Interview Excerpts

Identify Players

The draft has prompted teams to start looking more at college players because the players at that level are more of a finished product.  Players in college are more mature physically, so teams can get a better look at what the players will look like in the future.  It’s also important that when a college player gets drafted, it’s not his first time being away from home. 

— Bill Almon, Former Player

A scout is not going to keep his job very long if he drafts a bunch of Dustin Pedroias.  He doesn’t have a real live body.  He doesn’t have quick feet. He runs with effort.  His swing is a big man’s swing on a little man’s body.  You think, “No chance that this is going to work.”  But that is why you need to build a history with those types of players.  That is why you have to keep going back.  You have to keep an open mind on players like Pedroia. 

I walked into Arizona State, saw Pedroia in one game and thought, “Okay, he’s probably a utility player.”  If you only see him for one game, you are just putting together what you are seeing and you are comparing him to the rolodex of players in your head and that is what he profiles at on a one-game quick look.  But if you have the chance to see him over time, which an area scout would, you can see his true potential. 

— Russ Ardolina, Scout

Our area scout, Johnny DeCarlo, got a chance to spend some time with Joe Panik.  He told the story that he was supposed to have an at-home meeting with Joe and there was a big snowstorm on the day of the meeting.  Johnny was worried about missing the meeting.  Joe was telling Johnny, “Not a problem, be careful, we can make it another day…”  

— John Barr, Scouting Director

It’s hard enough to get there; it’s super hard to stay.  So much of the game is about opportunity and when your draft order and your bonus are not in the higher echelons, right from the get-to, you don’t get the opportunity.  The choice roles are not given to you initially as a minor leaguer.   I always knew that I would have to pitch my way to the major leagues.  I knew that I was never in anyone’s plans to start a season… 

— Jeff Bittiger, Former Player and Current Scout

There was a kid right from where I live.  I didn’t draft him, but it’s Rich Aurilia.  He played at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, not far from my house, and at St. John’s University.  For me, he never hit.  Good glove.  He wasn’t a high-round pick.  The Rangers took him in the 24th round and later traded him to the Giants for John Burkett. 

The scouts who drafted him were Brian Lamb and Omar Minaya with the Texas Rangers.  They made an adjustment with him in the minor leagues.  From the day he signed, except for one season, he never hit under .279 in the minors and had a collective .290 average for all of his minor league games.  All of a sudden, he’s hitting the ball.  I saw Brian Lamb and Omar Minaya in the fall one year and I asked them, “What did you do, sprinkle fairy dust on this kid?” I didn’t have him in. 

— Billy Blitzer, Scout

In any draft, the odds are 29 to 1 against a team.  You’re competing against a lot of very good evaluators who work for a lot of good clubs.

The reason he [Billy Beane] didn’t have more success was that his makeup was not that resilient.  When he struggled, he didn’t have the makeup to know how to react.  Everybody struggles to some extent. The more Billy Beane struggled, the less competitive he became… 

— Gib Bodet, Scout

The Milwaukee Brewers came in initially with an offer of about $60,000 – $65,000.  They wouldn’t budge off that figure.  The Brewers’ scout was a typical scout.  He comes in and says, “Well, you know the number one guy always gets $90,000 to $100,00 and the second guy gets $80,000 – $90,000, and the third guy always gets $70,000 – $80,000, and the fourth guy always gets $60,000 to $70,000.”  And my dad says to the scout, “Boy, I’d hate to be that eleventh guy.”

 Now is — and this is much different than when I first got involved in the draft — and that is that the various different sources of data, including the opinions of the scouts, are pulled together, more and more often, and by “pulled together” I mean aggregated and weighed into a decision-making model.  That is a relatively recent trend in baseball, over the last five or ten years.

— Bill Bordley, Former Player

There is no department in baseball that is more important than the scouting department.  I say that for this reason: if you don’t identify and sign the players—no matter how great your player development program is and how great your major league staff is—a team is only going to go as far as the talent will take it.  People who know me know that I believe one of the most overlooked parts in scouting is understanding the ability to know the makeup of a player, what is his character.

To succeed in this game, you better be passionate about it, you better be determined, and you better be driven to be the best you can be, because somebody is passing you by.

— Fred Claire, Former General Manager

Dunston had athleticism, the arm, electricity.  The kid could run, hit and do a lot of different things.  He was a little rough around the edges as a player.  The Cubs were trying to build from the ground up at that point and he was a good pick for us.  I still see Shawon.  He works for the Giants.  When I was with the Giants, we acquired him twice and then hired him as a coach after that.  So I have had to make a decision on Shawon three or four times — always glad I did, by the way…

— Ned Colletti, Former General Manager

Tony Gwynn as a kid, he didn’t just wake up and be a great hitter, he worked. I used to go down to San Diego State to watch them play and even after Tony was in the big leagues, he would be in the batting cage hitting for hours, talking about hitting. learning the game. Some guys make it their goal to be drafted high, some guys have a goal of just getting to the big leagues, others like Tony really strive to be the best player they can be and they put in the work to achieve that goal. The guys like Tony Gwynn are going to succeed because they work at it and work at it properly…

— Orrin Freeman, Scout

What impressed me most of all was I thought [Derek Jeter] he had the maturity to play in Yankee Stadium, which is the toughest place to play in all of sports.  He had so much poise and so much confidence.  He had the ability to handle failure.  He turned out to be Pied Piper of the Yankees.  Whatever Derek was doing, everybody followed… 

