to sign Yu Darvish if you want to!)
There are two key people who are helping us out with our Japan and Asia strategy. Rob Fidler worked in our video room for the past two years and is now full time in the front office helping us craft and execute our Asia strategy. Matt Slater is a pro scout who worked extensively in Asia for the Dodgers in his career. He has great relationships with several pro clubs in Japan. We have two primary objectives – to be able to make smart decisions regarding the professional players coming out of Japan, and to find good amateur players in the region (China, Korea, Taiwan). We have a ways to go, but we have dedicated resources now helping us get there.
While we’re discussing overseas scouting, Kevin Moscatel and Ryde Rodriguez were two of the big international signings last year. How are both of those players progressing? When can we expect to see them in the states? What other Latin American players that we should keep an eye on?
There are many that merit mention. Jose Martinez at AA has been discussed in various forums, but he is the guy leading the pack. Donovan Solano at Palm Beach is an exciting young shortstop who is having a breakout year with the bat. Both Elvis Hernandez (Mosquito 1) and Francisco Samuel (Mosquito 2) are interesting right handed pitchers at Palm Beach. At Quad Cities, we have Bolivar (SS), Garcia (SS/2B), Dela Cruz (C), and Morales (1B/3B/OF) as well as Eduardo Sanchez (RHP). At EST the list is too long for me to mention here, and we also have a bunch of players at the DSL and VSL. It might be worth a separate discussion for each of those groups at some point.
Ryde Rodriguez and Kevin Moscatel are both getting playing time at EST and both project to make a rookie level club here in the US. The talk of EST has been Frederick Parejo, an athletic Venezuelan CF with big league upside both ways.