Tag Archive | "Pitching Coach"

The Rotation Battle Ends Today

Spring Training may be reaching the halfway point but the biggest battle in Jupiter for the St. Louis Cardinals will come to a close.

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The Cardinals entered Spring Training attempting to put together the final spot of their rotation.  The battle has come down to the young right arms of Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly.  Today, one of those young men will take a big step forward towards the 2013 rotation.  The other will have some other questions to answer.

The issue here is the timing of Spring Training and the regimen that pitching coach Derek Lilliquist lays out for the pitchers.

Every starter is building his pitch count to be able to reach the 100 pitch threshold by opening day.  As starters get stretched out, and the rotation takes shape, it becomes harder and harder to get long outings for six starters.  The rotation will begin throwing every five days and stretching out higher and higher pitch counts.

Joe Kelly will start today.  Shelby Miller will be the first arm out of the bullpen.  At the end of the day, one of the young men will start again in five days.  The other, well, that is to be determined.

That may be the true question.  Not the question of who rounds out the Major League rotation but the question of what happens with the other one may be of equal importance.  Does he go to Memphis to start there?  Does he remain in St. Louis and in the bullpen?  What best serves the Cardinals in 2013 and in the future?

One question will be answered today.

The rest will develop soon.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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St. Louis Cardinals coaching changes might be most-notable offseason moves

The St. Louis Cardinals made several changes to their coaching staff this week before free agency gets started. That’s not huge news, but it might be more than the team changes to its player roster during the offseason.

Hitting coach Mark McGwire said Friday he will take the same position with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals also announced earlier in the week that bullpen coach Dyar Miller had not been offered a contract to stay with the team.

The team will replace Miller with Blaise Ilsley, who had been the pitching coach for the AAA-affiliate Memphis Redbirds, and it is expected to promote John Mabry next week from assistant hitting coach to McGwire’s old position as hitting coach, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The team will likely fill the assistant hitting coach position with someone already in the organization.

But don’t expect a similar amount of changes to the Cardinals roster during the offseason.

The Cardinals offered a $13.3-million qualifying offer Friday to starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, but it would be shocking to see Lohse accept that offer or remain with the team heading into 2013. Lohse’s value is very high right now given his 16-3 record in 2012 and a weak free agent class.

But other than Lohse, the Cardinals will likely trot out a team very similar to the 2012 squad. Lance Berkman won’t return, but every other position player on the team’s regular postseason lineup is under contract for next year.

Following the Cardinals disappointing seven-game loss to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series, many people have trumpeted the need for improvements at the shortstop and second-base positions.

However, those yearnings for new faces up the middle might be misguided.

Assuming his elbow is healthy heading into Spring Training, Rafeal Furcal should be back for the start of the 2013 season. Regardless if people think he is the best possible solution, he is an accomplished veteran who can handle the position. That takes care of shortstop, and Pete Kozma can be Furcal’s back up.

Many also seem to think Kozma was a one-hit wonder down the stretch last season, which he very well might be, but he certainly played well enough while in the big leagues to earn serious consideration as the team’s back-up shortstop.

That is also a much cheaper scenario than signing a mid-level free agent such as Stephen Drew or Alex Gonzalez.

Second base is a tad more tricky. Skip Schumaker did not play well in the second half of the season, but he is still under contract for next season and has proven in the past that he can be an everyday starter. Daniel Descalso is the best fielder on the team besides Yadier Molina, but his surge at the plate in the postseason will have to become his norm for him to hold the second-base job for an entire season.

The Cardinals also have highly touted prospect Kolten Wong, who will have a shot to play second base for the Cardinals, perhaps as soon as 2013. Even if he needs more time in the minor leagues, he figures to be the team’s long-term plan at that position.

Maybe a veteran could fill the spot until Wong is ready, but this year’s free agent class at second base includes players such as Placido Polanco, Marco Scutaro and Adam Kennedy. The Cardinals have already had Polanco and Kennedy earlier in their careers, and both are surely in the final steps of their careers.

Scutaro might be an option. He played great for the Giants this year, hitting .362 in 61 games after he was traded mid-season from the Colorado Rockies, but he is a career .276 hitter. That’s not bad, but Schumaker is a career .288 hitter and does a fine job defensively.

All of that means the team that sneaked into the playoffs, made a miracle comeback to win the division series in the playoffs and missed the World Series by one game will likely be the same team that takes the field on Opening Day 2013.

