Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hit and Run

Then came the announcement from DeSear. “Logan and I have decided to create a new position. Ah, well it’s really not new, I guess. We’re just bringing it back as a pilot program to see if we can’t jump start things. We’ve decided to bring back the regional scout position.”

The room filled with several grumbles. The type that say here we go again. I looked over at Toby Bradford who used to be the regional scout in charge of my area before they did away with the job. He seemed just as clueless as me.

“We’ll start out with just one. The first regional scout will be in charge of all area scouts in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. . . ”
Why wasn’t Toby standing to approach the podium? I was glad that they finally came to their senses and brought Toby back to lead us. I was really getting tired of having to report directly to DeSear. Maybe I could finally get a handle on things with him back in charge. Pawn off Georgia onto someone else and just focus on Florida like old-times.

“Congratulations Goldberg,” DeSear said as he began to applaud.

Goldie! For crying out loud, he’s just a bird dog. He’s never even been an area scout. Granted, he had some playing time in the minors, but that doesn’t mean spit. This region is arguably the most talented region in the nation and they put him in charge of it? You mean to tell me that Goldie is my new boss? Bradford’s too?

The rest of the room was slow to applaud but out of respect for DeSear, I guess everyone felt obligated to follow suit. Even Bradford. Not me though. I don’t make it a habit to clap for joy after I’ve been slapped in the face.

Goldie wheeled himself over to the side of the podium to shake DeSear’s hand. The two smiled and DeSear patted him on the shoulder. “This change is effective immediately,” Desear continued, “Goldberg will report directly to Logan until further notice.”

This was incredibly worse than I could’ve ever imagined. Even DeSear was getting stabbed in the back. A direct report to Logan? That meant DeSear just lost control over seven states. Some of the most fertile states in the draft. Kiss them goodbye. Forget the token title of Regional Scout. Logan just made Goldie a co-Director of Scouting.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

East Roast Showcase

Wanted to make a quick report on the East Roast Showcase at UNC Wilmington's Brooks Field. And do I mean Roast. The heat was one thing but the humidity must have made it feel like 110 degrees. Anyhow, DeSear wanted both Goldie and I, along with several other scouts from the eastern half of the country to attend. It also gave DeSear another brainwashing opportunity to remind everyone what the organization is looking for (i.e. what Logan Cooper is now looking for).
"Just drink the Kool-Aid and smile," a senior scout from the northeast said to me afterwards.

It also gave DeSear an opportunity to roll out some organizational changes to the scouting department. More on this during my next post.

But Goldie seemed a bit different this trip. We actually had some time to talk and he began to open up. I think even he appreciated our discussions. He even paid me a compliment. "You know Cutter, you're all right for an old guy." Trust me, coming from Goldie, that's a compliment.
What floored me, however, was Goldie's claim that he played minor league ball. As I looked at him in his wheelchair, I thought I was hearing things. Never once has he mentioned it before. Sure enough, I checked out his story and confirmed that he actually played three years of college ball and one year in the minor leagues. Half a season in rookie ball and the other in low-A. That would explain why at times he flashes some brilliance in his scouting reports. Ironically, he actually knows baseball from the inside but chooses to put his faith in statistics, past performance, and fancy-pants number crunching.

I haven't yet decided if this is more salt in the wound or a blessing in disguise. Maybe there's hope for me to sway him back. After all, he admitted that he was a product of good old-fashioned, grass roots, projectionable scouting. Well, he didn't quite put it like that, but that's the truth.

During our last meeting with DeSear, he pointed out some of the failures from our last draft and then some of the successes. "One of the draft's best success stories," according to DeSear, "was and continues to be pitcher Rio Carbrera." Started in rookie ball, promoted to low-A in just over a month, and now on his way to our AA club.

My jaw just about hit the floor. DeSear brought Goldie up to the front of the group to discuss how Goldie found this "pitching machine," how he knew that Rio would register success, and a review of all pre-draft and post-draft discussions. It was all very deliberate-- leaving me out of the presentation. But make no mistake, what Goldie laid out was a template of sorts for handling future prospects. That too was very deliberate.

Then came the announcement.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Elijah. A Fiery Ending?

Every so often I give a call to one of my old friends who is now coaching AA within the organization. Besides seeing how he's tolerating the summer heat and a steady diet of bus rides, we chat about what he's seeing and which players are weak or not progressing as projected. Of course, we always get around to talking MLB. I thought that the events surrounding the recent trade deadline would be the topic du jour, but my coaching friend didn't want to talk about Soriano, Abreu, or Maddux.

No, he was more interested in someone named Elijah and his indefinite suspension from the AAA Durham Bulls. More disturbing to him was Elijah's fiery comments about possibly quiting baseball. I am very familiar with the two sport standout from the Tampa area. In 2002, he graduated from Hillsborough High, but what most don't know is that he also attended Jefferson, Chamberlain, and King High Schools. Four schools in four years. If you were to talk with a particular coach from one of these other three schools, you'll get an earful about Elijah's fingerpointing and refusal to accept responsibility for things that went wrong when he had a hand in them. A real team killer. Not to mention that he's been arrested four times since 2003 with the latest being in September of 2005. His own father resides in the Okeechobee (Fla.)Correctional Institution for second-degree murder. As the story goes, Elijah Sr. contronted a man who sold a fake rock of crack for $100 to Elijah's mother. Elijah Sr. shot the man dead.

But Jr.'s an incredible talent. I agree with the projections that he could hit 40 HRs in the big show. That's something you just can't ignore. Or can you? Although the talent is tempting, my coaching buddy was crystal clear that he wouldn't want him on his club. In fact, he told me that he would personally hunt me down if I ever recommended someone like Elijah for the draft. You just can't imagine what it's like to have someone like that in the clubhouse day after day. Non-stop pity party. Always complaining. Very cynical. Never happy. The first to point a finger when things are slumping. It simply drains the energy from a club making it that much harder to succeed.

It also seems that the skipper for the Rays (Joe Maddon) is on the same page. "We can't have that here," Maddon said. "If we're going to be good, that can't be part of us. And I don't care how good [any prospects are], I really don't. In regard to skills, that doesn't matter. We'll be just fine with maybe just a little less skillful, but a good teammate. And that's the message that has to be out there. And I really believe that. And I don't think there's any doubt about that. And that's what we're going to be about."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pop -n- Cheese

On the hunt for some pop -n- cheese, the Baseball Championship Series U17 at the Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, did not disappoint. There were roughly 10 teams from Florida and Georgia which gave me a fantastic look at the upcoming class of prospects. A team from Orlando even took the championship. If it can actually be said, I think Florida just might repeat its performance in next year's draft. The talent was even more consistent and fundamentally sound than the tournament held last summer. Bodes well for my territory.

I was even able to have Dr. Rakes stop by to interview several prospects that should go in the first five rounds. The summer tournaments are perfect for interviews since there's generally quite a bit of down time for players in between games. Most of the players had never spoken with a shrink before. Feedback from the players was mixed. The majority, however, said that it forced them to think about their game from different perspectives and multiple approaches. Hopefully they don't quit after the tournament or go into a major slump! As much as I love the Doc, too much thinking can be incredibly counterproductive.

Over lunch, I tried to resist my instinct to ask about Dallas Parker. That lasted all but three bites of my mushroom cheeseburger. The Doc assured me that he's making progress but that it's a slow process which takes a lot of time. To help prove his point, I reminded the Doc that I've been to so many anger management classes that I could quote the steps both backwards and forwards.

But apparently there's more baggage to his relationship with his father than I or even the Doc expected. And that's when the Doc hit me with, "But you can relate to him. Can't you?"

You see, he knows where I've been. It's a place where he hasn't been. A place that's only revealed to him through textbooks or the thoughts of his patients.

Sure, I can relate to Dallas.

Take the time when I was twelve years old. Pops had just finished a shift and a half when he walked through the door. Fortunately for me, the pork chop dinner I had picked up from a local dive was still hot and ready for him to eat. He sat down as I served all three place settings. I called mother who was laying on the sofa, but she was so drunk that she couldn't pry herself off the cushions.

As usual, not a word was spoken during dinner. I tried to eat but my mind wasn't on food. Pops made quick work of the chops. I excused myself after several bites. He never even looked up. I planted myself by the phone. My glove in hand punching a ball into the sweet spot. It was 6 o'clock. If I had made the city all-star team, my coach would call me at 6 o'clock. I was certain that the call would change my life. A couple minutes went by and I figured that I was just midway down the list. Another five minutes went by. Still no call. Another ten. Nothing. Another twenty. Painful silence. I buried my head deep into my glove. I had always made the all-star team. In fact, I had made every team that I had ever tried-out for. But somehow I had to face reality that for the first time ever, I failed to make a team.

