Chat with Jeff Luhnow
Luhnow holds degrees from Penn and Northwestern.
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow stops by to chat about Houston earning the No. 1 spot in ESPN.com's organizational rankings.
Luhnow, @jluhnow, joined the Astros in 2011, and he has set about reshaping the entire organization. In his first season, Houston's minor league system posted the highest combined winning percentage among all 30 MLB organizations. Three of the seven teams made the playoffs, with one winning a championship. Prior to Luhnow's arrival, from 2010-11, the Astros' minor league teams had the worst combine winning percentage.
Before coming to Houston, Luhnow worked for the St. Louis Cardinals' scouting department from 2003-11. The Cardinals won two World Series titles during his tenure with the team, and an additional five minor league championships.
Send your questions now and join Luhnow Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (1:59 PM)
We've got Jeff!
Hi Jeff,You're pretty genius with farm systems apparently. You built up the Cards never ending well of talent and now you are building a winner of Houston. How do you do it? Do you have particular strategies or draft strategies or do you just go with the flow?
Jeff Luhnow (2:01 PM)
I appreciate the complement. It takes much more than one person to build a farm system. The Astros have tried to model ourselves after the better organizations in baseball, and the Cardinals are one of them. It takes utilizing experienced scouts and the best information available to you.
How important are non-physical attributes, as part of the minor league player evaluation process?
Jeff Luhnow (2:02 PM)
The non-physical attributes are important when drafting players, signing players and managing players. Almost every player signed has a chance to make it to the major leagues someday. What separates those that make it from those that don't are the non-physical attributes and we try to look at all of them.
a.j. (las vegas)
You have lots of top pitchers who may have a better profile as a reliever than a starter. At what point or signal do you make that transition?
Jeff Luhnow (2:03 PM)
It's one of the more challenging decisions we have to make and often times we don't make it until they make it to the majors. We had two pitchers last year make it to the majors last year and they were starters who turned into relievers. There are some factors, but it's a constantly evolving situation.
Daniel Halevy (Houston, Texas)
Despite coming up short in the Tanaka and Abreu sweepstakes, it is a great sign seeing the Astros not only developing a ton of great internal talent, but also pursuing MLB ready talent from outside sources (Fowler, Feldman, Crain, etc). What are the Astros going to do moving forward to further evaluate and scout talent in Japan and Latin America?
Jeff Luhnow (2:04 PM)
Absolutely. All along our plan was to develop the best young talent in baseball, and then surround them with veteran players who can help us win at the major league level. We feel that's the appropriate thing to do to help us get better immediately.
This past season, the Astros received one of the first traded draft picks under the new system allowing such transactions in the Bud Norris trade. How does an organization go about valuating a supplemental first round pick given the uncertaintly inherint in such an asset that can only impact the major league team several years down the road (if at all)?
Jeff Luhnow (2:05 PM)
Valuing draft picks is complicated and it's an inexact science. In our situation that we're continuing to develop our pipeline, organizations will determine how they value those picks. A lot is determined by how close you are to competing.
How much do you lean on guys like Kevin Goldstein for player evaluations?
Jeff Luhnow (2:06 PM)
Kevin is a seasoned player evaluation expert and we value his opinion a lot. We look at whatever performance information the player has generated as well as the opinions of our scouts.
Miles (Austin, Tx)
Lifetime Astros fan here. First of all, thank you for taking the steps necessary to bring the Astros back into contention, even if the process can be painful. The rebuild had been overdue for about six years.My question is this: Do you have a specific timetable to call up the prospects en masse (i.e. Opening Day or Sept. 2015 callups) or do you prefer to stagger the call-ups in order to manage arbitration eligibility in the future? I worry about a future in which one offseason you're faced with everyone expecting big contracts all at once, but would also not want a team on the cusp of contention to hold itself back just to manage arbitration eligibility like some small market teams tend to do.
Jeff Luhnow (2:07 PM)
Appreciate the complement. Our plan is to have a pipeline of players that consistently produces a few players at the major league level. That will allow us to compete over time.
Kirk (Las Vegas)
Where do you see Mark Appel starting out the year? Are you open to calling him up sometime this year if he proves ready, or would like to give him some extra time in the minors to work on things?
Jeff Luhnow (2:08 PM)
I would say at this point that he's only had a half season of pro ball. More than likely he'll start in the minors until he proves he's ready. But he's a special talent, so we're not going to put a timeline on when he could arrive in Houston.
Are you a take the best guy available gm, or a take what you need even though you are passing on a better player guy?
Jeff Luhnow (2:09 PM)
We look at the best player available at the top of the draft and at some point we do take into consideration what we have in the pipeline. We don't want to sacrifice quality over need early.
Jordan Coats (Spring, TX)
If Springer shows that he is ready, will he make the team out of spring training?
Jeff Luhnow (2:10 PM)
Yes. We want the best 25 players on our team. We have a lot of competition. Springer has proven that he's close to being ready for the major leagues. We're excited about him being in Houston in 2014.
What was the biggest thing you learned in the Cardinals organization? What was the biggest thing you learned before baseball?
Jeff Luhnow (2:11 PM)
It's hard to control everything. It's important to focus on those things that you do have under control. It's important to understand that outcomes aren't controlable. Baseball is a lot like business in some regards. Things that help you in business can help you in baseball.
Caleb Larsen (Dallas, TX)
Both Cosart and Appel were shut down early last year due to workload. Will either be limited this year?
Jeff Luhnow (2:12 PM)
We treat the workload on the pitchers on a case by case basis. It's not only what they did last year, but how they feel. There are no limitations, but we will do everything we can to protect our players from injury.
Are there certain metrics you think are better for evaluating minor leaguers? Are there ones your organization puts more weight on?
Jeff Luhnow (2:13 PM)
We have our own internal metrics that we rely on and have confidence in. There is less information available in the minor leagues than the major leagues, but some of the same elements tend to be predictive.
Season ticket holder here and very proud to see our farm system ranked number one. Did you see this turn around happening in such a short time span?
Jeff Luhnow (2:13 PM)
We've been working hard to accomplish this. Our original plan had this happening in three years instead of two, so we do feel like we're ahead of schedule.
Jeff, how often do you use Spanish in your job, and where does it help the most?
Jeff Luhnow (2:14 PM)
40 percent of our players are of Hispanic heritage. The language and understanding the culture is critical to any executive in baseball today.
What is you realistic ceiling for the Astros contending for a World Series? Love the work you are doing with the Astros by the way.
Jeff Luhnow (2:15 PM)
I don't like to predict specific timeline. Having said that, we feel like we're well positioned and it won't be too far in the future.
How is the progress on acquiring a minor league team and moving it closer to Houston coming along?
Jeff Luhnow (2:16 PM)
We're exploring all opportunities to improve our minor league system and what configuration of teams we'd like to have. We're happy with all of our affiliations as they stand today.
In search of tom cagle (unknown)
who were your favorite players growing up?
Jeff Luhnow (2:16 PM)
Steve Garvey, Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan.
Are the moves you made this off-season long term moves, or moves to add to the payroll and keep us competitive?
Jeff Luhnow (2:17 PM)
Both. We want to win more games at the big league level and we want to develop our young talent so we can ultimately win championships.
Jeff Luhnow (2:18 PM)
I appreciate everybody's support and look forward to seeing our fans this season.
Buzzmaster (2:19 PM)
Thanks for chatting Jeff!