July 15, 2004
Interview with John Mozeliak, Assistant General Manager / Director of Scouting Operations
Part One – The 2004 Draft
By Brian Walton
Thirty-five year-old John Mozeliak joined the Cardinals’ organization in 1995, one year after Walt Jocketty was hired. The two had previously worked together for the Colorado Rockies. With the Cards, Mozeliak has played a number of scouting roles, including scouting director in 1999 and 2000. He became Director of Baseball Operations in 2001 and re-added scouting director duties after the 2003 season.
Mozeliak’s current responsibilities are broad and deep. He assists General Manager Walt Jocketty with day-to-day club operations and coordinates both the scouting and player development staffs. I caught up with Mozeliak as he, Director of Player Development Bruce Manno and Regional Crosschecker Joe Rigoli were checking out the new crop of draftees with the New Jersey Cardinals.
I was pleasantly surprised when Mozeliak recognized me and volunteered the fact that he is a regular reader of this site. Because he was so generous with his time, this interview will run in daily installments through Monday. I think you’ll be pleasantly pleased both with “Mo’s” candor and with what he has to say about the direction of the organization.
Part One – The 2004 Draft
Part Two – Metrics and Evaluation
Part Three – Fueling the Majors and Organizational Goals
Part Four – The Future
Part Five – The Thrill and Left Field
Plus the Arizona Fall League with Bruce Manno, Director of Player Development
How many of your 2004 draft selections are now signed?
Of the 47 drafted, 41.
That must be one the better records ever. Have you ever done as well in your tenure here?
Not that I am aware of. I’ve never really looked at it that way, but the key to this draft for us was to enable us to get some players coming in that we thought we would be able to sign. So, before we made any choices – and every decision was based on talent, of course – but then, as we moved forward in the draft, we did want to understand how signable these players were.
How could you assess signability when some of these kids didn’t even have representation yet?
Well, a lot of that is through the parents and the player themselves and through representation. But, the latter had kind of dirtied up the water a bit when guys got drafted and then afterward chose to get some agent help. So, that kind of made it a little sloppy, but overall, it did seem to work out.
The strategy this year was obviously to go heavy on college players versus high school. What were the factors that caused you to come to that conclusion?
There’s a couple of things. One was “How do you validate a subjective scouting report?” And, the one thing we were able to do is come up with metrics we could use to help us justify why we were taking players and where we were taking them. The one thing I wanted the scouts to concentrate on was not so much just on what they thought about where a player should go and that sort of thing in terms of the draft. I wanted them to tell me, “What are the tools this player brings?”, and I would validate it with a multitude of other things to look at. One would be our statistical analysis. One would be through our psychological testing. One would be our medical risk/reward factors. So, we would put all of this into an equation and then help us try to put this into some kind of ranking system. But, we’d also want to phrase the question to the area scout as “Where do you value this player? What level of dollars do you actually want to commit to someone like this?” So, with all of that, we put it into the hopper and then we would just filter it all out. It’s really too early to say if it was successful or not. But, overall, we’re very pleased with what we ended up with in the draft. That’s for sure.
With all those metrics and measurements you mentioned, what was it that caused you to lean more toward college? Was it experience or something else?
It’s very difficult to look at a statistical analysis from high school players. And, it’s for a variety of reasons. But, it didn’t necessarily on the front end of the draft - in the first, second, third, fourth and fifth rounds. We were in a position to take high school players, if they were there. So, we looked at the top high school players in the country. We did not exclude them from our draft class. Just the way the first round ended up, I just felt more comfortable with taking a college power arm, than hoping to get a high school pitcher that might be that guy in three years. So, I thought that just made it safer. Then, when we moved right into the second round, I was looking for an offensive player. That was obviously a college hitter named Ferris. That made that pick very easy. Then, rolling out our next great need was left-handed pitching. And there was one sitting there. So, it kind of worked out how we planned in terms of the position and the talent, but not necessarily the age.
Did it surprise you that Mike Ferris was still available in the second round?
Yes it did. I had seen him for three days down at Rice. He had an amazing series. He played very well. All the rhetoric I had heard was that he was someone that was going to go in the first round and I wouldn’t have argued with that. Now, would I have been comfortable taking him with our 19th pick? No. Given his natural position is as a first baseman; that was not something that I wanted to do there. But, I was still happy with it.
At this point, do you even think about positions with the big club? After all, you already have a guy who will likely be manning first base for the next ten years or so.
You know, it really doesn’t come into play; because in the end, a lot of times, you’re going to have position changes as you go forward in the minor league system. Obviously, there are a higher percentage of shortstops drafted than anybody because they are the best athletes. But, your question is probably more specific in terms of “Why would you take a first baseman, because he is unlikely to move somewhere else?”
Yes, that is what I meant.