With that, I heard my father push back from the table and laugh. He walked over to me and continued to laugh. Only now his laugh turned into one of those cynical laughs. You know, the kind that says you're a worthless piece of garbage. "You didn't make the team, did you?" he asked. Of course, he already knew the answer. Before I could muster my response, he had his belt halfway off.

My mother, sensing what was about to happen, slipped off the sofa and tried to protect her little boy. But she was useless. Pops easily shoved her aside and then cracked the belt against his hand. Out of options, I jerked up and tried to make it over the sofa and out the back door. I almost had it but my big toe nicked the top of the sofa and caused me to stumble. It gave him just enough time to cut off my escape. He grabbed me by the neck and pinned me down to the ground with his knee. "You're a lazy-good-for-nothing-spoiled-brat. You're a disgrace to me, your mother and the whole family. If you just would've practiced harder, this would've never happened." I practiced everyday for hours (rain or shine).

What happened next doesn't deserve a description. By today's standards, he would've gone to jail for that incident and many others. But that was 38 years ago. Things were different. Much different. But what really gets me was that for years I actually thought he was angry because I didn't make the all-star team. It wasn't until after Pops died that I came to realize it wasn't about me at all.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Up In The Zone

The two undecided draftees are still my primary focus. Even with the summer camps and tournaments in full swing for the 2007 draft prospects, I have to really concentrate on making a solid showing with these two kids. In my world, the difference between five and seven signees is pretty large. Especially given the number of draftees from my area. But it won't be easy and with each passing day, the odds of them signing become less and less.

RHP Marcus Brown was one out away from finishing his sophomore year at junior college with a no-hitter. I was there. And so were four other scouts. His slider is the main draw. He consistently drives it down and away from a RH batter with a short repeatable delivery. One of the better sliders in my area. He mixes in a two-seamer in the neighborhood of 89-90 mph that tails into the knees of the RH batter. Both with nearly identical deliveries making it very difficult on the batter. At times, however, he gets under his slider early causing him to tip his pitch and hang it up in the zone. His frame is most likely tapped out at 5'10" 180 lbs which hurt him in the draft. But he's a standout in JC ball and would probably have his way with opposing batters in his junior year. Both he and his father are weighing the benefits of going to a 4-yr versus signing. We took him somewhere in the early-middle rounds. He was a draft and follow prospect with another team last year, but he failed to sign when they allegedly offered him tenth round money. Now I'm offering him less money, which means he could very well end up a draft and follow prospect for us.

LHP Cody Brewer probably should go to college but he has zero desire to hit the books. His parents won't even talk to me. They see college as the only way for him to go. Cody, on the other hand, has other ideas. He pretty much sealed his draft day success with some big appearances on the summer showcase and tournament tour. It also didn't hurt that he matched up well against some top HS talent this spring. A big strong frame who ironically doesn't pitch off his fastball. He has an above-average curveball that he can throw for strikes and a nasty split finger that really makes 'em look stupid. Unfortunately, he doesn't project too much more. What you see is what you'll most likely get. His four-seamer sits between 89-91 mph with above average command. Although he's already committed to a 4-yr university, he hasn't stepped onto campus just yet. I've offered a hundred times to speak with his folks but I can't get an audience to save my life. Even when I offer to get DeSear or Cooper to speak with them, I get the same cold shoulder. I honestly didn't think signability would be an issue given his selection in the early rounds. And let's face it, the slot money ain't pocket change. This one could be the proverbial straw if he doesn't sign.

I should know something for sure from each of these guys by the end of next week at the latest.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stealing Away

At this point, we have six draftees from my territory that haven't signed. Not good. Two of the six are out of the question as they have already committed to 4-yr schools and are packing their bags as I type:

OF Dustin Wood uses an unorthodox stance but makes consistent contact when pitches are down in the zone and can muscle balls out to the deepest part of the yard. Led his team in HRs. For a HS senior he showed great patience and maturity in his approach at the plate. A slender body type with room to fill-out. He's a 60 runner on the 20-80 scale. Decent accuracy but lacks the arm strength for right field. He'll be on my radar screen in two years. His father really pushed him towards 4-yr college when Dustin fell into the 20+ round.

C Tommy Hill was probably one of the cockiest kids in my territory let alone the entire draft. In his senior year he threw out 25 of 26 basestealers with POP times that rarely exceeded 2.0 seconds. I loved his snap throws down to first and third. He's a genuine leader, but he did have a tendancy to ride his teammates too much. Especially the pitchers. At 5'9", 165 lbs, not too many pitchers are gonna tolerate his harsh words. His offense was primarily gap to gap with an excellent feel for situational hitting. Unfortunately, he said if he wasn't picked in the first five rounds, he was off to 4-yr college. We took him after the fifth but prior to the tenth round thinking we could stear him into signing, but I was wrong. We'll see how he does with a veteran college staff.

Two others have committed to JCs and will become draft and follow prospects:

LHP Chase Lewis was looking to be picked somewhere in between rounds 3 and 6. This HS senior was keen on going the JC route if picked any later. When he fell out of the sixth round, we figured the worst that could happen was that he'd become a draft and follow prospect. We tried on at least four occasions to sign him after the draft but he and his family would have nothing of it. His 90 MPH fastball will only get faster. He can also cut his fastball making him one of my personal favorites. But his standout pitch is clearly his changeup. He grips it awkwardly which gives it a late tilt, diving away from righthanded hitters. He can throw it for strikes on any count. I've enjoyed watching him freeze batters between his changeup and the fastball. Only downside is his lack of repeatable delivery. But when he gets them guessing, it's all over.

RHP Lee Strong set himself apart by easily handling top prep talent at several national tournaments last year. But his cheese started to mold towards the end of his HS season. It went from 90 mph in January to 84-85 mph. His mechanics also seemed to look more labor intensive. His above average curveball and changeup were the only things that kept him on the radar screen. Both are plus pitches. Not that it matters but Carson (PC Geek) was extremely high on this kid simply because of his 92 - 7 strikeout-walk ratio. Anyhow, the sudden drop in velocity and a perception that his 5'10" 160lb frame was done growing, caused him to slip past the 15+ round. Lee and his "trusted advisor" (girlfriend that will be going to a local community college) agreed that he should attend the same local communty college to regain his velocity and hopefully increase his draft value to somewhere in the top five rounds. This wasn't the first time "love" got in the way of one of my signings. It will be interesting to see how he responds. On the mound that is.

The last two are undecided. I'll hit them up in the next post.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pinstripes


DeSear had a tone to his voice that said, "See, I told you this wouldn't work." And considering he only said two words, "Where's Dallas?" -- that was pretty impressive.

I called his cell phone but it went straight to voice mail. I then called his wife, Rachel at home. No answer. I called the Walmart where she works and had her paged. 10 minutes later she picked-up. I asked her where Dallas was? Of course, she was in disbelief. Apparently he had left the night before and was going to stay with a friend near the yard. I asked if she could call the friend but she left her cell phone at home and couldn't dial long distance from work. She gave me the number to call. Almost an hour had gone by since Dallas was supposed to report. I called the friend who sounded like he just walked in from an all-night party-- not as drunk as he probably was six hours ago.

"Dallas? He was supposed to meet up with me last night? News to me, dude." With that, he hung up. I called back Rachel to see if she had given me the wrong number. Unfortunately she hadn't. Now my cell phone was ringing. It was DeSear again. Pounding me with the same question but now laced with a string of profanity. If there's one thing you don't do, it was sign a contract and not show up.

Rachel was now distraught. Perhaps he was in an accident. I called the highway patrol and asked if there were any accidents last night along what would have been his most likely route. A few, but only fender benders. Nothing serious. Well that was good news. But it still didn't get us anywhere.

We were at a dead end. Rachel left work and headed for home to check her cell phone and answering machine. That took about 45 minutes. No messages on either. She called all her friends. Nothing. What little family they spoke to. Nothing. Neighbors. Nothing. The evening rolled around and Rachel decided to call the police. Of course, that didn't do much good when you live out in Sorrento. It was like calling Barney Fife and Andy Taylor.

The next day rolls around and Dallas shows up at the yard a little before 7:30am. Of course, he was whisked away for interrogation. Under the bright light he disclosed that he had been in South Carolina yesterday visiting his supposedly ill father in the Ridgeland Correctional Institution. I knew exactly where Ridgeland was because I scouted a kid from nearby Jasper County High School who I happened to project as an 80 for speed (on a scale of 20-80).

