Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jeff Luhnow Interview Part 2

In Part 1 of my interview with Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, he laid out his thoughts on the state of the Astros minor league system and the three dynamics at play in bolstering the system. Today, we dig a little deeper and look at some specific needs and his thoughts on some specific players.


In conjunction with Luhnow’s analysis of the improvements to the farm system, I also asked him about which areas were most improved, in terms of depth, and which areas he felt still needed work. Here is what he had to say. “Now specifically, the trades were, as you can tell by the players who came back, were really focused on pitching, left-handed pitching wherever possible, but just pitching. There’s such a high failure rate among pitchers in the minor leagues that we really feel like, if you can grab a bunch of pitchers that have already cleared a couple of hurdles and are in that A-ball, AA range, you’re in pretty good shape at that point. I think the goal of a lot of those trades was to substantially add to our depth of good prospects. I don’t think that we necessarily got any premium, top-end prospects in the trades, but then again, we weren’t necessarily trading any top-end major leaguers. We were trading good major leaguers that were ready to contribute now, and in return we got a high quantity of good prospects. I think that was our objective and we accomplished it. Catching was a priority as well. We still feel like we’re thin on catching. [Carlos] Perez helped. Having [Tyler] Heineman have a great year out of the draft helped, but we still have a ways to go. That’s an area where we’re going to continue to look to improve.”

I also asked Luhnow if there were any prospects who stood out for him for one reason or another as he made his rounds of the minor league ballparks this summer. “Yes, I think so. Just to give you an example, [OF Ariel] Ovando. What I knew about him coming in was that he was a toolsy player that got a lot of money [and] didn’t perform relative to the amount of money he got, his signing bonus as an amateur. And I think I was really impressed. I saw him in the winter and then I saw him this year at Greeneville, and I think I was impressed with how he was handling all of that and how he wasn’t letting it bother him. He was going out there and performing. I thought that was important to see. There were a lot of good performances in our minor league systems though, for me, the first time through was just trying to learn who these guys were more than anything and trying to get a sense for the staff. There were certain players that I came in knowing I was going to take a look at, but there were lots of others that ended up catching my attention so it was definitely worthwhile. I think next year I’d like to spend a little more time out there because this year it was maybe two or three days per spot so I didn’t get to see everybody. You go in; you see maybe two or three of the starters. You don’t get to see everybody. I was impressed with [RHP Adrian] Houser when I saw him in Greeneville. I was impressed with [LHP Brett] Oberholtzer when I saw him but there [were] a lot of pitchers I didn’t get to see when I was out there.”

I wondered if there were any higher level prospects who had answered his questions or concerns this season. In particular, I was thinking of RHP Jarred Cosart who, after having a history of injuries, has remained healthy for the last two seasons (with the exception of some minor blister problems). “Cosart – I happened to be there when he had a dominating performance. When you watch him in one of those starts, you sort of put all those concerns aside because he’s got the arm to be … I still believe that he can be a top-of-the-rotation starter because he’s got enough stuff and he seems to maintain it throughout the game so that was good for me to see. I think [RHP] Paul Clemens is another guy that struggled at times this year mightily in AAA. What I had seen in Spring Training was different than what the results were showing during the season. Getting a chance to see him late was important as well because I believe that he’s everything that we saw in Spring Training. It’s just a matter of him gaining the confidence and really developing an approach that allows him to be consistent because he’s got big league stuff. He’s another one that I heard about and had seen a little bit in Spring Training and was curious as to why the results weren’t matching what I had seen. And that happens. I think there [are] a couple of players that I’m curious to see next year that we didn’t get to see this year like [1B Chase] Davidson and [RHP Jack] Armstrong. Those are guys that … when you have players like that, that have either [been] highly touted or drafted high or have had success and then missed basically entire years due to injury, those are the kind of guys you don’t tend to think about or put on lists, but those are guys that when you think towards next year, in the back of your mind [you] have a little bit of a safety net. [If] those guys pitch or hit to their abilities, all of a sudden we have two more guys we’re going to be talking about next year at this time.”

This led me to ask about a couple of the players that missed all or a large part of the season due to injuries. Luhnow didn’t specify what had kept Chase Davidson from missing most of the season, but had a bit more to say regarding Armstrong and RHP Kyle Weiland. “Armstrong should be [ready for 2013]. Weiland, he’s been rehabbing. We just checked in on him about a week ago and he’s getting stronger. It’s just that when you take that much time off, it takes a while to build up the strength. Armstrong was a little more of a routine situation. Weiland was a little bit more of an unexpected, navigating-into-new-territory situation. I’m hopeful that both of them will be ready to go for Spring Training. [More on Armstrong.] I’ve been watching him since he went to high school there in Jupiter when I was with the Cardinals. I would watch him in high school from basically sophomore year all the way through until senior year and watched him at Vanderbilt so I’ve got some history with him. He’s everything you look for in a pitcher, really."

On Wednesday, we hear from Jeff Luhnow regarding issues associated with greater depth in the system, thoughts on the Rule 5 draft and winter league player control.

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