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How did the Cardinals Fare with Kantrovitz as Top Scout?

As often happens, I start to respond to a message board post, but find that my reply becomes so long and detailed that it ends up being its own blog entry. Such is the case here.

On Monday, news that the Oakland A’s have re-hired St. Louis Cardinals Director of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz to become one of their two assistant general managers was divulged. (You can read more here.)

Of all the remarks I read on Twitter and message boards, I only saw one critical comment. It was offered at The Cardinal Nation message board. The specifics follow.

“The quality and quantity of our prospects has declined during Kantrovitz’ time here. Our system was ranked #1 when he got here. It moved down to #6 for 2014, and it is likely that our system will be ranked even lower in 2015. We do not have a single power prospect in our entire system. Kantrovitz lucked out in getting an offer from Oakland because he was about to get hit with a lot of criticism for his work here.” – mudville

I will come back later with a more comprehensive look at the three drafts Kantrovitz ran for the Cardinals, though in reality, it will take several more years to draw a final conclusion.

Here and now, I wanted to start by addressing the specific comments noted above. This post is not intended to sound defensive, but to offer additional information which seems relevant. I changed the order of the original points slightly, but respond to all of them.

Please offer your opinions as well, either here or at The Cardinal Nation message board.

“Our system was ranked #1 when he got here. It moved down to #6 for 2014, and it is likely that our system will be ranked even lower in 2015.”

No, that is not the case. Kantrovitz was hired in January 2012. In Baseball America’s spring 2012 rankings, which incorporated the 2011 draft and season, the Cardinals system was 12th, an improvement from 24th in 2011.

Accelerated by the extraordinary circumstance of five first-rounders in the 2012 draft, Kantrovitz’ first, the Cards moved up to the top spot in 2013, then dropped to seventh in 2014. I share the suspicion that St. Louis will likely fall lower this spring.

One should remember that rankings are of the entire system, which include the impact of drafts, PLUS international signings, PLUS player development once they are all in house. Kantrovitz was responsible for the first of the three only.

There is also the element of time to consider. The faster that players reach the majors, the less time they spend on top prospect lists. As we know, the Cards have gone college-heavy in recent drafts.

If one is assessing Kantrovitz’ job performance, one would also have to evaluate professional scouting, not just the amateur side. There has been a fair amount of turnover among those ranks, but a meaningful review would be difficult from his vantage point.

“The quality and quantity of our prospects has declined during Kantrovitz’ time here.”

Let’s start with quality, sticking with BA to keep it simpler.

In 2012, when Kantrovitz arrived, the Cards had six top 100 prospects nationally – Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Oscar Taveras, Zack Cox, Kolten Wong and Tyrell Jenkins. One was in the top 20, Miller, at number eight. Of the six, four had joined the organization through the draft.

In 2013, St. Louis’ top 100 total remained at six, with Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha replacing lower performers in Cox and Jenkins. Two were in the top 20, Taveras (3) and Miller (6). Of the six, again four came through the draft.

In 2014, the total dropped to four with Stephen Piscotty joining, but Miller, Wacha and Rosenthal graduating to MLB. Taveras was still at number three overall, the only top 20 Cardinal. Only two of the four were sourced from the draft.

In summary, the number of Cardinals top 100 prospects remained the same from 2012 to 2013, but declined in 2014 and could again in 2015. (It should also be noted that any organization’s “fair share” of top 100 prospects would be approximately three.)

The broader issue of quantity seems to be an ongoing strength of the Cardinals. Regardless of the number of top prospects, minor league teams remain competitive and less-heralded players end up reaching St. Louis. Key contributors to the Major League club, such as National League All-Stars Matt Carpenter and Lance Lynn, were not widely-celebrated prospects while coming up. It is too early to tell if there will be a next generation of these kinds of players – sourced from the 2012 through 2014 drafts.

“We do not have a single power prospect in our entire system.”

This generally seems true but has been the case for years. Matt Adams was the lone exception in recent memory and he was as much known for high average and run production as power.

We have read a number of articles in which the organization states they have been moving toward trying to source additional athleticism. Whether that is right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful, remains to be seen.

One thing we do know is that overall across the game, power as a commodity is becoming more and more scarce.

“Kantrovitz lucked out in getting an offer from Oakland because he was about to get hit with a lot of criticism for his work here.”

I don’t recall seeing or hearing anything but positive reviews of Kantrovitz’ work with the Cardinals. In fact, last spring, he was noted as one of the top GM candidates in the game.

In fact, I also don’t recall much substantive criticism of the previous scouting director, Jeff Luhnow, when the Cards were ranked 29th in 2010 and 24th as recently as the next year, 2011. Overall, I believe that most consider Luhnow’s Cardinals stint to have been very successful.

The broader point is that rankings are cyclical over time for all organizations, including the Cardinals.