Come to find out, his father wasn't ill at all. It was just a ploy to get Dallas to the jail. Dallas wouldn't dare tell Rachel that he was going to visit his father. She despised the man and made Dallas promise that he'd never talk or see him ever again. Somehow his father learned that Dallas had been drafted and got a hold of his cell phone number. In his father's mind, Dallas was loaded with cash. Dallas suspected that his father was lying but Dallas needed to go for another reason. He needed to get all his hatred and anger towards his father out in the open to deal with it. He needed to put the past behind him before moving forward. And his father's plot to get him to the jail was just the opportunity he needed.

From what I hear, Dallas has shown flashes of brilliance in several innings of work, but for the most part is struggling with his location. He has mandatory telephone conferences with Dr. Rakes three times a week.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Rocket's Red Glare

With short-season Class A and rookie ball getting off to a great start, it's been one of those proud papa moments again. We were able to sign five draftees before play started.

SS Orlando Fonseca
RHP Dallas Parker
C Mac Thomas
RHP Rio Cabrera
OF Cedric Franklin

The last two were Goldie's alone. If you remember, I objected to Rio Cabrera due to poor mechanics. But Cabrera has already had an excellent outing in his first rookie ball appearance and is getting some unusual attention from our GM Logan Cooper. Shortly after the game, Logan apparently made some lofty comments about Cabrera's "rocket arm." He even hinted that several more appearances like that and he'll be quickly promoted to high-A or perhaps double-A. But what got me was that he apparently thanked Goldie for all his hard work in uncovering and signing Rio.

And then he went on to praise OF Cedric Franklin! Yes, this was the homeless man loitering around first. He's getting a shot in center field and so far has made the most of his 28+ plate appearances. .325 batting average and .408 on-base-percentage. But more staggering are the 3 HRs and 7 RBIs. I may have to revise his nickname from dough-boy to C-Note. And of course, Logan took the opportunity to give another pat on the back to Goldie.

What about my draftees you ask?

Well let's see. Dallas was a no-show on the first day our rookies were supposed to report. That went really good for me. 30 minutes after the check-in time both Cooper and DeSear were on my like two crazed junkyard dogs.

"Where's Dallas?" DeSear asked over the phone.

Of course he showed up the next day, but not without a story. I'll get to that on the next post. But for now, I'm actually getting ready to watch some of the MLB afternoon games. Thank goodness for baseball on July 4th! And of course, a major thank you for the men and women who continue to make our freedom possible and to all those who have gone before them to make our freedom possible to begin with.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Green Light

I may have been too harsh on my brethren. I was in south Florida with DeSear and Carson making a final, yet successful, run at signing one of our last top ten draftees. We finished up early and DeSear wanted to know where he was going to eat. Ah, my specialty. Of course, DeSear was looking for his usual Texas-style BBQ and I was more than happy to let him down.

"Let's go to this little Cuban restaurant I know just a couple miles down Kendall Drive," I announced.

"Cuban!" DeSear shrieked.

Anyhow, it was a dive but many of the area scouts frequent the locale for lunch. As usual, the place was packed. We couldn't even find a parking spot. I had to park across the street-- right next to another area scout from a different club who also happened to be getting out of his car. We exchanged our usual insincere pleasantries and discussed our latest signings on our way to the crosswalk. Carson pressed the button, the light turned green and we had the signal to walk. DeSear and the other scout (let's call him Albert), started into the street with Al on his left. Carson and I were bringing up the rear.

But within seconds, a car turning left from the opposite side sped through the intersection. I could hear the car accelerate over the thundering base of the rap music. It was a kid. Zero regard for life. I could see his eyes beneath the crooked Yankee's cap (I'm not picking on the pinstripes but it's just the truth). He was headed for Al and at the very last second he swerved to make a point. The kid wanted to make it seem like he was going to run us over. He yelled an "F" bomb and pointed out that the light was green as if to say we were the ones in the wrong.

What this kid didn't know, however, was that Al's brother happened to be killed in a traffic accident earlier this year. I'm sure it was incredibly traumatic for Al to be starring down a radiator grill so soon after his brother's tragic death. It would have been easy for Al to flip out and lose it. And quite frankly, I wouldn't have blamed him if he did. My instincts would have been to yank that kid out of the car and beat the living daylights out of him. Instead, Al threw out a single question. "Is that what you would say to the judge if you ran us over?" His lip didn't even quiver. And no, his adrenaline didn't take over. He was in complete control. He's always been that way. Even as a player. In fact, Al not only had the sixth tool during his playing days, he's now taken the sixth tool into real life.

I don't know if Al has children. But if he does, I'm sure he's a great father. An attitude like that is something I wish I had. I was always so quick to anger. So quick to rebuke on the first sign of disobedience. Always responding to their bad behavior with my first emotion (and it usually wasn't pretty). Lots of yelling and screaming. No patience whatsoever. If they weren't in time-out, they were getting a paddle. If they weren't getting a paddle, they were in time-out. It was constant oppression. No wonder my kids hate me. To think that I even look in my mail box for a father's day card is a complete joke. But for some reason, each and every year I still look.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Slot Money

The good news is that we had a boatload of draftees come out of my area. The bad news is that we had a boatload of draftees come out of my area. Florida had 189 draftees. I nearly ran out of options which made for some tense moments near the 45th round. And believe me, when Logan gets frustrated with the cross-checkers and suddenly shouts out your name over the conference line asking what you have left, you just can't say, "I dunno." I'll get to my response near the end.

Anyhow, the expectations are incredibly high. If I'm not mistaken, we selected more players from FL/GA/SC than any other area across the country. GM Logan and scouting director DeSear wasted no time flying to Florida once they came to a quick negotiating standstill with our two top selections. I saw this happen last year too. All by design. Of course, one of the excuses they use is being "over slot," which requires them to jump through some additional hoops with MLB's chief labor counsel before striking a deal. Bogus excuse. They delay signing the elite players until things shake out with certain signings in rounds 5-20. If signings turn out to be solid, then maybe Logan feels he can be more aggressive in negotiating the elite contracts. If signings are not so robust, then perhaps Logan is more inclined to come to terms and get a deal done more quickly.

Although the number of our draftees from my area was up almost 50% from what I had last year, I still feel pretty good about things. I picked up DeSear in Orlando on Wednesday and we signed one of our top ten picks. Went very smooth. A close family member, who happened to be an attorney, was the kid's agent and admitted he was just there for the family's peace of mind more than anything. Besides, the kid admitted prior to the draft that if he were chosen before the xth round, he would sign for slot money. Can of corn. Don't we wish they were all that easy. One down . . . off to Rookie ball.

At the same time, Goldie (in his expanded role) went solo in signing one of his prospects. Remember the homeless guy loitering around first? Yep. That's him. Logan pulled the trigger on the kid somewhere after the 10th round. This spring, the kid actually increased his OBP to something like .560 and led the conference in walks for yet another year. But you won't see him listed on the official draft boards as a first baseman. No, it seems the kid had some fielding issues at first base and was moved midseason to right field. Apparently he lost some weight and showed some decent arm strength towards the end of the season. I'm not buying it, but at least he's Goldie's pick-- not mine. Another one down . . . off to Rookie ball.

And then there's Logan screaming at the top of his lungs somewhere after the 45th round. You'd swear it was the first couple rounds! DeSear and the cross-checkers were taking too long to produce a short list for the selection when Logan blew his stack. Sleep deprivation if you ask me. But anyhow, he starts shouting the names of several area scouts in California. "What's the best player you have left? 5 words or less why should we take him?" One prospect by one prospect . . . one area scout by one area scout. Just 9 teams away from us having to pick. Each scout talks quicker and quicker knowing that our time is running out. Many of the names go right over the heads of the cross-checkers. Then it happened.

"Cutter?"

The moment of truth was upon me. Go ahead, call me a hypocrite. I answered, "Dallas Parker. 95 mile per hour fastball."

Immediately two cross-checkers objected. "Loose cannon," "Zero makeup."

"I agree," said DeSear. "Not the type of guy we need on our club."

I could start to hear Logan announce the name of another area scout when he was quickly interrupted by a voice I hadn't heard during the entire two days of the draft. But when Angus T. Hunt spoke . . . it was like the old E.F. Hutton commercial (everybody listened). "I'm sure Cutter's already weighed the good with the bad and believes that Dallas Parker is worth the risk."

"He quit on his team," DeSear replied.

"He didn't quit on our team," Mr. Hunt snapped. "Dr. Rakes can work with him. Besides, who else on the board has a 95 mph fastball? I'm inclined to agree with Cutter on this one."