Changes are always interesting and exciting, but St. Louis fans probably won’t have many of those feelings this winter.

The current team, with supposedly full seasons from Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and a large group of talented, young pitchers, already has the pieces to create expectations that it should at minimum be in strong playoff contention at the end of the season.

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Royals And Kevin Seitzer Part Ways

ROYALS ANNOUNCE HITTING COACH KEVIN SEITZER WILL NOT RETURN IN 2013

 

KANSAS CITY, MO (October 4, 2012) – The Kansas City Royals and Manager Ned Yost announced today that the contract of hitting coach Kevin Seitzer will not be renewed for the 2013 season.  The remainder of the coaching staff will return next season: bench coach Chino Cadahia, pitching coach Dave Eiland, first base coach Rusty Kuntz and third base coach Eddie Rodriguez.  The Royals will also need to fill the bullpen coach position after naming Steve Foster the club’s Special Assistant to GM/Minor League Pitching Coordinator on August 31.

The Royals plan to hire a hitting coach and a bullpen coach as a later date.

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Mike Matheny fosters good, clean start to St. Louis Cardinals season

The St. Louis Cardinals might have a new manager, pitching coach and offensive stars, but their results have been the same as the 2011 team during its run to the World Series championship. The games have also been less stressful to watch, thanks in part to new manager Mike Matheny.

The Cardinals started the 2012 season with two of the cleanest wins a baseball team can have, especially to begin a season. They beat the Miami Marlins 4-1 Wednesday before traveling to Milwaukee and beating the Brewers 11-5 Friday.

Sure, they got beat in starting pitcher Adam Wainwright’s return Saturday to the tune of a 6-0 shutout, but Brewers starter Zack Greinke pitched a brilliant game. He was also the third elite pitcher the Cardinals had faced in as many days.

Overall, the Cardinals have shown early signs that they will play a much cleaner game than they did while Tony La Russa was the manager. It’s foolish to say La Russa’s teams didn’t play good baseball. His team’s won a lot of baseball games, but they also maintained an edge to their game that was never completely comfortable to watch. They could certainly come back after falling behind several runs early in a game, but just as well could let a similar lead disappear.

A good bullpen is certainly a major factor in how those situations play out, but La Russa’s heavy use of his bullpen played a role. His theory of using several relievers in one game was meant to keep them available night after night without wearing down one particular pitcher. But, that always left opportunities for one of those pitchers to have an off-night and blow the game.

Although it’s very early, Matheny hasn’t shown any tendencies to take a lot of risks. His decisions have been calculated, and have not tipped the game for or against his team. Those moments where his decision wins or loses a game will surely come, but his approach is a smart one for a new manager with an experienced team.

Matheny’s has also made judicial use of his bullpen. It helps when his starters pitch deep into ballgames, but he has not made pitching changes just for the sake of making pitching changes. Matheny has a good understanding of the rhythm of a baseball game, and has shown a more gentle touch than La Russa.

Matheny is no teddy bear, by any means. He will fight with his team to the death just as La Russa would have, but Matheny will likely trust his gut instinct rather than what the numbers say in the matchup book.

That will be a stark change for Cardinals fans who have grown to fear a righty-lefty matchup simply because the pitcher and hitter don’t have the same dominant hand. The hand a pitcher throws with is sometimes less important than how the pitcher is throwing that day.

Even if a pitcher, particularly a reliever, was cruising along, La Russa would yank him simply to play the matchup game. Matheny appears to be more likely to let a pitcher who is dominating go ahead and work a full inning regardless of who comes up next in the order. This certainly won’t always be the case, but it will be nice to watch a game that doesn’t include at least six pitching changes every night.

Also, the team’s baserunning has been much better. Former first baseman Albert Pujols was often more of a factor in this problem than La Russa. Pujols was a very aggressive baserunner, but he would also run himself into an out because of that aggressiveness.

The 2012 Cardinals might not be the most explosive team in Major League Baseball, but if the first week is any indication, this should be a very fundamentally sound team that could win a lot of baseball games.

Having a manager who fosters that type of a team will certainly help.

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2012 Roster Set for Springfield

Springfield, MO - The St. Louis Cardinals have announced the Springfield Cardinals roster for the upcoming season.

