SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The homegrown executive who helped the Cardinals continue to splice statistics and scouting into a draft strategy that excelled at identifying pitching talent that still nourishes the team is taking his talents to the North Side.
Dan Kantrovitz, a few days after talking to the Cardinals about a return to their front office, was named the Chicago Cubs’ director of scouting on Wednesday. The role puts Kantrovitz, a St. Louis native, in charge of amateur scouting and the draft for a club that has had difficulty acquiring and developing pitching talent for the big-league club.
In the three drafts he ran for the Cardinals, Kantrovitz oversaw the selections of a parade of major-league starters: Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzales, Luke Weaver, Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and, with the 34th pick in the 2014 draft, budding ace Jack Flaherty.
“A unique opportunity to be able to hire somebody who has done the job extremely well,” Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, said. “How often do you get to do that in baseball? Normally you have to take someone on the way up and project them to fill a role — and get ready for a learning curve. With him, he’s discovered his passion is running drafts, and we get the benefit of his experience. And we get the comfort of knowing that he’s already done it well.”
Kantrovitz had two stints with the Cardinals, joining them first in 2004 and then returning later, after earning his master’s in statistics at Harvard, to run the drafts in 2012. He also had two turns with Oakland, returning there from the Cardinals after 2014 to be the assistant general manager.
His contract with the A’s expired this fall, and as recently as this past weekend he and the Cardinals spoke about having him return to the front office in an adviser role. The idea was to add him to the brain trust in baseball operations, not in any of his former posts. The offer from the Cubs was for a more prominent and specific position.
Kantrovitz’s first-round picks in 2012 and 2013 were Wacha and Gonzales, respectively, and both made their major-league debuts within 13 months of the draft. In 2012, Kantrovitz’s draft also landed Stephen Piscotty and Carson Kelly. Oscar Mercado, Cleveland’s starting center field this past year, was a prep pick taken by Kantrovtiz for the Cardinals in 2013, and in the 2014 haul, the Cardinals landed Weaver, Flaherty, Gomber, and Ponce de Leon.
Kantrovitz built a better drafting process on the foundation established by his predecessor, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow, and current Cardinals president of baseball ops John Mozeliak.
“He was a pretty good scouting director in St. Louis,” said David Forst, Oakland’s general manager. “That team is still benefiting from a number of the players who were drafted while Dan was there. So he’s passionate about the draft. That’s what he was looking to do was run the draft, so I think he’ll be great at it.”
The Cubs have spent millions — including two $100-million contracts — on starters to compensate for a farm system that has yet to consistently provide pitching. On their championship club, the Cubs did not have a homegrown pitcher. After a disappointing 2019, the Cardinals rival has made changes to several influence positions this offseason with an eye on replenishing a thinned system.
“He sees 200 players a year, and he can scout and relate to scouts and also can be a great ‘quant’ (quantitative analyst), can build his own (data) model,” Epstein said. “He doesn’t rely only on interacting with the (research and development) group and interacting with the scouts. He is a scout. He can sit down and get into models at a very granular level with the R&D department. He’s maybe uniquely qualified to strike the balance between those worlds.”
Flaherty 4th in Cy Young voting
Flaherty, who had a second half for the ages to help the Cardinals to the division title, finished fourth in this year’s National League Cy Young Award voting, ahead of Stephen Strasburg and three points behind Max Scherzer. Flaherty received second-place votes on five of the 30 ballots — all of those coming behind the winner, Mets starter Jacob deGrom.
In the first 30-start season of his career, Flaherty finished 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA, struck out 231, led the league with a 0.97 WHIP, and had a 0.91 ERA after the All-Star break. He’s the Cardinals’ highest finisher in the Cy Young voting since Adam Wainwright was third in 2014.
The Cardinals continue to plot their investments this winter in a significant expansion of their technology used throughout the organization. The team had previously purchased four Rapsodo devices to aid with modern pitch evaluation, and this winter they have been taken to the facilities in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela for scouting and instructional use.
The Cardinals intend to add more ultra-precision cameras at all affiliates, and are in the process of determining what other tech to deploy, whether it’s the advanced Trackman radar or Hawk-Eye, and which system will go to which affiliate. The “roll out,” as general manager Michael Girsch referred to it, will be ready for the start of next season.
Baseball’s “Super-2” status — which allows a select pool of players who have between two and three years of service time to utilize arbitration for a raise — is lower than it’s been in more than a decade, and thus Paul DeJong would have qualified. The Cardinals’ All-Star shortstop has two years, 127 days, and as a Super-2 he would have been able to see a substantial raise — had he not already signed an extension. DeJong agreed to a six-year, $26-million extension that began in 2018 and gives the Cardinals control through team options in 2024 and 2025.
• As the Cardinals consider who to place on the 40-man roster to protect them from next month’s Rule 5 draft, three prospects stand out as expected additions: third baseman Elehuris Montero, who is likely to start at the position for Class AAA Memphis in 2020; starter Jacob Woodford, one of the most reliable starters for the Triple-A Redbirds; and Alvaro Seijas, a 21-year-old power righthander who could be plucked out of Low-A by a patient big-league team.