Silence. It was suddenly our turn to select. What else could Logan do?

Thanks to Mr. Hunt, I'll be having breakfast tomorrow at the Parker trailer in little Sorrento, Florida, to get a certain signature on a certain minor league contract. After that, I'll make my way up to middle Georgia to hook up with Goldie. Although we missed out on Shawn Bankman and Jackson Savard, Logan was able to snag one of Goldie's picks (pitcher Rio Cabrera - a guy who I thought had some major mechanical flaws) and one of the few picks we actually agreed upon, catcher Mac Thomas.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

2006 Draft: Opening Day

556 players later and I'm completely spent. The first 18 rounds were a blur. Although I can't tell you how many from Florida/Georgia/South Carolina we selected (that would be too obvious), what I can tell you was that Goldie and Carson were text messaging their fingers off while I spent more time on the phone than any opening draft day I can remember. Tomorrow should be equally if not more insane. Thankfully, we were able to book all our draftees for signing appointments before this coming Sunday.

Overall, I was looking for 130 prospects being drafted out of Florida in the entire draft. Unless I missed a couple, there were 72 drafted from Florida in the first 18 rounds. That's pretty high. Fortunately I built my lists up to about 150 prospects. I suspect we will go over that number by the end of tomorrow. But I'm not too worried because not every draft pick will show up on my list. For example, there were 16 kids picked this afternoon that never made my list of prospects. I either missed the boat or some other scout is taking a gamble. I admit that it's probably the former. But on the flip side, I'm sure these same scouts didn't have all 72 kids on their prospect sheets either.

Georgia was also higher than I thought with 22 draftees. I projected 45 coming out of Georgia for the entire draft. Same story with South Carolina who had way more draftees than I expected thanks to Clemson's run in the post-season. Funny how scouts jumped on the bandwagon with the Clemson players. I'm sure the College of Charleston and South Carolina U will have their due tomorrow.

Anyhow, speaking of tomorrow, it's already here and I'm beat.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Calm Before the Storm

Considering today is the day before the draft, it's been relatively calm. All the cross-checkers, our scouting director, and the GM were traveling back to the mother ship as I like to call it. Our owner, Angus Hunt, likes to be an active participant in the draft, so he'll also have a reserved seat around the conference table. I heard he was flying back from Russia this morning after attending an auction which offered a rare art collection from the 18th century. Actually, I'm sure it was his wife's doing. Angus doesn't strike me as a Russian art collector but I could be wrong.

As for me, I made my rounds over the weekend. Held a final workout in central Florida on Saturday and was in south Florida on Sunday. These workouts were only for top prospects. I had several retired players run the workouts so that I could entice some of the top prospects to actually attend. It worked great. It gave me one last opportunity to build a deeper relationship with the prospects and their parents just in case our next meeting is at the negotiating table.

I've been on the phone pretty much non-stop with other prospects to confirm their signability. I had two kids come clean about past injuries. I also had a couple kids tell me straight up that they're not ready for pro ball and will be accepting scholarships to play college. It happens every year at the last minute. Cold feet are to be expected. It's a huge decision and I don't hold back in letting them know what to expect if they sign. But some kids aren't so direct in their communications. If a kid is still unsure at this point, I'd rather him play college. Let's put it this way, today I made several calls to DeSear letting him know to take several players off the board because they simply lacked the sincerity and confidence in communicating that they wanted to play pro ball. It sounds strange but if I'm not sold that he's ready to hop on a bus and begin his minor league journey to make it to the Big Show, I'm taking him off the board. Granted, you have your draft-and-follow situations, but for the most part, I'm taking him off the board.

But one thing is for certain. I'm going to be extra busy tomorrow and the next several weeks. I have four phone lines in my home office. One line will be connected to the conference room at the mother ship. It'll be on mute so I can hear all the draft selections and war room chatter but they won't be able to hear me. Another line will be dedicated to receiving calls from DeSear or Logan in case they need to discuss matters one-on-one. The other two lines will be for calling prospects, draftees, Goldie or Carson. And then there's my cell phone if everything happens to light up.

So what ever you do, make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened. The next couple weeks will be quite a ride.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Five Tools of Lunch

My brethren do many things to agitate me. Take one scout for example. For every afternoon game that I see him, he brings a picnic basket of sorts. It's really a cooler bag but it might as well be a picnic basket. I simply marvel at his routine. He sits behind home plate with his radar gun and then like clockwork in the bottom of the second, out comes lunch. Many would ask why he doesn't eat before the game? Good question, but then again, he's never been on time for any game I've seen him at. But at least he usually makes it before the bottom of the first. Anyhow, he slips the radar gun back into his laptop bag and then gently unzips his cooler bag.

Always on top is a printed paper napkin. He removes it and unfolds it from the right. He then places it down on the bleachers to his right. Always to his right. He smoothes out the napkin-- I'll swear to this. And then he removes a vegetable and puts it on the top left corner of his napkin. Sometimes broccoli, sometimes sliced peppers, but mostly raw carrots packed tightly inside a ziplock baggie. Then out comes a fruit. Sometimes a banana, sometimes a tupperware full of strawberries, but mostly red delicious apples (I can hear the crunch from a mile away). He puts this on the top right.

Then a yogurt appears out of the bag. A freaking yogurt. And not just any type of yogurt, but the kind with granola on top. Sometimes plain vanilla, sometimes raspberry, but mostly mixed fruit. He puts the yogurt on the bottom left corner of his napkin. Of course, the last thing he removes from the bag is a sandwich. And you guessed it-- bottom right corner. Sometimes tuna fish, sometimes egg salad, but mostly oven roasted turkey (Okay I really don't know if it's oven roasted but that's just my guess) and always on wheat! And what does he drink you ask? He takes a bottled water from his laptop bag and places it--- yep, right in the middle of the napkin. Ah . . . the five tools of lunch. He's a complete player. Takes a quick look around (probably just to see if others are noticing his masterpiece) and then starts on the carrots, finishing each course before moving to the next. Lunch easily lasts until the sixth inning. All the while, he's completely oblivious to the game. And without fail, he leaves by the middle of the eighth. Can you guess which team he scouts for?

And this is just for starters. Never mind the scouts who have no intention of signing one of my prospects but spend 30 minutes over the phone telling the kid he's the next David Wright and that they plan on taking him in the Xth round- three rounds ahead of where we were going to take him. Of course, the scout is doing this in hopes that we will get nervous and blow an earlier-than-needed draft pick on the kid thus freeing up some of the talent that should really be taken in the Xth round. Just one of the many tricks I see this time of year.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Healthy Stance


I wish I could say that I never had a problem with a parent, but I can't. It used to be where the parents were cordial, respectful, and quite helpful. Now don't mistake what I am about to say, because some parents still get it, but this is one area that has deteriorated most severely over my last 23 years of scouting. Many of the parents I deal with today are obnoxious, arrogant, over-controlling, money hungry, know-it-all's.

They are incredibly pushy at the negotiation table and take everything way too personally. When I talk about a player's deficiencies, I always make sure to couch them in a way that I am only addressing the behaviors (actions) of the player instead of the player himself. If I don't, parents tend to get fired-up. In fact, they have a more difficult time with reality than the parents of 15-20 years ago. Those parents saw the deficiencies as room for improvement and a challenge for little Johnny to overcome. Today's parents would rather argue that no deficiencies exist and tell me I'm crazy because some other scout says their little Johnny is the next Albert Pujols.

That brings me to my approach. Rule uno . . . Quickly build an expectation that I'm simply here to evaluate both the good and the bad behaviors on behalf of my organization. Rule dos . . . Keep a healthy distance. I feel the need to maintain a professional, not personal, relationship with the parents. No matter how close I get with the parents, there's going to be a point in time when I point out reality which can tend to sour the personal relationship. Of course, I've learned this the hard way.

Other scouts, however, are their best buddies. They tell them what they want to hear, no matter what. They go over to the house for BBQ cookouts, kiss the babies, hold Grandma's hand, blow little Johnny's nose . . . not me. I simply won't do it. And I can't stand scouts that do. Which brings me to the other scouts which are really getting on my nerves at this point. I cringe at some of the stuff they're saying and doing. And I seem to be getting more than an earful (regarding what this scout did or said) during all my signability calls with the kids and their parents. Much more than usual. I think I'm overdue on going Billy Martin. Let the backstabbing begin. Next post: my brethren (only the ones I don't like, of course).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Setting the Lineup

It's getting really crazy around here. And after talking with a cross-checker last evening, it looks like it's only going to get more crazy after the draft. It seems that with each passing day, the stock in our Florida and Georgia prospects keep rising. It was fortunate that I started out looking for 265 eligible draft prospects. If you remember back in December I projected 170 draftees coming out of my territory-- but now that number looks to be low. That's why I build in a cushion.