New Manager Mike Shildt and returning Hitting Coach Phillip Wellman and Pitching Coach Bryan Eversgerd will be well stocked heading into the 2012 season.

Returning to the roster are 15 players who appeared in a Springfield uniform last year, including Texas League All-Star Pitchers Michael Blazek and Scott Gorgen.  Blazek led the Cardinals with 11 wins and finished second in the Texas League in strikeouts (128).  Gorgen, coming off of Tommy John Surgery that made his miss the 2011 season, was 5-1 with a 1.26 ERA for Springfield in 2010.

The starting staff will feature Gorgen, #17 prospect John Gast (9-8, 4.02 ERA), #11 Prospect Trevor Rosenthal (7-7, 4.11 ERA), Michael Blazek (11-6, 5.45 ERA) and lefty Tyler Lyons (9-4, 4.50 ERA Several other familiar names from the mound will be at Hammons Field in 2012 as starter John Gast and relievers Sam Freeman, Deryk Hooker Jorge Rondon, Scott Schneider, Jesse Simpson and Kevin Thomas return to Springfield.  New to Springfield bullpen are right handers Keith Butler (1-1, 1.23 ERA with Quad Cities and Palm Beach) and Eric Fornataro (7-13, 3.67 ERA with Palm Beach as a starter) and lefty Justin Wright (5-1, 1.26 ERA with Quad Cities and 0-0, 0.57 ERA with Palm Beach).

Leading the infield at second base is newcomer Kolten Wong, a 2011 1st round pick out of the University of Hawaii and the 5th best prospect in the organization.  Xavier Scruggs returns to Springfield after slugging 21 homers in Palm Beach and Jose Garcia (.318 and 19 steals) will be Wong’s double play partner.  Niko Vasquez also makes his return to the hot corner.  Fellow University of Hawaii product Greg Garcia will make if Double-A debut this year.

Number three Prospect Oscar Taveras will patrol the Hammons Field outfield after skipping Palm Beach entirely to make his Texas League debut in 2012.  Taveras batted .386 with eight homeruns and 62 RBI in only 78 games for Quad Cities last season.  Tommy Pham returns to Springfield after an injury plagued 2011 season and will be joined by newcomers Adam Melker, Raniel Rosario and Jake Shaffer, who was signed by the Cardinals out of the Mariners organization on March 31st.

The team arrived on Sunday and hosted the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals Monday in a 3-2 defeat. They start the season against the Frisco RoughRiders tonight and 7:08pm! Scott Gorgen is scheduled to pitch for the Cardinals against Justin Grimm of the RoughRiders. All games in 2012 can be heard live on JOCK 98.7 FM as well as online at springfieldcardinals.com with play-by-play voice Jeff Levering.

Opening Night will feature 5,000 fans receiving a Great Southern 2012 Magnet Schedule/Picture Frames, the first of nine “Buck a Brat” $1 Johnson Bratwurst nights and everyone will enjoy a post-game Fireworks Spectacular thanks to AM Pyrotechnics.  Tickets are available by visiting the Hammons Field Ticket Office, online at www.springfieldcardinals.com or by calling (417) 863-2143.

Escape to Cardinals Baseball!

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Replacing a Cardinal legend

Replacing a Cardinal legend…those words could mean a lot of different things coming into the 2012 season. It could mean Lance Berkman taking over first base for Albert Pujols. It could mean rookie manager Mike Matheny replacing Hall-of-Fame manager Tony LaRussa. This article will focus on Derek Lilliquist, Cardinals pitching coach, who has the task of replacing arguably the greatest pitching coach of all-time, Dave Duncan.

Lilliquist filled in admirably during the 2011 season when Duncan had to take an extended leave of absence to help his wife Jeanine after her surgery to remove a brain tumor. Duncan had a year remaining on his contract after 2011, but it began to seem more and more unlikely that he would come back after LaRussa retired and his wife’s medical issues. On January 6th, 2012, Duncan stepped down as Cardinals pitching coach.

Cardinals fans grew anxious over the off-season, realizing just how crucial the pitching staff would be to the team’s success following the loss of Pujols. Duncan had always been able to work his magic on struggling veteran pitchers, helping them return to form and the Cardinals stay within their budgetary constraints. Duncan also had compiled 30 years worth of notes in his famous notebooks that will no longer be sitting in the Cardinal dugout. It was one thing for Duncan to be on extended leave and available for a phone call from Lilliquist. This year, he is on his own.