As mentioned above, the jury is still out on the 2012-2014 drafts for every system. Time will give us a much clearer view.

My immediate take is that this is a major loss for the Cardinals. I hope/expect general manager John Mozeliak will fill the position with a man at least as broadly prepared for this most important job as was Kantrovitz.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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16 Responses to “How did the Cardinals Fare with Kantrovitz as Top Scout?”

  1. crdswmn says:

    I don’t know anything about Kantrovitz or how he is viewed by others. He has received a lot of praise for his work, and I have no reason to believe it is not deserved.

    I do know that drafts are essentially a crap shoot, even more so when you consistently draft at the bottom of the order. The cream of the crop are taken at the top of the order, and teams like the Cardinals have to work hard to get value at the bottom. The fact that the farm system has improved while at the same time drafting at or near the bottom of the order, has to say something.

    I think fans in general look at these things with an uninformed and one-dimensional eye. Like those who focus on power as the standard for a system. Having power hitters is a good thing, the Cards should try to obtain them when they can, but if you judge by that and only that, you ignore some basic truths: (a) power is down everywhere and is increasingly hard to find; (b) there are other tools that are just as important and contribute just as much as power; both the Cardinals and the Royals went to the World Series in 2013 and 2014 with teams that had very low power.

    Those fans who were spoiled by the power of the Steroid Era are going to have to re-evaluate their priorities or be doomed to perennial disappointment. As fan who grew up on pitching, speed and defense with the Cardinals teams of the 60s and 80s, the power hungry fans don’t realize the kind of baseball they are missing. 3 World Series titles and 6 pennants during those periods says that brand of baseball works just as well.

  2. CariocaCardinal says:

    work hard to win at a crap shoot? I’m sure it wasn’t your intent to talk out of both sides of your mouth but that is how that comes out.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Anything to contribute to further the discussion, CC?

      • CariocaCardinal says:

        i’d ;ike to continue with the argument already started but i was unable to follow it since it seemed contradictory within the same paragraph. I wasn’t trying to provoke as I assume you are insinuating, just seeking clarification.

        but lacking tht clarification, I’d liken a farm system to a college football coaches roster – hard to judge until the players in the system are totally that of the incumbent not full of recruits of his predecessor.

        my other comment would be that we know from the likes of Carpenter, Adams, Jay, Lynn and others that BA rankings are probably not the bet way to judge a system.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Hadn’t thought about the football analogy before. Agree that no rankings are ideal but I think those kinds of measures are pretty much the only comparisons across systems out there.

        • crdswmn says:

          Perhaps if you asked for “clarification” in a less jerky fashion, you might have gotten it. A simple statement asking me to clarify would have have been responded to. One that insinuates that I am disingenuous will not.

  3. blingboy says:

    Hopefully the Cardinals success is due to the system in place rather than key individuals.

  4. Brian Walton says:

    Was thinking about the fallacy of counting the number of top 40 prospects. It is clearly skewed toward high schoolers. Shelby Miller was a top prospect for four years, which is more than Michael Wacha (one year) and Marco Gonzales (two years) combined. Shelby helped the Cards look good in the rankings longer, but Wacha and Gonzales helped the MLB team faster. Of course, the latter is more important in the big picture.

  5. JumboShrimp says:

    it was a great opportunity for Kantrovitz to become heir apparent to Billie Beane. Hard for him to turn down an offer of deputy GM. In St Louis, he might have been stuck behind Girsch.
    Losing Kantrovitz cannot be a positive for the Birds, but its par for the course of having good people. The good news was we did not lose Gary LaRoque who seems like a very talented development expert. TLR liked him, but fortunately Arizona went in another direction.

    The Cards probably have a variety of employees who can assume Kantrovitz’s role. They have the international talent chap, Mr. Rodriguez. Girsch would make a reasonable candidate to shift over to handle the draft, so he adds this to his resume. Slater had amateur scouting jobs with the Dodgers and might be another guy to consider. Jared Odom might step up to the role.
    While the job is important, its likely that many people currently contribute to the drafting function. Its not just one guy making every decision, but rather a team effort of scouts and analysts and money men.

    Kantrovitz only had 3 drafts, but they seemed quite successful. Wacha was a meteoric success story. Piscotty looks like he could contribute in future. Cooney is a talented lefty. Others from the 12 draft like Wisdom, Kelly, and Bean could become ML contributors. The 13 and 14 drafts included more high school bonus babies. This is kind of change for the Cards in modern time and may work out. It will be some years before we know what these drafts may yield.

    The Kantrovitz drafts coincided with new bonus rules that the Cards have busily used. Whether this will yield any talent gains is hard to predict.

    The Kantrovitz drafts seemed to put a lot of weight on pitchers. If this is a real intended trend, it will continue and is not contingent on Kantrovitz.

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