So, I've prepared both Goldie and Carson to be ready for what looks to be a robust signing opportunity for us. I normally don't get too excited when the rumormill turns to Florida, but this time it seems to be legit. Funny thing is that I haven't really noticed a pop in our region's talent level this year. That must mean that the talent level across the board is slightly lower than usual making for a sleepy draft. Of course, that'll mean the focus, as well as the pressure, will be centered on me to make the most out of what some in our scouting department are calling a lackluster draft. But understand that this draft, like most drafts, will yield a highly talented group in the first couple rounds. Beyond that, however, is the true measure of a draft's talent level.

And all I know is Florida/Georgia/South Carolina and the fact that the cross-checkers are calling me everyday with signability questions and looking for any signability updates. I had eight draftees last year. It could be as many as 15-20 this year. That's a lot of contracts. That's a lot of pressure. That's insane. Fortunately, (and I'd never thought I would say this) I'll have some help this year with Goldie and Carson. Of course, DeSear and perhaps Cooper will also be down this way for the larger, high-profile signings if they should happen in the early rounds.

And I forgot to mention that's also a lot of parents. I'm talking with them everyday now. I'll give you my approach with the parents on my next post. I have some rules I try to adhere to. Unfortunately, some other scouts in my area don't.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Guess Hitting

We had some extra time in the dug out to talk hitting philosophy with several kids in our south Florida private workout. The kids at this workout weren't top 10 round material. They mainly were in the 10-30th round realm. Or at least so I thought. The way the cross-checkers and DeSear were talking afterwards, a few might actually slip into the top 10 rounds. That blew me away since Carson and I had already targeted our south Florida kids that should go in the top 10 rounds. But then again, we don't have much of a feel of what's happening in other parts of the country.

Anyhow, out of 10 position players at the workout, I would say eight were what I call, "guess hitters." In other words, these players sit back looking for a good pitch to hit. They've been coached to look for, "their pitch." To understand this approach more fully, it might be helpful to paraphrase one of the players-- I pick up the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand, see it, decide if it's a good pitch, and then decide whether to swing or not. There are at least 3 decisions involved before contact.

The other two adopted a more concise approach. They are swinging unless they see a pitch they don't like or are basically told to take the pitch. These batters make an assumption when they step to the plate that the ball is going to come right down the middle. They know it's coming right down the middle. They're not looking for it to come right down the middle, they know it. Big difference. If a pitcher has a great fastball, you simply can't afford wait to see the ball to get started. You need to anticipate where the ball is going to be and approach that area. You can stop if it isn't close to where you anticipate.

Now I'm not saying one approach is better than the other. Johnny Bench was a terrific guess hitter. However, I truly believe that a prospect who has average hitting tools and bat speed can project into a fine prospect as long as he adopts the later approach.

Of course, there is no substitute for bat speed regardless of approach. I believe it was Whitey Herzog that once said, "Speed never slumps." But in the later rounds of the draft, you often don't get that luxury.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Draft-and-follow

What a week. It seemed like all our cross-checkers and our national scouting director couldn't get enough of Florida. Apparently, Florida talent is on the top of the food chain this year. It doesn't work that way every year, but this year seems to be one of those years. As an area scout, I don't really know how my kids stack up to other regions during the year. Sure, there are a number of publications that attempt to show the differences, but I never pay much attention to those. It isn't until a couple weeks prior to the draft that you really get to see what's going on. And it was obvious that the cross-checkers were much more impressed with the Florida talent level as well as the depth of talent that will populate the late stages of the draft.

Incidentally, we signed draft-and-follow prospect Diego Gutierrez this week. If you recall, he was the third baseman from Wekiva Community College that we chose in the 34th round of last June's draft. Diego's sophomore year did not disappoint. He developed as I expected, only with better arm strength. Other scouts were definitely high on him, but most of them projected him somewhere in between the 10th and 15th rounds. Diego knew this. As a result, DeSear and I offered him a package comparable to someone drafted in the 10th round. After he talked it over with his father, it was a done deal.

At our private workout in Orlando, we had you know who show up. Dallas Parker. All the cross-checkers were fully aware of his walk-off episode. One had even called the Wekiva coach to get his personal report on the incident. It certainly tainted their analysis of Dallas, as none of them thought he was ready to play pro ball at any level. I could sense that they saw the raw talent, but with the number of talented pitchers available across the country, Dallas didn't fit with their plans. It also didn't help Dallas when he boasted that several scouts have rekindled their interest and have said they will take him near the 30th round. It came off like we'd better get back on the bandwagon or else. The guy continues to keep shooting himself in the foot.

Anyhow, we just finished up private work outs in south Florida today. I'll recap those tomorrow since I need to take DeSear to the airport so he can catch his 10:45 flight out of MIA.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Under the Bus

I can't even begin to tell you how infuriated I am with Goldie. Saturday's private workout took the cake. We invited Martin McGarrity, a standout LHP from East Dublin High School, to give us a taste as to why Manny projected him inside the top 10 rounds. Goldie and I had seen him pitch earlier in the year. It was like pulling teeth to get Goldie over to watch him.

Never once, however, did Goldie mention to me that he was going to throw me under the bus with McGarrity. What really ticks me off was that we both agreed on which prospects to invite to the private workout. But when McGarrity arrived, he was like, "Why's that guy here? Let's get one thing straight, it wasn't my idea to invite him."

I can honestly tell you, Goldie can be a cold as they come. But on the other hand, he insisted that we invite Shaun Bankman and his father so the cross-checker could see Shaun pitch one last time. Never in a million years would I have thought that Goldie would ever want to be in the same county as the Bankman's considering what happened at their house.

Anyhow, back to McGarrity. At first, we had him pitch all of his stuff without a batter and then we stacked him up against some talent. Fastball was in the high 80's, but he could purposely change speeds starting at the upper 70's. Same look, release point, and delivery whether it was thrown at 87 mph or 77 mph. Very deceptive if done correctly. He also mixed in a splitter to really get batters chasing. Again, same look, release point, and delivery as the fastball. And if that weren't enough, he had excellent command over his curveball. Not very fast. But very loopy and perfectly located.

I was really excited for McGarrity until Goldie called for a break in the action. The nerve. Trying to distract McGarrity and throw him off his rhythm. Goldie motioned for the catcher to come over. In front of the cross-checker and Toby Bradford, Goldie says he thinks he sees something. He tells the catcher that he wants to call the pitches for several batters. He gives him the signals (which I couldn't believe - almost like he had called signals before) and tells him to get back to the plate. For the next couple batters, Goldie has McGarrity jump back and forth between his fastball, splitter, and curve. Then Goldie calls the next batter over to him before the guy walks out to the batter's box.

He proceeds to tell the batter to watch the location of McGarrity's left elbow as he grabs the ball inside his glove after receiving the signal from the catcher. If his elbow is slightly higher than his glove, it'll be a splitter. If it's even with the glove, it's a curve. Below the glove, it's a fastball. It was all very subtle but as Goldie called the pitches, it became obvious that McGarrity was tipping from the stretch. Unintentional, of course, but from that point forward, McGarrity was toast. He was rocked from one side of the field to the other.

Three veteran scouts, all with MLB playing experience. None of us picked up the subtle movements. That's our freaking job. But then it dawned on me. Goldie set me up. McGarrity had only thrown a dozen pitches before Goldie called for a break. That really wasn't enough pitches for us to catch on (although it probably should have been). Goldie must have seen these movements when we scouted McGarrity in February. How nice of him to keep it all to himself (Of course, I really missed the boat). And he just tucked them away and waited for the opportunity to screw me over.

And man, did he ever. Both the cross-checker and Toby were totally impressed with Goldie's find. To make matters worse, the cross-checker leaned over to me and asked, "Didn't you see this crap when you scouted him?" Of course, Goldie had a free pass because he wasn't supposed to be the one finding this stuff. Goldie's the stat boy. I'm the tools and technique guy. I suddenly felt like I was on some Twilight Zone episode.

Then he asked Goldie, "So how did you pick'em up?"

Goldie looked at him and smiled. "Ever play Texas hold'em?"

[thump][thump]

Of course, that sound you hear is the bus running me over.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Glide-to-Stride

Just got back to my hotel room after standing in one of those self-checkout lines at a Super Walmart in Atlanta. The place was packed. Of course, the guy in front of me was paying with pennies, nickels and dimes. Dropping each coin into the machine one at a time. I couldn't believe it. But what got me was that after he was done putting in $15 worth of coins for $12.28 of merchandise (Believe me, I had plenty of time to look at his check-out screen to see what was going on), he gladly took his $2 in dollar bills and $.72 in coinage and off he went! Someone please help me with this?