Lilliquist pitched in the majors from 1989 to 1996. He was selected by the Braves with the sixth pick of the 1987 draft. Lilliquist had a very successful career at the University of Georgia, where he was named College Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America after leading the Bulldogs to their first ever College World Series appearance.

He pitched in 262 games in his major-league career for five different teams: Atlanta, San Diego, Cleveland, Boston, and Cincinnati. His career record was 25-34 with a 4.13 ERA. Like a lot of good coaches (aka LaRusssa and Duncan) his playing career was nothing exceptional. However, the Cardinals saw something in him to believe he would make a great pitching coach.

After his playing career was over in 1996, Lilliquist coached high school baseball in Florida from 98-01. Then he got his chance to coach for the Cardinals.This season will be his 11th in the Cardinals organization.

Lilliquist started in 2002 coaching for rookie level Johnson City. After one year there he moved up to Peoria in 2003. One year later, he started a four-year stint coaching for Class A Palm Beach. According to the Cardinal’s team website, during those four years, Palm Beach made the playoffs twice and won the 2005 league championship. The 2005 team had the second best ERA (3.94) in the league.

After the 2007 Palm Beach season, Lilliquist became the pitching coordinator in Jupiter (Cardinals spring training site), helping rehabilitating pitchers. Then in 2011, he got his chance with the big club, serving as bullpen coach, before taking over Duncan’s duties during his leave of absence. Although there is a lot of years experience, 2012 is only Lilliquist’s second at the major-league level.

One reason fans were initially more accepting of the club hiring a rookie manager was the year Matheny would get to spend with Dave Duncan at the helm of the pitching staff. That opportunity obviously went away less than two months into Matheny’s tenure. Now the defending World Champions have a rookie manager and a pitching coach with only one year experience. Is it time to press the panic button? Not so fast….

Matheny has shown an incredible work ethic and command of the team so far in spring training. He has done a good job of mixing in veterans with young players and prospects. The daily workouts are ran efficiently and the club seems to be getting very well prepared for the upcoming season.

Although Lilliquist is getting less press, he also seems to be doing a good job of handling his new pitching duties. A lot of different pitchers have gotten extended looks and impressed so far during camp, including Sam Freeman, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, John Gast, and Shelby Miller. Lilliquist and Matheny have made sure the young pitchers were able to spend a good amount of time with the veterans of the staff, to watch their daily routine and learn their method of success.

The back end of the rotation, Lohse and Westbrook, have looked strong so far in camp. Adam Wainwright is pitching like a man possessed, having not allowed an earned run so far in spring training. More importantly, his stuff looks really, really good. His curveball is as nasty as ever. All signs point to a successful start for Lilliquist first year at the helm.

The games will start to count in a couple of weeks. How will he handle his starting rotation with Carpenter on the mend? How will he handle a very talented, but still fairly young bullpen? A lot remains to be seen. One thing is certain, the Cardinals have very little chance for a repeat run at a title if the pitching staff falters. Lilliquist is certainly facing his greatest challenge yet. Is he up to the task? Stay tuned.

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Who are the backups to the St. Louis Cardinals backstop?

The St. Louis Cardinals are all in training camp and preparing for the 2012 season! Those are sweet, sweet words for Cardinal fans all over the world. This is the time of year where every team has hope for the upcoming season, and the joy of baseball fandom is at its highest. As has been much discussed on this site, there are a lot of questions the Cardinals face as they approach a new season: new manager, new pitching coach, no Albert Pujols at first base, ace pitcher (Adam Wainwright) returning after a missed year following Tommy John surgery, Yadier Molina entering final year of his contract, Lance Berkman moving to first base, David Freese trying to stay healthy for a full season, Tyler Greene trying to win the second base job, Allen Craig trying to get back on the field, Shelby Miller and Matt Adams trying to crack the big league roster, Carlos Beltran first season with the Birds, Holliday moving into the 3 spot in the batting order…have I left anything out?

News broke out of Jupiter earlier this week that the Cardinals and Yadier Molina are very close on a 5-year extension for a reported $70-75 million. As of the writing of this article, the deal has yet to be completed or finalized. Molina’s contract situation begs the question of just who would replace Molina should he leave after the 2012 season? Would it come from within the organization or outside the organization? This article will look at the three catchers in the Cardinal system that would be next in-line should Molina leave, or perhaps more importantly (based on news of a deal being close for Molina), which guy could provide serviceable backup starts when Molina needs a rest.