The fact is that offensive players usually find a way to make it up there and I think it is too early for us to start to disseminate at that level to say, “Well, can he or can he not make it?” Our hope is that they can make it and then where they play will depend on how they develop through the minor league system.
In the first month or so, who would you say have been the positive surprises of the draft?
I think Delgado from Texas Tech (Jose, 24th round), a second baseman who has done very well for us. He shows extreme patience at the plate. He understands his strike zone, which is something that is surprising for someone that young who is that early in the development process. He’s been an exciting player to watch. Gabriel (John, 20th round), the outfielder we got from junior college, is a guy who can swing the bat. So, I am pleased with that.
On the pitching side, (Eric) Haberer is one we got in the third round, so I shouldn’t act shocked. But, I do like to see the arm strength he’s shown early. That’s a positive.
Your fourth rounder, Donnie Smith, is going here today. What are you looking for from him?
Well, this is really the first time I am seeing him, to be honest with you. So, I am hoping to see the breaking ball that I have read about and heard about and been told about. And clearly, when you get college pitchers out of the draft and sign them early, they are usually tired. Fatigue starts to set in. And that’s something that the minor league staff, Bruce (Manno) and his staff, have to cognizant of. Because expectations over what a scouting report might have said, or how they had success in the spring may not translate right away. I am not expecting to see an average fastball tonight. To be honest, based on how much he’s pitched this year (86-1/3 innings at Old Dominion); you just want to see a guy who can go out and compete and show some signs that he can go out and compete in the future.
(Note: After a quick first inning, Smith was touched for a pair of doubles and a home run in the second. He left after allowing five hits and two runs in two innings.)
Part Two – Metrics and Evaluation
What factors go into your decisions as to whether a player is ready to be promoted or in some cases, sent back down for more seasoning?
The movement question is a great one in terms of what is the proper way to do that. Bruce and myself, we tend to like to see players have some success to a certain degree. In other words, you don’t want them to be in one of those situations where you promote just to promote - just because the guy got a lot of money or he did this or that. You want there to be some rationale so everybody around understands “So, if I do ‘x’, then I have a chance to move up.” That’s kind of the basic thinking behind it. Clearly, when you look at how our minor league setup is, in terms of we don’t really have a Gulf Coast League or an Arizona League-type team, it’s hard to put up good numbers in your initial year, because you are competing against maybe second or third-year players, i.e. the Appy League or the New York-Penn League. It’s not necessarily a league where you can come in and pound it, but nonetheless, it is what we have to deal with.
What about the rest of the system?
In Peoria, we should see good numbers there. It’s a pretty straightforward Midwest League. It is what it is. Then, you take an offensive player and you stick him into the Florida State League and it can be a graveyard. So, it is something that we have to be very cognizant of and be willing to understand that does happen. But, it’s still more than raw numbers that say you need to be promoted. It’s your work ethic; how you go about your job; are you maturing as a player? And all that gets factored into all movement, whether up or down.
Over the winter, the Cardinals decided to go with a new scouting computer system. How is that progressing?
Well, it’s a huge help for what I do. In the past, we’ve had different systems that we used and different interfaces that we used to gather the information. Now, we’ve gone with a company called eSolutions, which is used by probably nine or ten major league clubs. What it really enables us to do is that it is a perfect gathering tool. It allows scouts without any major computer issues to go ahead and write a report and turn it into the home office. As far as the power of sorting the data and that kind of thing, it is a Notes-based system. That is probably one of the weaknesses of it. But, they do build views for us and we’re starting to learn how to do it ourselves internally. That will make it an even more powerful tool for us.
Speaking of tools, last winter’s high profile addition to the front office was the hiring of Jeff Luhnow and the establishment of the sabermetric view of the game. How is that meshing with your more traditional methods of evaluation?
I think it is going very well. Obviously, for what I did this year in the draft, I leaned heavily on Jeff and his staff. That’s the nature of how we set this whole thing up. In terms of the draft, I realize that when you go totally off scouting reports, then you’ve opened yourself up to such a subjective scenario of results. The one thing that I wanted to do is validate what we do. That’s where his staff was just invaluable. I think it’s a great direction we’re moving in. I think as far as the draft goes, I think it is something that we will replicate for next year. I think both Jeff and I feel there are some things we can tweak on to make it that much better. And that is actually kind of why I am here now.
What do you mean?
I’ve always in the past gone to our rookie clubs and taken a look at our players, but I’m really looking at it this year in terms of “Well, what did our scouts truly see versus what did I see?” And, clearly you have to take into account the fatigue factor in the first year of professional baseball and the higher competition and all that. But, for this system to work that we’ve put in place, one thing that we’re going to have to make sure that we’ve accomplished is to ensure that all the scouts are completely on one page. And that they understand how we view tools in baseball. I mean traditional tools; arm strength, running speed, power, bat and all that. We have to all be in agreement on what that means. So, I’ll spend most of my summer validating that and then hopefully in this off-season, be able to spend three or four days with our scouts and try to let them know what I found on that.
