Cardinals Scouting Director Randy Flores on Drafting the Team’s Top Prospects

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals consistently boast a productive prospect pipeline, and Randy Flores is one of the reasons why. The 47-year-old former big leaguer has been the club’s Director of Scouting since August 2015 — Assistant General Manager was added to his title in 2018 — and the drafts he’s overseen have yielded both admirable results and enviable promise. Especially impressive is the fact that the Cardinals haven’t drafted higher than 18th overall under Flores’ watch; the team has uncovered several gems beyond the first round.

Flores discussed St. Louis’ draft and development processes, as well as some of the organization’s current top prospects, in a recent phone conversation.


David Laurila: You were drafted out of USC by the Cardinals in 1996, and subsequently drafted and signed by the Yankees the following year. How do those experiences inform what you do as a scouting director?

Randy Flores: “When I think back to that — going through the internal pressures of the draft, which I felt — what stands out is that I was able to do it relatively anonymously. With today’s player, it’s completely different. With the growth of amateur coverage, third party, and all the social media platforms… these players already have followings in high school. They are ranked. They are graded against their peers at a level that I don’t know how I would have handled. So to answer your question, going through that experience gives me tremendous empathy for the modern young player who is embarking on this pressure-packed journey in a fish bowl that I couldn’t have imagined.”

Laurila: Along with assessing players’ tools, you assign grades and future values. To what degree are those objective versus subjective?

Flores: “Well, players change. And when you talk about models… obviously, models have predictive value, so you’re looking for the most predictive model out there. Within the industry, the tools have gotten relatively consistent when you’re looking at a year-over-year model — one year predictive of the next. There are indicators with the advent of Statcast and ball tracking that are even more predictive of the underlying metrics, which are more predictive than traditional rate statistics. That’s on a year over year. But when you look at multi-year models, players change and projection comes into play. That’s where the art comes into play.”

Laurila: Can you give an an example of a player who, in retrospect, you didn’t assess and/or project as well as you probably should have? I’m thinking primarily guys you passed over in the draft.

Flores: “That’s one I wouldn’t want to answer, but I will say that we have a track record of pulling value from later in the draft. When you look at the 2016 draft, Tommy Edman went in the seventh round. You could easily argue that our evaluations were, on an order of magnitude, in the wrong direction given his productivity and value at the major league level. We hope to have a pool of guys that we take after Day One go on to provide value, and while it’s easy to look back and applaud ourselves for making that pick, we could also say, ‘We should have taken him well ahead of that spot in the draft.’”

Laurila: How would you describe the relationship between scouting and player development in the Cardinals organization?

Flores: “Strong. I think that relationship — that intersection — is probably different now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Gary LaRocque and his department… Gary has done everything in the game imaginable. His ability to have patience and optimism, and provide opportunity for players through player procurement on the amateur and international sides, has been unbelievably steady. Then there is the usage of the modern tools available in skill acquisition, led by our hitting curriculum department [with] Russ Steinhorn, and our pitching department in Tim Leveque.

“When we draft players, we all have a voice in that selection. This is across all roles, whether that’s the performance department, area scouting, regional cross-checker or national cross-checker, hitting director, director of pitching. We all have a voice, but not one voice is the voice.

“Those things said, I don’t want to pretend that we know perfectly how to slot everyone. You could look at someone like Masyn Winn, who we drafted as a two-way player. To say that we had the answer right then, for exactly what we were going to do, I’d be foolish to present that as factual. But again, going to Gary LaRocque and his department, they provide such a curriculum, and such an opportunity, that the player winds up dictating his own path in a lot of ways.”

Laurila: How varied were the opinions within the organization regarding Winn’s potential as a position player versus on the mound?

Flores: “I think what I’d say is that the variability was a good thing. What I mean by that is, if people have strong opinions that he has a chance to be an everyday position player up the middle — given his athleticism, dynamic speed, and competitiveness — and if there was an equal-size camp that was very convicted that he had an uber-talented athletic delivery with an electric arsenal… if that’s true, at draft time it kind of gives you two shots on goal for big league impact. So, rather than highlight how strong the disagreements were — the opinions were — I think it was an actual strength. It made for more conviction for the pick, and from there the excitement to develop him.”

Laurila: What makes Tink Hence an exciting prospect?

Flores: “The second you see him step on the mound and the umpire says ‘play ball,’ something happens to him. And it’s the funniest thing to see happen. The way he carries himself — he doesn’t have the bravado of someone who has a chance to be elite at their profession; he’s a slow heartbeat kind of guy — but when the competition starts, he shifts gears. You combine that with the aptitude he’s shown… once our pitching development program began and we related to him how his fastball plays, how his secondary pitches play off of that — how his stuff could be weaponized — he just took to it. It’s been fun to watch him grow so quickly.”

Laurila: Your first-round pick last year has an interesting profile. What can you tell me about Cooper Hjerpe?

Flores: “He has a track record of performance that is hard to argue with. Additionally, he’s left-handed, which is another bump for him. Adding to that, in short bursts with Team USA in the summer before his junior year there was more velocity. Given the modern curriculum that’s available, the tools that are available, for velocity acquisition, or how to pitch at the upper bands of your velocity with greater frequency — we’re really excited about him.

“You think of a guy like Gordon Graceffo, who was drafted without the high velocity, but with glimpses that more was in the tank. He took to the programming and you saw a jump in velocity. For Cooper Hjerpe, the way his pitches track — the metrics behind his fastball, the slot that’s so unique, the deception, it’s a great place to start. Should more velocity come in the years ahead, that will only add to it.”

Laurila: How hard is it to project the effectiveness of deception?

Flores: “That’s a great question. It’s something that we wrestle with and discuss all the time. We’re all trying to come up with some type of metric that actually measures deception. You could go by swing and miss, and call that deception, but sometimes it’s not deception, it’s just overpowering stuff. Obviously, vertical angle, horizontal angle, ride, seam-shifted wake… there are all these underlying technologies that are trying to see which part is providing the deception. That is the frontier, that race, that everyone is searching on.”

Laurila: Deception aside, how similar are Hjerpe and Michael McGreevy?

Flores: “I would say they’re very similar in that they’re strike-throwers. They’re also very similar in that they’re accomplished performers at the collegiate level. They’re likewise similar that with a click more consistency in velocity, you’ll see an enormous jump in how their stuff plays. And it already plays very well. I think that both are candidates for pitch creation. They could both be very quick movers. McGreevy moved very quickly last year, and I would anticipate that Hjerpe has a chance to move very quickly as well.”

Laurila: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the top-rated prospect in the organization. Has Jordan Walker progressed faster than expected?

Flores: “I’d say that’s fair to say. You never want to put a ceiling… look, projecting is hard enough, much less projecting the pace at which someone projects. But my goodness, we’re just thrilled with his development. You see in pre-draft a player who seems to be trending, who seems to be improving at a rate that is really exciting for the days ahead, and then he backs that up [in pro ball]. Combine that with what makes him so special as a young man, and we’re beyond excited for his future.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 year ago

Great meaty interview I haven’t even finished. Just wanted to pause and say the first answer addressing the relentless pressure on the youth and the empathy he feels for these guys, is a banger. Empathy’s currently being slaughtered in the streets by The Man, it’s why we’re drowned with content about social issues and not the even more real economic ones that could most directly address the social issues…Nice to see it said even if The Future is still pretty bleak for youth unless an ancestor made some money

1 year ago
Reply to  SenorGato

Actually that answer goes hand in hand with John Henry’s comment on fans, media, and owners being aligned…To the death of freedoms and empathy! Too inefficient!