Bryan Anderson is a 25-year old catcher that was drafted by the Cardinals in the 4th round of the 2005 amateur draft. Anderson made his big-league debut in 2010 and has seen only 32 at-bats. He has played time at the AAA level all the way back to 2008. His batting average in the minors is .281 and he has hit between 3-12 home runs each season. While not a home run hitter, he does swing a pretty good bat with gap power that can produce a lot of doubles. Scouts say Anderson is athletic with good bat-speed and plate discipline. He has a quick release from behind the plate but only average arm strength. His blocking and receiving also need some work before he is major-league ready. He certainly has the right coach to help him in manager Mike Matheny, but he appears to be a guy that could get squeezed out of an MLB opportunity. He’s  not a good enough defender (yet) to play catcher but not enough of a power bat to become a DH.

Tony Cruz is also a 25-year old catcher. He was signed by the Cardinals in the 27th round of the 2007 amateur draft. Like Anderson, Cruz does not have many major league at-bats. Unlike Anderson, he was not drafted as a catcher. Cruz was drafted as a 3B, but was moved behind the plate because of his strong arm. His only time up in the big show came in 2011 when he accumulated 72 plate appearances in 38 games. Cruz stayed in the low minors longer than Anderson. He did not reach the AAA level until 2010.

Part of his development will be improving his slow release behind the plate (if only we could combine Anderson’s release and Cruz’s arm strength). Unfortunately, Cruz is a mediocre offensive weapon. His minors slash line is .264/.319/.414 and his AAA slash line is .232/.295/.389. He is a singles hitter that struggles to make consistent contact.

Koyie Hill was signed by the Cardinals to a minor-league contract during the 2012 off-season. Hill is 32 years old, was drafted by the Dodgers organization in the 4th round of the 2000 draft. He played sparingly at the big league level from 2003-2008. Then he played in 83, 77, and 46 games during the 2009-2011 seasons. Most of his playing time was received when Geovany Soto went down with injuries.

Hill was given playing time for his defensive abilities much more so than his offensive capabilities. Hill struggles to make contact, has a ground ball rate over 50%, and does not have a good eye at the plate (quite the combination). His best major league year season at the plate was 2009 when he hit .237 with with 2 HRs and 24 RBIs in 253 plate appearances. 2009 also marked the most plate appearances Hill has seen in a season to this point in his career.

A deeper look at these catcher’s skill sets and numbers makes it understandable why the Cardinals are willing to throw the years and dollars at Molina that is being reported. I did not even touch on all the intangibles a catcher brings to the team outside of the sheer numbers. The way Molina handles pitchers will ease the transition from Duncan to Lilliquist. The way he throws runners out and keeps runners from attempting to steal will keep many runs off the scoreboard. He is the guy you want behind the plate to groom Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and others in the coming seasons. Those who would call a five-year contract to Molina foolish must not fully understand all the intangibles he brings to the team that truly make a difference in the standings at the end of the year.

Another exciting aspect to Molina is that 2011 was his most productive season at the plate. For whatever reason, a lot of catchers are late bloomers offensively, and Molina was no exception. In 2011, Molina batted .304 with 14 HRs and 65 RBIs. He has excellent discipline at the plate, drives the ball well to the opposite field, and makes contact over 90% of the time. His numbers are trending in such a way that I would not put a .300-20-80 season beyond him in any of the next three seasons.

There is one last factor to take into consideration. In this age of advanced metrics, we sometimes reduce a players worth to numbers on a page. It has been a long time since I have seen a Cardinal play the game of baseball with more passion than Yadier Molina. The Cardinals need him in the clubhouse if for no other reason than that. Passion is contagious.

If for some reason, the deal does not get done with the Cardinals and Molina, you have to believe the club would look outside the organization for a starting catcher. At 25, Anderson and Cruz have time to continue to develop, but nothing they have done to this point in their careers lead you to believe they would be the long-term answer.

This writer hopes Molina wears the Birds on the Bat for years to come. Let’s make it happen Mo!