Anyhow, I'm in Atlanta with my old boss, Toby Bradford, (who as you may or may not remember is now the area scout responsible for the metro-Atlanta area and everything north of I-20), and one of our national cross-checkers ( yes, the same one who looks like Tom Selleck). The two held a private workout this afternoon in order to get a better look at several local JC and HS players. I decided to join them, along with Goldie, to see what Toby had compared to what we were seeing in central/south Georgia. Of course, the kids that were invited weren't necessarily the cream of the area but rather those who, for one reason or another, didn't get scouted by the cross-checker when he was doing his rounds earlier in the year.

Tomorrow, the cross-checker will be joining Goldie and myself for our own private workout in Macon. We've invited a select group of JC and HS players that we wanted a second look at. Again, these aren't necessarily our best players in the central/south Georgia area (the cross-checker already knows what they can do) but rather those kids who are likely to go between the 8th and 20th rounds. Many of them are Goldie's (i.e. Manny had nothing on them). But a few are Manny's which, of course, have more credibility with me and will most likely show better in front of the cross-checker. It should be an interesting afternoon because the cross-checker, unlike DeSear and Logan, hasn't been too warm and fuzzy over Goldie's stat-induced, scouting reports.

Monday, the cross-checker will be with me in Charleston, South Carolina. Tuesday afternoon, we'll be in Orlando joined by a second cross-checker and also DeSear himself. Wednesday morning, the two cross-checkers, DeSear, and myself will travel to South Florida. With the exception of a few one-offs, these private workouts should be the final work outs in-front of the cross-checkers. After these workouts, I'll be focusing primarily on signability issues. Of course, during the three days leading up to the draft I'll go back to having private workouts for my top prospects. I'll bring in a former player or two to organize a light workout. This is mainly to keep the kids occupied - so to speak (i.e. away from the other scouts trying to contact them).

Needless to say, 25 days before the draft is an extremely busy time and it's only going to get more hectic from here on out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Delmon Young Suspension

They can't be serious. 50 games and 50 hours of community service? Is that all? Kid was lucky I wasn't the Int'l League president because he'd be riding the pine for the rest of the season. And to say that it's only 50-games because the president couldn't prove "intent" is a complete joke. Young could probably throw his bat at the shortstop from home plate and hit him 9 times out of 10. Look, if I shoot a bullet in the general direction of someone because I'm angry with them but because of my bad aim I end up blowing a hole in their chest, I'm going down for murder or at least involuntary manslaughter. What if that bat connected with the ump's head and killed him? Is Young's lack of "intent" argument going to hold water?

A person "intends" a consequence when he or she foresees that it will happen if the given series of acts or omissions continue and desires it to happen (Wikipedia). You be the jury.

If you haven't seen it by now, here is Young's "lack of intent":



"I sincerely regret my actions in the game yesterday," Young said in a statement released by the office of his agent, Arn Tellem. "Regrettably, in the heat of the competition my emotions got the better of me.

"My behavior was completely unacceptable. I want everyone to know that I recognize that it is never right to throw a bat and I certainly never intended for the bat to make contact with the umpire. Nevertheless, I owe an apology to my team, the fans and most importantly to the umpire, for the incident. I am sorry."

Young was suspended three games for bumping an umpire while playing for Montgomery of the Double-A Southern League, and he nearly was ejected earlier this season after flinging a bat in the air and having it land about 20 feet from a pitcher who had just hit him with a pitch.

And to make matters worse, the regular umpire crews for the minor leagues have been out on strike. Many of the replacement umps have college and high school experience but Young wasn't ready to cut them any slack.

Understand that Young is back in Triple-A to get a better grasp of the strike zone. Some would also argue that the Ray's depth in outfield is another reason he's in Durham. Maybe so, but a lot has been said recently about his inability to see the strike zone. I'm sure those comments were echoing in the back of his mind when the ump called a third strike. You can only imagine what he was thinking. Awe &$%#. I've got to deal with another strikeout because this turkey can't see.

Taking a called third strike goes right to the heart of his "strike zone" problem. All of his frustrations had to peak at the moment of decision. Only one problem, 99.9% of the players are able to suppress their actions at the moment of decision. Young on the other hand, could not.

You simply cannot count on Young to be there over the long-haul. What good are his five-tools if he ain't playin'? Give me a two or three-tool player that has the sixth tool over any five-tool player that doesn't. Young could learn a thing or two from Jonny Gomes.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Passed Ball

Just when I thought the Dallas Parker project was finished, I received a call from Doc this morning. Doc had just hung up with one of our cross-checkers who still had Dallas on the outer edges of his radar screen despite the walk-off incident (I had the same cross-checker watch Dallas pitch in February). As it turned out, Dallas called Doc last night for some advice. According to the Doc, it was a productive call. I was just thrilled to hear Dallas had contacted someone about his problems. I had left a ton of messages for Dallas, but never received a return call. Doc told me that Dallas said he was too embarassed to call me back.

Come to find out, Dallas eventually went back to class but never returned to the team. The Wekiva coach was understandably upset at Dallas's sudden walk-off the mound and from what Diego told me, the coach lit him up all the way into the clubhouse and practically out to the parking lot. It was clear that Dallas was not welcomed back and Dallas wasn't the least bit disappointed at that particular moment.

I'm sure I could've mediated Dallas's return but I certainly wasn't going to make any effort until Dallas proved to me that he really wanted to play. Although his coach could use him right now in the FCCAA State Tournament, Dallas's playing days for Wekiva are over. And what a shame. It's not like his year was a total disaster either. He dominated for the most part but when he did get hit around, he lost his composure and the bottom fell out. More importantly, several other scouts told me that towards the end of his season, his velocity was holding constant when he needed a strike. If you remember when I saw him, he'd drop his four-seamer to the high 80's when he needed a strike. According to them, however, he was throwing 93-94 mph when he needed a strike. That told me that his confidence was where it was supposed to be.

Somewhere down the road, however, the Giant eventually took control of Dallas. But from what Doc tells me, Dallas now recognizes that he must take back responsibility. And although he very much wants a career in professional baseball, Dallas readily admits that he must control his fears in order to be successful. Time is running out on Dallas Parker. With the draft only 33 days away and not much opportunity to pack up his family to play ball at another community college, he knows he's in a desparate situation.

Monday, May 01, 2006

On Deck Circle


You should know by now that I try to look at everything. I'm the type of scout that arrives at the field early just so I can watch a player step off the bus. How does he carry himself? Does he look like he wants to be there? Is he loose? Tight? I take it all in.

But something I noticed last week stuck out like a sore thumb. And this wasn't the first time I've seen this either. It's been getting progressively worse over the last couple years. I was in Ft. Lauderdale watching several HS district tournaments when I saw it happen. Carson was pretty high on this particular shortstop and I figured I would check him out to see if he warrants a spot on the short list. His team was up to bat in the bottom of the first with two outs, a man on second and a man up at the plate. As the kid wandered onto the on deck circle twirling his bat, he immediately started talking with some of the students behind the fence. It was real meaningful stuff like, "Did you hear who Jimmy was taking to the prom?" and "Deana really wants you to ask her to the prom."

With a 3-2 count, the kid at the plate knocked a ground ball causing the shortstop to dive deep towards second. The runner easily advanced to third and the batter beat the throw to first. Now there were runners on first and third with two outs. The Prom King was forced to break off his social session and head to the plate. It was a great opportunity for him to put his team ahead early in the game. He had the pitcher in a hole.

The first pitch was a decent four seam fastball over the outside half. The RH Prom King took a mighty long swing and barely caught up to it just over the back part of the plate. The ball lumbered off the barrel slicing in the general direction of the right fielder. A can of corn. The pitcher couldn't hide his emotions as he jumped off the mound with a Tiger Wood's fist-pump and sprinted back to the dugout.

Thinking back, I can remember Pete Rose kneeling at the on deck circle. And a number of other players would do the same as well. It was such an important part of their batting routine. The on deck circle was a place where they would analyze the game situation, plan their at bat, get loose, and get their emotions under control. This mental preparation allowed them to simply react at the plate rather than having to think at the plate.