How much of your time do you spend on the road and how many times do you see each club during the season?
Well, it’s based on what Walt has me do, of course. But, I try to get to each of our minor league cities for four or five days, if possible. Then, I do try to share some of the travel duties at the major league level. But, this year, I’ve done very little of that just because of time.
Last time I was with Walt, he hinted that you were considering a re-entry into the Caribbean. Anything new you can share with me?
Well, on the Latin front, we are pursuing many options. Jeff’s been heading that up for us. What we’re trying to find out is the best model in terms of, if we want to be in Dominican, if we want to be in Mexico, do we want to be in Venezuela? There’s so many components of that and the answer is right now that I think we are leaning towards trying to do something in Dominican Republic. This allows us to bring Venezuelan players over versus right now, you can not bring Dominican players into Venezuela.
Right, the political situation in Venezuela remains more difficult…
Exactly. So, that is probably our short term goal. To find a facility that can house us, to feel that we can be competitive in. I don’t know how much you know about our old situation, but we were in Boca Chica, which is just outside of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. It was very difficult. We had very limited resources in terms of housing and field and that is something that we want to ensure that if we go into this, that it’s not a band aid approach. We go into it full throttle, and we go into it with a true focus and a goal of what we want to accomplish.
Part Three – Fueling the Majors and Organizational Goals
The Cardinals’ minor league system has taken some heat in recent years from the experts. How do you respond to that criticism?
I guess I first tell everybody that the minor league system is obviously the life blood of your major league team. The bottom line is that our major league team has been very successful over the four or five years. So, I think just to look back and say “Well, the minor league system is lean…” It is. And I am not going to sit here and argue it’s not. We don’t have a lot of position players coming. But, I was just talking to someone the other day and they’re like “What about Jack Wilson?” You know, that would have been a nice player to have, but where would he have played on our team last year?
How about second base? At least after Vina went down…
Well, you know, hindsight’s 20-20. The work that Bruce Manno does and that his staff does, I think is really underappreciated, if you want to know the truth. I think these people work hard and they do the best with what they have to work with. When you look at the drafts, we have to be accountable for what we do. The system we are trying to put in place will allow us to do that. From an ownership standpoint and from an upper management standpoint, that’s all you can ask for. Because when I was asked to take over the scouting side, obviously, it was a reflection of what was going on in our minor league system. The one thing when I spoke with Bill (owner Bill DeWitt) and Walt was they wanted me to make sure to implement a model or a system that we could say, “Everybody is going to be accountable for what we do.” So, in two or three years, if we have not reached the goals we said we would reach, that is when change is going to occur. More from a business standpoint, that’s what I have tried to incorporate this year, along with a lot of baseball stuff, of course.
So, can you share what some of these goals are?
They’re simplistic at this level. Right now, it’s basically saying, three players from every draft to be in the major leagues. What does that mean? Because you know that is a whole gray area. Arguably, John Gall is not, but could be.
Well, he’s not yet, but there are many of us who would like to see Gall get his chance…
Right. But, from my standpoint what it means is having three players from each draft that are ready to play at the major league level. And that’s my goal. I don’t know if we will accomplish it or not; we may do better than that.
I think that is a great start. Simple and easy for everyone to remember and rally around…
Yes, I wanted it to be simple. It’s not something where I wanted people to have any vagueness.
Do you think the recent furor over that trade with Philly that wasn’t helped people to understand that maybe no trade is ok? Still, based on his past track record, many expect Walt to do something, don’t they?
If we were to say we’re doing nothing, would people say, “You’re sitting on your hands!”?
You never know. What if Walt gets a call with a deal that knocks him over – another Rolen kind of deal?
Exactly. Let me tell you something about Walt. That is why he is so good. I am much more knee-jerky in that I hear something and I’ll tell you right off what I believe and not really let it soak in and look at every possible developing angle on this thing that may end up making it be a good deal. He’s very patient. He tries to let it all soak in, in terms of what are all the angles that could make this deal work and could benefit our club. That’s why he is good. And that is why he will be active. In the next three weeks, we will be hopping.
Part Four – The Future
Do you ever argue in favor of trying to keep your minor league prospects instead of offering them up in trade?
No. Do you mean guys that I have been involved with drafting or developing? No. I am a firm believer in that it is all about up there (the major league club). If it makes that club better . . . I don’t know if know about my role though, but in the past, I had very little to do with this.
But, that has changed again this past year…
Right. I guess how I was always brought up in this game is that it’s always about the major leagues. That is ultimately the bottom line. If you are competitive up there and putting out a winner; that is what it is about. That should be the end of the line.