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A look ahead to June 23, 2012

Joe Buck and Tim McCarver preview the much anticipated nationally-televised mid-season match-up between the NL Central leading St. Louis Cardinals and the AL Central leading Kansas City Royals

Joe Buck: It gives us great pleasure to welcome the entire country to beautiful Kauffman Stadium for this week’s featured matchup between, currently, the best team in each league.  And in the case of the American League, the separation between the Kansas City Royals and every other team in the league is far and wide.  After last night’s win, this incredibly exciting young Royals ballclub sits at 48 wins and just 28 losses, putting them 10 games in front of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central.  And they have done it on the backs of their young stars.  We are still a few weeks away from the All-Star Break, and 3B Mike Moustakas leads the entire major leagues with 22 home runs.  1B Eric Hosmer has a batting average of .365 which also leads the entire major leagues.  Left-fielder Alex Gordon picked up exactly where he left off last season, and Catcher Salvador Perez has caught the attention of the baseball world not only with his defense behind the plate, but also with his bat, carrying a .321 average with 10 home runs and 40 RBI into today’s game.

Tim McCarver: You know, coming into this season, everyone in the game was acknowledging that these young Royals had some great hitters.  But the question was pitching.  Nobody on this staff had really established himself as a front-line starter, and the young pitchers were not quite ready to make the leap.  Next  year was supposed to be the year.  But as we sit here today, Joe, you would have to say that under new pitching coach Dave Eiland, the Royals may be sporting one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball.  The big right-hander we will see today, Felipe Paulino, has to be considered one of the front-runners to start the All-Star Game for the American League, which by the way, will take place here in Kansas City in just a few weeks.

Joe Buck: And if Paulino makes the all-star team, he most certainly will not be alone.  The left-hander Danny Duffy, a kid who the team wasn’t even sure was going to make the team out of spring training, has absolutely electrified since the beginning of the season.  The staff leads the American League in strikeouts, something that manager Ned Yost told us earlier was even a surprise to him.

Tim McCarver: You know, Joe…it doesn’t seem like that long ago when this team was only winning 48 games in a whole season.  Now they have 48 wins and we still have more than 3 months to play.

Joe Buck: When General Manager Dayton Moore arrived in Kansas City 6 years ago, the organization was in shambles.  The major league club was losing, every time they would develop anything resembling a star they would be traded away, and the minor league system had nothing in it to offer any hope for the future.  Moore arrived and stated that his primary objective was to rebuild the farm system.  And he said it would take time.  It has taken time, but Tim, it looks like we might finally be seeing the patience of the Kansas City Royals’ fans beginning to pay off.

Tim McCarver: You got that right, Joe.  This is a deserving fan base that has waited far too long to have something to get excited about.  It’s great a great thing to see.

Joe Buck: This team is taking this city for a ride, and it’s been a long time coming.  Kauffman Stadium is a sea of blue, on a balmy June afternoon, and it’s almost time for baseball.  We will be back for the first pitch, after these messages…

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The Luhnow Legacy

Somewhere in the whirlwind that is known as the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals off-season, a very key piece of the organization left the club without much fanfare. Events quickly moved from World Series parade, to Tony LaRussa’s retirement, to the Albert Pujols negotiations, to Dave Duncan’s leave of absence, to the Winter Warm Up. I can not think of another team that had so much turnover  immediately following a World Championship as the Cardinals experienced. In the midst of the flurry of off-season activity it is certainly understandable how a key move made but a small splash.

Lunhow,

Cardinal Nation barely had a chance to catch its breath from World Series Game 7 before Tony LaRussa announced his retirement. In the following weeks Albert Pujols, Joe Pettini, and Dave McKay all moved on to other clubs. Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan announced that he would take a leave of absence to be with his wife as she continues her battle with cancer.  When the Cardinals take the field against the Miami Marlins on April 4, 2012, Jose Oquendo will be the only uniformed coach that has been with the team since 2009.

Despite all of the turnover within the club, there is great optimism within the Cardinals front office, the team, the coaches, and a majority of the fan base at the prospects for the 2012 season. Before completely shifting focus to 2012, I want to reflect on a 2011 departure that gets less attention, but has tremendous organizational impact. On the very same night the Los Angeles Angels were finalizing a deal to sign Albert Pujols, the Houston Astros named Jeff Luhnow their new general manager.

Jeff Luhnow was the head of the Cardinals scouting and drafting department. He established a strong presence in Latin America for the team, and brought the Cardinals into a new era of player development that used both scouting and analytics.  He worked for the team from 2003 until this past December. Since 2005, Luhnow turned the Cardinals farm system from one of the worst in baseball to arguably one of the top five in the league. This was done in spite of the fact the Cardinals never had a top ten pick during any of the drafts he oversaw.

