Jeff Luhnow is in his second season as general manager of the Houston Astros. Luhnow, a former entrepreneur who was born and raised in Mexico City, previously worked in the St. Louis Cardinals organization for eight seasons.
During a recent trip to Oklahoma City, Luhnow addressed the Astros' long-term game plan and the Oklahoma City RedHawks' role in a rebuilding phase that's producing players Houston will build around.
Of the 25 players on the Astros' active roster, 16 played with the RedHawks this season.
For the second consecutive season, the Astros' minor league affiliates own the best win-loss record in baseball. All four of the Astros' full-season teams qualified for the playoffs.
Q: How do you feel the rebuilding phase is going?
A: We're very pleased but realize we have a lot of work to be done. Having success at the minor league level shows we're making good progress. We have good prospects at every level. It's our job to groom those players so they someday will be ready to help us win at the big league level. Our strategy is to build from within. We feel we can win a couple of championships that way. The RedHawks are the perfect example. They're an extension of the Houston Astros. They've had a terrific season and have helped produce players that are helping us at the big league level.
What is your assessment of 18 RedHawks who have been called up to the majors the past two seasons?
We're the youngest team in baseball. We don't have a lot of major league experience but they've done a good job competing. They're part of the future of our organization. Give a lot of credit to (RedHawks hitting coach) Leon (Roberts) and (manager) Tony (DeFrancesco). They've done a good job preparing these players for the big leagues. They prepare them how to play the game the right way. When they come up, they're not scared. A real shout-out goes to the staff down in Oklahoma City.
The RedHawks have been near unbeatable at home. What is your theory on their success at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark?
Good teams win at home and on the road. For all the success they've had at home, they've also played pretty well on the road. We have a lot of good players, including players that made the jump here after some players joined us in Houston. It shows we have players that can move up and hold their own when an opportunity arises. Again, Tony has done a great job. He deserves a lot of credit.
What are your thoughts on first baseman Jonathan Singleton's progress?
It's tough when you don't get to start the year with your peers. He's done a good job of getting better and better as the summer's gone on. He's a domestic player we feel would benefit from playing winter ball. He has a bright future with the Astros. He has a chance to be one of the players we will be building around in the future. He just needs to keep working. He'll be a very productive player at the big league level.
Since you grew up in Mexico, did that play a factor signing 6-foot-4, 310-pound Mexican League slugger Japhet Amado, who hit 36 home runs with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and is now playing with the RedHawks?
Finding and acquiring the best Mexican talent is a priority for us. We have increased our scouting of Mexican baseball leagues. We believe there are many players that can help the Houston Astros in the future.
How often do you visit Oklahoma City?
A couple of times a season. With computers, DVDs and the radio I often have the RedHawks on my computer while I'm in Houston watching our big league games. I pay very close attention to what is going on (in Oklahoma City). Every day I get reports from all our managers in the minors about our players. I feel very connected with what's happening. I wanted to be here to cheer them on and let them know we're excited about what they've been doing here.
What did you discuss with players while you were in Oklahoma City?
I wanted to discuss a lot of things, including their winter plans. We have a lot of Latin kids that will go back home to play with their respective teams. They need the right balance to be ready for spring training. This is the future for us.