Sure enough, during the Prom King's next on deck appearance, Deana and her friends were standing there waiting for him to look their way. Of course, having nothing better to do on deck, the Prom King blew Deana a kiss and asked her to the prom. How ridiculous. A mockery of the game. Only this time, however, he stepped to the plate and pulled the first pitch down the third base line for a stand-up double. His next three on deck appearances gave him enough time to completely plan his social calendar for the next two weekends. He ended up going 2 for 4 with 1 walk.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Situational Hitting

Wrapping up some college games this weekend in south Florida, Carson (a.k.a. PC geek) and I had a frank discussion over something that can differentiate one player from another: an instinctual awareness for situational hitting and being able to execute accordingly. To me, I've seen a declining emphasis on situational hitting over the last 10 to 15 years. And it really extends from the highest level down to the youth leagues. Just look at the high salary premiums paid for home runs and slugging percentage.

Situational hitting is such a rich part of the game. Apart from pitching (I'm biased), it has to be one of the main attractions to the game. Carson didn't have a clue of what I was talking about. He kept reminding me that there was a reason for the high salary premiums paid for HRs, slugging percentage, and of course, he threw in on-base percentage. Although Carson has made great strides in scouting the tools, he still has difficulty putting value on certain aspects of a player's game that aren't always measured by the statistical world of production.

To help him focus (or so I thought I was helping), I gave him several basic examples. With the bases empty and no outs, the at bat is different from the same situation with two outs. With two outs, the batter who finds himself in a 2-0 or 3-1 count should be looking to drive the ball in order to get himself into scoring position rather than taking a walk. If he takes the walk, his team will most likely need a couple two-out hits to score him. If he gets into scoring position, then only one two-out hit should be necessary to score him. [Of course, Carson argued with me on the philosophy of not taking a walk in that circumstance. Any tactic that could hurt a player's OBP had to be faulty. He was certain that he could find some statistical data that would prove more runs were scored with two outs from a 3-1 count which resulted in a walk than a situation where the ball was put into the field of play from a 3-1 count (ie. the team would be better off taking a walk instead of swinging for a double).]

Another example would be a man on third with less than two outs. The hitter needs to get the runner in from third. It doesn't really matter whether the infield is in or deep. I'm looking for a hitter that stays on top of the ball, controls his swing (no overswinging), and puts the ball in play. A simple grounder directed to the gap between third and second or first and second. No pop-ups or short fly balls. And for crying out loud, never get caught taking a third strike in this situation! [Of course, Carson was screaming for the deep fly ball that might have a chance to go yard. To him, if a player is going to put himself in a position to be thrown out on a ground ball, why not swing for the fences for a chance to score two runs. If he comes up short, then the team scores a run on a deep fly ball. For anyone who's played, it's much more difficult to consistently hit a deep fly ball. There's too much opportunity to hit it short or simply pop-up. Most MLB outfielders can throw out a tagging runner on a shallow fly ball. Just get it on the ground and the chances are that something good is going to happen. The batter might even get it through the gap and improve his precious OBP]

Now, I realize that a manager should dictate the situational hitting tactics used during the game but the player needs to be able to execute them. Generally, a team gets to the playoffs because they have good pitchers who can beat the other teams' good hitters more often than not. But a way for hitters to overcome dominating pitchers is to use situational hitting to their advantage. Once in the playoffs, it's my opinion that the team who executes situational hitting is more likely to win. I want players who are comfortable with the concepts and can execute them willingly and without hesitation.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Changing Speeds

Notyourdoc wants to know if I had a mental tool breakdown? How much time do you have? I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Putting the ball in my manager's hand. Stepping off the mound (not knowing that it was actually going to be my last time doing so). I looked up into the late-September night sky and inhaled the crisp air. Of course, I was in full denial of what had just happened. And I was full of excuses too. If the second baseman had just a bit more range. How could the shortstop pull the first baseman off the bag? Why couldn't the right fielder hit the cutoff man like he was supposed to? Why did the groundskeeper mow the grass differently that day?

But truthfully, I was getting hit hard in more ways than one. My mind was not focused on throwing strikes but rather on the divorce papers that were served on me just two days prior. She waited for an away trip to have me served. It was all very well coordinated on her part. She moved out that same morning and took the two kids with her. My daughter was 8 years old and my son was 17 months. In an instant, my life changed. I became bitter and found myself throwing one pity-party after another. Things only got worse when my daughter mentioned on the phone that Mommy had a new boyfriend. I quickly sank into several bad habits during the offseason. It was hard enough for me to eat innings with a clear head and healthy body. But when I showed up at spring training without either, the team put me into rehab and offered me a scouting job in Florida. 23+ years and several clubs later, I'm still scouting in Florida.

And yesterday was my son's 25th birthday. I know he's not in baseball. I've checked each and every year since he graduated from high school. And he's probably done with college by now, assuming he went. Maybe even married. For all I know, I could be a grandfather and not even know it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Into His Kitchen

I've been in the Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade County area this week. The high school teams are approaching their district tournaments and wrapping up their regular seasons. From what I've seen this year, there's no doubt that the strongest HS talent pool is located in these three counties. I would suspect that quite a few of the Florida state championship teams will come right from here. The community colleges also wrap up their regular season this week and the four-year programs will still be going strong through May and into June for those advancing.

Not surprisingly, this is around the time I see some fatigue related mental errors. For example, I was at a community college game this week scouting a freshman at third base. A real horse. Quick hands and impressive bat speed. Not afraid to let it loose. Especially with an inside fastball. I've watched him enough to know that pitchers with a runner on second and no outs will throw right into his kitchen and get burned by a hard shot to right field. It almost seems easier for him to hit it to right on an inside pitch. I love that ability in a kid.

But sometimes he's a bit too aggressive (or maybe impatient is a better word) given the situation at hand. For example, it was late in the game and his team was down by one. A runner was on third with one out. The infield was playing in. Mind you, he hadn't swung at the first pitch all night. And that strategy had served him well as he started 1 and 0 for his first three plate appearances.

He stepped to the plate and lo and behold, he took a hard swing at the first pitch and sent a ground ball to the second baseman. The second baseman held the runner at third and threw the batter out at first. The next batter popped out. End of inning and basically end of game.

I knew it drove me crazy to see him swing at the first pitch. And it certainly didn't help his cause that the ball was low and away. He had the pitcher in a hole. I could only image what his coach told him when he got back to the dug out. I sure know what I would've told him.

Impatience or perhaps lack of mental awareness. But either way, his mental tool broke down. And this was a good player who should go somewhere between the 30-40th round.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Double Play

After spending all afternoon checking up on a few of my prospects from the Orlando area, I made my way up to the northern end of town to catch up with the Parker family for dinner. Unfortunately, Dallas was still AWOL. Oh sure, he called his wife to at least let her know he was still alive, but the long and the short of it was that he just needed to get somethings straightened out. He then told her that he was somewhere in North Carolina but that he would be back tomorrow. Normally that would've given her some peace of mind but Dallas said the same exact thing to her yesterday and he never showed up.

Not the best of situations. Rachel, his wife, was trying to act strong but I could tell she was on the edge of her seat not knowing what was going to happen. She was already putting in plenty of overtime at the Walmart supercenter to make ends meet. At 6:00 am sharp she would drop her off at a friend's house who ran a small daycare, and not pick her up until about 8:00 pm.

Today, however, was a special day because I was invited over for dinner at 7:30 pm. Rachel brought home a Walmart rotisserie chicken, potato salad, and dinner rolls. Madison, her daughter, plucked a roll from the bag and ran off to her room without her mother noticing. Mattie, as her mother calls her, still had that awful cough. I could hear her from the bedroom hacking away in between bites. Soon enough though, she was back at my side at the kitchen table wanting to make sure that I knew of her request to the Easter Bunny for an extra large chocolate bunny.

But when she turned to her mother and asked whether "Daddy" was going to color the Easter eggs with her like he promised, I just about wanted to wring Dallas' neck. What the heck was he doing? He had only lost four games all year (mainly due to poor run support) and his ERA was near three and a half. He was leading the team in quality starts and strikeouts. But things either went really great for Dallas or they went terribly bad. He would throw a two-hit shutout and then follow it up in the next game with with a six run first inning. To make matters worse, his attitude was equally inconsistent. According to Rachel, the scouts who were hot a heavy on him stopped coming around about a month ago and won't even call her back.

I offered to talk with the Wekiva coach to see if he would take Dallas back for what's left of the season but that I'd really like to talk with Dallas first before I did anything. I made it clear to her that even if the coach allowed Dallas back into the dugout, the players would most certainly resent him for walking out and that it would take many months to re-earn their trust and confidence. I then leveled with her that it didn't look good for Dallas in the upcoming draft. Once the teams get wind of his latest act, he'll be lucky to go somewhere between the 40-50th round. Although she pretty much knew this was probably the case, hearing it from me made it that much worse. So much that I could see her eyes begin to water as her face sank down into her hands.