How do you deal with the problem that you don’t have the position players coming up? (though fortunately, you pretty well set right now) But, as a middle market team, you’re not able to go out on the free market and pick up a Gary Sheffield to plug holes. Don’t you have to have a pipeline of low cost players like the Roy Oswalts coming up to balance out the roster of superstars?
True. And my background is more in financial stuff, anyway. So, I tend to want to find as many “300s” to put on the team as possible to make it all work. I mean a player making the minimum. Like a Danny Haren. For us to move him I think is nuts. It would just have to be a “blow you away” deal.
You have to be hoping Haren will challenge for a spot in the 2005 rotation…
Right. You’ve got to hope for him. You’ve got to hope for someone like Thompson or a Wainwright. More than one.
The more of them you trade away, the fewer remain who have a chance to make it. Because you don’t know for sure which one. You might go to Vegas to place a bet on that.
Well, we don’t necessarily view it as a crapshoot as much as maybe some people from the outside. We take the most educated guess that we can put together and decide who is going to help us or not. We’re lucky. Because right now, we’re fine at first, second we will need something, short is a question mark, but maybe it is Luna. Third we know. Catcher we are ok. Left field, we’ll have to deal with a platoon situation again probably and right field is Sanders. And center we’re signed. So, it’s not like we have a whole lot of options. You know, Johnny Gall could be our left fielder next year. Clearly, the places that we’re open though, are going to have to be low end guys. The only thing that could change is shortstop.
That covers the position players, but what about that staff? Half of them are unsigned for next year.
Right now, you’ve got Morris, Woody with an option…
A big option ($8M)…
I know. And Suppan is signed and Carpenter. And, you’ve got Marquis, four plus. He is going to get a neat raise and we’ll try to balance it all out. But, somewhere in this whole scenario, a guy like a Haren or a Thompson is going to have to step up.
There are a lot of very good feelings among the Cardinal fans about Rick Ankiel because of what he accomplished at a very young age. Some of those folks are expecting to see him ride into St. Louis on his white stallion in September and lead the team into the playoffs. What reports are you getting on him now?
Well, the reports are very positive. He is throwing the ball very well, but I think anybody with expectations of him really being a huge factor in ’04 should probably curtail it. We’re looking at it more as to just getting him ready to go where he needs to be for ’05.
So, are you going to start Ankiel in Double-A?
I am not exactly sure where he is going to start. It will be there or Palm Beach.
Part Five – The Thrill and Left Field
Isn’t it great to work for an organization with the tradition that the Cardinals have, what with all the former greats who help out at Spring Training like Brock and Gibson and Will Clark?
The best way to describe Will Clark was that I always hated him.
Being on the other side, I imagine you hated Clark because he always found a way to beat you.
I always said that. I remember we were sitting in New Jersey when we made the trade. Maybe because I was younger or stupid or I don’t know, but I always had that “I don’t like Will Clark” mentality. I didn’t care if the deal got done or not. Then, sure enough, we got it done. And here is this guy. What a baseball player and his personality…
Too bad he doesn’t want to leave New Orleans. He could be a real asset to the organization on a regular basis.
I think we can still tap into him a little for that asset. In Spring Training he was valuable.
He really helped Albert out at first base, didn’t he?
Yes. And he’s more than happy to stop by and see Memphis or something like that at some point. I think at some level, he is going to get bored with being at home and want to have some regular assignment.
If Clark comes back, do you think it will be with the Cardinals?
I would hope so. I would think right now, he really has an appreciation for the management and the manager. With no changes there in the near future, I would think that would keep it from happening
Well, you’ve got a great job.
It’s got its ups and it’s got its downs.
Well, I bet the good far outweighs the bad.
When you’re winning in the big leagues, it certainly makes the job easier.
Yes, I can imagine that is the case. Although for some in my business, it is much more difficult when there is nothing to complain about other than the 25th man on the roster.
From a management standpoint, you should always say that should not make or break your season.
But, you know Tony’s style is to keep everybody involved.
That keeps the players wanting to play.
There is buzz now over Steve Finley as a left fielder. I looked at his second half numbers last season and I don’t think he is the answer.
I don’t either. Quite frankly, when you do look at all the numbers, our platoon situation has performed above a replacement player.
It’s a matter of having the right combination of players in there.
I was surprised to read Tony’s recent comments about Gall’s defense. I haven’t seen him play since spring, but I didn’t recall it being such an issue.
I don’t think Gall is any worse than Anderson.
You mean with the glove?
Yes, but it’s not pretty. He’s an infielder and even that’s rough. We knew that when we drafted him; that he was going to be an offensive guy.
Well, even if Gall doesn’t make it here, he certainly has value.
Of course, he has value. He’s put up legitimate numbers two years in a row at a high level.
I appreciate the time you spent to talk with me today.