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.