Luhnow is not a “baseball insider” that worked his way up through the ranks. He was more comfortable with spreadsheets than with scouting reports when he was hired by the Cardinals. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in economics and engineering, and earned his MBA at Northwestern University. Prior to joining the Cardinals in 2003, he worked in mechanical and chemical engineering, spent five years in management consulting, did entrepreneurial work, and served as a vice president of marketing for Petstore.com.

In the early part of the last decade, teams had to quickly adapt to the new emphasis on analytics brought about from the release of the book “Moneyball”. The book highlighted the Oakland Athletics success, despite an incredibly small payroll, using advanced statistics to find market inefficiencies in player evaluation. Luhnow was one of the early baseball analytics experts given a front office job. He was hired to make sense of the new analytics and improve the Cardinal’s international scouting. He quickly integrated database analysis into personnel decisions.

Said more simply, Luhnow drafted and developed enough talent to allow the Cardinals to win two World Series titles in six years. He leaves the club well positioned to compete in 2012 and beyond. The Cardinals can not pay top dollar for more than four or five players every year, due to being a bottom-third market city. To have Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, and Carlos Beltran, they must find production from young, cost-controlled players to have a competitive team year in and year out.

Beyond just analyzing numbers on a page, Luhnow implemented “bio-mechanics” within the Cardinals player development process. Pitchers were taught the mechanics, rhythm, and tempo that aid them in remaining injury free. Former big-league pitchers worked with young Cardinal pitchers on the mental aspects of the game needed to be able to compete at the highest level. Hitters worked with video not only as a means to scout opponents, but to improve their swing and approach at the plate. This does not seem to be such a big deal in 2012, but not many other teams were using video to this level in 2004.

Luhnow was hired by Bill Dewitt against the wishes of then GM Walt Jocketty. It was a front-office riff that would eventually lead to Jocketty’s departure following the 2007 season. Little did Jocketty know at the time just what Luhnow was building between 2005 and 2007. The 2005-2007 drafts produced Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, Jaime Garcia, and Jon Jay. Also in those drafts were players used in the trades for Matt Holliday, Rafael Furcal, Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepcynski, as well as Luke Gregerson and Chris Perez.

There are an abundance of prospects in the system that project to be impact players: Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveras, Tyrell Jenkins, Carlos Martinez, Matt Adams, Ryan Jackson, Kolten Wong, Zach Cox, Trevor Rosenthal, John Gast, Jordan Swagerty, and Joe Kelly, among others.

As the 2012 season fast approaches, there will be a lot of new faces for Cardinals fans to get used to. One of those faces is the man hired to replace Jeff Luhnow, Dan Kantrovitz . If he performs his jobs well, Cardinals fans won’t feel the loss of Luhnow. He has big shoes to fill. Matheny has already made clear that he will place a large emphasis on advanced scouting and metrics.

Any success Kantrovitz has will be built upon the foundation of integrating scouting and analytics that Luhnow brought to the organization. Luhnow should be remembered as a key piece to a great era of Cardinal baseball. I am glad the Cardinals will not have the Astros as division foes but for another year. Although they are a very bad baseball team at the moment, I fully expect them to be a force to contend with under Luhnow’s leadership.

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Poldberg Returning As Naturals’ Skipper In 2012

Poldberg returning as Naturals’ skipper in 2012
Former Natural Vance Wilson moves up a level to manage Wilmington

SPRINGDALE, AR - The Kansas City Royals announced that veteran skipper Brian Poldberg will be returning to Northwest Arkansas for a fifth consecutive season to manage the Naturals in 2012. The only manager the Naturals have ever known, Poldberg guided Northwest Arkansas to a 73-64 record in 2011, culminating in a second-half division championship and the Naturals’ fourth playoff appearance in as many seasons.

Poldberg’s coaches from last season, Pitching Coach Larry Carter and Hitting Coach Terry Bradshaw, also return intact to form, by far, the Texas League’s most experienced coaching staff and the same staff that brought Northwest Arkansas a Texas League Championship after the 2010 season.