Mattie dropped her doll on the living room floor and ran over to her mother at the kitchen table. Mattie instinctively knew her mother was on the verge of losing it. Perhaps she had seen this one too many times in the past. I felt terrible but that was nothing compared to how I felt when the five-year old suddenly told her mother, "I can get a job. Don't worry Mommy. It'll all be fine."

So much for the Dallas Parker project.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Commissioner

While watching a high school tournament in Sarasota this evening, I happened to be seated next to several old-time area scouts. Like always, in between innings we shot the breeze about mostly everything except baseball. Very rarely did we talk about the kids and their performance with the parents in earshot. However, the topic of Barry Bonds did come up. Showing my age, I happened to ask them what Bowie Kuhn would do if he were still the Commissioner.

Commissioner Kuhn was at the helm when I made my entry and exit from the playing ranks of MLB. I can remember him being very harsh towards those that abused drugs with hefty fines (at least compared to our pay back then) and quick suspensions. Just ask the four Kansas City Royals (Blue, Wilson, Martin, Aikens) that were suspended in 1983 for cocaine use.

And gambling? Let's not forget that it was Kuhn that had the guts to ban Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle from baseball for their promotion of legalized gambling. It was Ueberroth who later reinstated them in 1985.

My most vivid memory, however, was his confrontation with Kansas City Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. Actually he had already moved the team to Oakland when the two went at it. Finley saw the writing on the wall after losing Catfish to free agency. He tried to sell Rudi, Blue, and Fingers, but Kuhn stepped in to stop the transactions because in his opinion they were not in the best interest of baseball. Finley sued and the case became major precedent for the broad authority of the Commissioner. I did some quick research to find a quote from the appeal's court:

"The commissioner has the authority to determine whether any act, transaction, or practice is not within the best interests of baseball, and upon such determination, to take whatever preventative or remedial action he deems appropriate, whether or not the act, transaction, or practice complies with the Major League Rules or involves moral turpitude."
Charles O. Finley v. Bowie Kuhn (7th Cir. 1978)

Anyhow, our discussion was cut short by a phone call I received from the head coach of Wekiva Community College. It seems Dallas Parker walked off the field in the middle of the fourth inning after giving up a three-run shot. Didn't say a word to anybody. Packed up his bag and went home. Needless to say, I'm going over to Orlando tomorrow morning to see if I can hunt him down. And it wasn't like he was getting rocked. He had a one-hitter going with no runs.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Comments

(Just this once for those that receive posts via email or feed and don't normally read the comments.) If anyone cares, today was the first time I responded to a comment with a comment instead of a post. Going forward I'll be paying more attention to the comments and will try to respond periodically in addition to my regular posts.


Cutter said...
Really, I don't normally read the comments. The Doc wanted me to get some things off my chest and that's been the whole premise of the blog...not me getting noticed. If I had zero people read it or 1,500/day, I'd continue writing just the same.

Although, I must admit I haven't done a good job of keeping my doctor's orders to open up. Thinking it through, I decided that maybe I should start to read them more often. That's why I threw in the alias idea. Maybe that's what I've been missing all along and why I haven't felt the blog doing much good for me. Perhaps on occasion I could respond to a few comments as sort of an extension to my treatment plan. On occasion, of course.

I mean look at notyourdoc. He drilled both Bonds and Bush with one single pitch. Whoa. He's really getting stuff off his chest both sportswise and politically. How efficient. Not a wasted movement. If only you could pitch that good on the mound? . . . Can you?

Anyhow I've never seen a scouting report compare a player to the Michelin Man but that's one I'll have to remember. I like it.

If I had a nickel . . .


Sunday, April 9th, 10:37 AM

Friday, April 07, 2006

Plunked (Part II)

As I've already admitted, I don't normally read the comments to this blog. But one recent comment caught my attention. It was posted anonymously to my original Plunked post. The comment was very articulate and questioned my support of Barry Bonds given my past anger towards those that tarnish the integrity of the game. And I would have left it alone but the person went on to mention the Doc in the last sentence. That's when my suspicions called time and caused me to step out of the batter's box. Could this be the Doc again trying to coax me into a dialogue? After all, he's just trying to help me. And one of my many issues just happens to be . . . anger. What could it hurt to respond? Back into the batter's box--

Look, when it comes to Barry, I'd just rather deal in concrete facts rather than speculation, hearsay, rumor, or innuendo. That's all I meant.

And unfortunately, I seriously doubt whether Sen. Mitchell will be able to dig up many useful facts. He's already coming unglued with a number of potential conflicts (i.e. he's a director of the Boston Red Sox and the Chairman of The Walt Disney Company, the parent of ESPN).

Bonds has flat out denied using steriods and has never failed a drug test. I'm not ready to throw out his stats or put up an asterisk next to his name just because of some book or a grand jury transcript that was made public illegally. Bonds was not granted immunity for his grand jury testimony leaving him totally exposed to a perjury case if he lied under oath. Given his testimony and the fact that it's illegal to obtain steriods without a doctor's prescription, the Feds obviously didn't think they had a case for either perjury, or anything else, otherwise they would have indicted Barry by now. Therefore, one would have to believe that there just isn't enough conclusive evidence. And lest we forget, until you're proven guilty, you're presumed innocent.

But if he's ever found to be guilty of taking illegal performance-enhancing substances, then he will be forever disgraced and should be dealt with according to MLB steriod policy. Now whether that policy is too weak, that is for the pundits to argue. And whether Bud steps in to do something extraordinary will remain to be seen.

Oh and yes, the Doc has accused me of being in denial on more than one occasion. Perhaps this is just another one of those instances, but I don't think so.

ps: To those who post anonymously, perhaps you would consider using an alias so everyone can identify your comment with past comments and get a better flavor of where you are coming from when you post. Just a thought.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ace (Part III)

After ten minutes of trying to figure out what in the world was going on between the two, it finally dawned on me that both Goldie and Jacob "Jack" Booker (the classic breaking ball pitcher and Texas Hold'em prodigy) were talking a different language. A language which included terms like big slick, small blind, the button, limper, flop, American Airlines, the turn, fish hooks, the river, muck, and my personal favorite (given my psychological status). . . the nut hand or otherwise known as the nuts. Goldie spoke Jack's language and was able to build a degree of trust. The two were actually connecting.

Come to find out, Goldie is more than just a poker hack. When he's not in class or out here scouting, he's online playing poker for money. And not just for nickels and dimes either. He's actually pulling in enough to help fund his law school tuition! The things you learn. I wonder what the Georgia bar would think about that?

Anyhow, Goldie's approach was textbook. He started by acknowledging Jack's situation as a tough dilemma. He understood Jack's desire to play professional poker and the commitment it would take to play at that level. Thousands upon thousands of hands. Countless hours of folding and looking for just those two or three hands that will make your evening worthwhile. Once Jack knew Goldie fully appreciated his desire to take his poker playing to another level, Goldie swooped in to give Jack a reality check. He zeroed in on Jack's little league days and his tireless commitment to baseball year-after-year. That now was the time for Jack to get some return on his investment. That he could play poker anytime but that his opportunity to play professional baseball would only be open for a brief moment in time. Certainly he wasn't going to throw away the opportunity that he's spent most of his waking life to obtain.

I swear if Goldie were selling a used car, I'd probably buy it. He was that good. The most under rated part of scouting is sales and Goldie was a natural at it. Sales was and continues to be something that I have to work very hard at. I'm just not built for sales. To me, a career in baseball should sell itself. But that's not always the case. You're always selling the organization, the coaching, the facilities, the teammates, and the overall vision of management.

In the end, Goldie was able to convince Jack that he had to re-dedicate himself to baseball (not that he had to quit poker but instead putting baseball first and poker second), finish up the college season strong, and capture the opportunity that will make itself available during this year's draft. After an hour, he single-handedly turned that kid around. It was obvious to me that Jack's whole attitude towards himself and the game of baseball changed. How long it will last, however, is another story.

I would have left him to his own devices. Let him become a professional poker player. Why convince him to play baseball? A tiger can't change his stripes no matter how hard he tries and I'm not going to risk my job trying to help. I've seen it backfire too many times. Goldie, on the other hand, believes that Jack's potential is too good to pass up and that we should work with him rather than kick him to the curb. But to me, I don't want a gambler on my team who has to be convinced to play baseball instead of the World Poker Tour. It's safe to say that Goldie and I agree to disagree on this one. I'm sure I'll be hearing from DeSear in the near future.