In his 29 seasons with the Kansas City Royals organization, the 54-year old Poldberg has served as a minor league player, roving instructor, and minor league manager in addition to his tenure on the Major League staff, where he served as the third base coach under former Royals’ skipper Buddy Bell during the 2007 season, capping four consecutive seasons on the Royals’ Major League staff that saw him coach first base during the 2006 season and serve as the Royals’ bullpen coach during the 2004-05 seasons.

The Carter Lake, IA resident began his baseball career in 1980 as a catcher playing in the New York Yankees farm system. He went on to play six years in the minor leagues, reaching Triple-A with the Omaha Royals in 1985. He is a graduate of Emporia (Kan.) State University and owns a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Poldberg’s career minor league managerial record now stands at 764-755 (.503). With over 1500 games of minor-league managerial experience, including playoffs, Poldberg is not only the Texas League’s most tenured active skipper but one of the more experienced managers in all of the minor leagues. Under his guidance, the Naturals have won more games than any other team in the Texas League since the Naturals’ inaugural season in 2008.

For his part, Carter, a 46-year old Corinth, TX resident, will be entering his 11th season as the pitching coach for the Royals’ Double-A team after spending six seasons with the Wichita Wranglers prior to the move to Springdale. The winner of the 2008 Texas League coach of the year award, named for former Tulsa Drillers’ Hitting Coach Mike Coolbaugh, 2012 will be Carter’s 15th season in the Royals’ organization.

Known for his ability to help young pitchers progress, Carter has been credited with instrumental contributions to the career development of former Royal Zack Greinke as well as some of the current group of Royals prospects that have been on the receiving end of his wisdom during their time in the Texas League.

Carter was originally selected in the 10th round of the 1986 June Free Agent Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He played in the Cardinals system for 2 years before joining the San Francisco Giants organization and was named to the Texas League All-Star team in 1991. He appeared in six games at the Major League level with the 1992 Giants and was 1-5 with a 4.64 ERA.

Bradshaw will spend his fourth season tutoring Naturals’ hitters. He came to Northwest Arkansas after a five year stint as the Hitting Coach for Triple-A Omaha. The 42-year old Franklin, VA native previously spent four years as hitting coach for three of Kansas City’s Class-A affiliates: Wilmington (2002-2003), Burlington (2001) and Charleston (2000).

Bradshaw began his professional playing career after he was a 9th round draft pick by St. Louis in 1990 and spent eight years playing in the Cardinals system, including two brief stops at the Major League level during the 1995 and 1996 seasons. In 65 major league at-bats over 34 games, the outfielder hit .262. He was a member of the 1994 Arkansas Travelers, where he earned a spot on the league’s post-season All-Star team.

The Naturals will welcome in two new members of the field staff for 2012 in Athletic Trainer Masa Koyanagi and Strength and Conditioning Coach George Timke, who will take over the posts filled last season by Tony Medina and Joey Greany, respectively. Medina has been named as the Royals’ Latin America Medical Coordinator, while Greany will serve as the Strength and Conditioning Coach for Triple-A Omaha in 2012.

Koyanagi will be serving in his fifth season as a trainer in the Royals’ system. The Fukuoka, Japan native worked last season as the trainer for Advanced Class-A Wilmington. Prior to his time in the Royals’ organization, Koyanagi spent the 2007 season on the staff of the Tampa Bay Rays, where he served as an interpreter for former Major League infielder Akinori Iwamura. He also served as an Athletic Trainer in the Milwaukee Brewers organization for four seasons from 2003-2006. In 2006, he served as the trainer for the champion Japanese squad in the World Baseball Classic. He resides in Peoria, AZ with his wife and two daughters.

Timke is in his fourth season in the Royals’ organization as a minor league strength coach and served in the same role last season for Wilmington. He is a resident of Orange County, New York.

In a related announcement, the Royals announced that former Natural and Springdale resident Vance Wilson will move up a level this year to skipper the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Royals’ Advanced Class-A affiliate in the Carolina League. This will be Wilson’s second season managing in the minor leagues.

A veteran of eight big-league seasons, Wilson retired from his playing career in 2010 after attempting a comeback from a second Tommy John surgery and served last season as the manager for the Royals’ Class-A Kane County affiliate. Under Wilson’s tutelage, Kane County, a team which included former Razorback Brett Eibner, won a wild-card playoff spot and advanced to the second round of the Midwest League playoffs.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. The 2012 home opener is Thursday, April 12th. Visit our website, nwanaturals.com, for information on season tickets and ticket plans.

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