— Dick Groch, Scout

I started going up with my dad to the Alaskan collegiate league when I was maybe five or six years old.  That was when my real love for scouting began.  It was when wanting to do this for the rest of my life blossomed.  I’d hold the radar gun.  I would tell people when I was that little that I want to be a baseball scout… 

— Amanda Hopkins, Scout

We used to say that a college player was a smarter pick.  The two biggest risks in the draft are high school catchers and high school right-handed pitchers.  History will show you that.  The failure rate is astronomical.  Yes, you can also get some good ones going that route… 

— Ron Hopkins, Scout

I believe firmly in drafting athletes.  I believe that the sooner you get them the better.  I am heavily weighted toward picking high school kids for a lot of reasons.  We want to get the kids out of school and teach them to play baseball.  The college coaches do a very good job, but their job is predicated on one thing—winning.  College coaches are not in the player development business.  Their job is to win.  Pro teams are in the player development business.  That’s why I like to get the players as soon as possible, preferably before they go to college. 

— Gary Hughes, Scout

They asked if anybody else wanted to throw anyone else in the mix, I raised my hand and said, “Kris Bryant,” and I told what I saw and liked about Bryant and mentioned the reasons why I thought this was a guy we should still consider, his athleticism, his makeup, his power, his ability to hit, he had all five tools, and I just thought he was too good to ignore, they all doubled back on him…

— Sam Hughes, Scout

Billy Beane was ahead of me.  In spring training, I used to peek at other fields to see what the other players were doing.  I wanted to see the guys that I had been reading about, the guys in front of me, watch them take batting practice and infield practice.  We’d all be in the cage together.  I remember the balls that Billy would hit.  He was tall, handsome, had a cannon for an arm.  I would think, “Who chiseled him?”  He could smoke the ball from both sides of the plate.  He ran fast.  From afar, it looked like he was really going to be something. 

— Stan Jefferson, Former Player

My first year scouting, there was a gentleman named George Digby who signed Wade Boggs and so many great hitters for the Red Sox.  He was a Southern gentleman but he was known as a “hitting scout.” So we were sitting at a minor league ballpark and I said, “Mr. Digby, I’m Dan Jennings, I’d like to pick your brain about hitting.”  He goes, “Okay…” 

— Dan Jennings, Former General Manager

[Nick Markakis] was probably one of the toughest kids that I have ever scouted.  He just had no desire to give up on anything.  In any part of the game, there was no give whatsoever.  He was very determined, a very hard worker, quiet.  Some of the guys you notice just because of their antics.  Nick was just a quiet, go-at-it type who did everything he needed to do.  I think he could have been a first-round pitcher.  He was just determined to make it.  There was no quit in that kid.  I did an in-home visit with him three days before the draft.  I asked him, “When they introduce you in Baltimore, are they going to introduce you as a pitcher or an outfielder?”  He said, “I don’t care, as long as they introduce me.”  His makeup was off the chart. 

— Dave Jennings, Scout

Alan Trammell, Jeff Bettiger, Bill Bordley, Rich Aurilia, Stan Jefferson and Wade Boggs

John Barr Interview Excerpt

Our area scout, Johnny DeCarlo, got a chance to spend some time with Joe Panik.  He told the story that he was supposed to have an at-home meeting with Joe and there was a big snowstorm on the day of the meeting.  Johnny was worried about missing the meeting.  Joe was telling Johnny, “Not a problem, be careful, we can make it another day.” 

So we’re playing against  the Washington Nationals in the 2014 post-season (October 4, 2014) and we are trailing the Nationals 1-0 in the top of the ninth inning and we are down to our last out and Joe Panik draws a walk and then scores on Pablo Sandoval’s hit to tie the score, then they change pitchers and Buster comes up and hits a double, Joe scores and we go on to win an 18-inning game;  ... that play really started for the Giants back when Joe was in high school and in college ... that win started when we were watching him and evaluating him in school and then selected him. Joe is out there in Game 7 of the World Series and turns a crucial double play with Brandon Crawford, that play started with the Giants back when Joe was in high school and in college.  Those wins started for the Giants when we were watching Joe and evaluating him and selecting him.  Those wins had their origins in the work that the scouts put in when they started following Joe in high school.

History began with the scouting.  That’s the philosophy you have to have as a scout, i.e., that you are scouting players for wins in the future.  Good decisions at the scouting level will translate into victories at the major league level.  That is what gets a scout in his car every day or getting on an airplane every day to see a game in a distant city.  It is that mentality, i.e., “Today I have got to make a difference.  Five years down the road, the players that I see today may make a difference to my team.

How a player deals with both success and failure will ultimately determine if the player gets the most out of his tools.  We try to get some idea of a player’s makeup by watching him play and seeing how he interacts with his teammates, how he handles himself both before the game and during the game.  We try to figure out if a player is going to be able to maximize his tools.

One of the things we try to look for is when you see a player and there is no place in the world where he looks more relaxed and more comfortable than in the batter’s box or on a pitching mound, then you know you have something special.  If you were looking at Gary Sheffield, no matter what he was doing, when he walked into that batter’s box, there was no other place that he was more comfortable.  He was more comfortable in the batter’s box than with any other thing that he could be doing.  When he was in the batter’s box, he knew he was good and he knew he could do some damage.

When you watch Brandon Crawford at shortstop, even though there are 50,000 people in the stands for Game 7 of the World Series, there’s no place else that he would rather be than right there at shortstop.  That’s a comfort factor that I look for in a player.

You watch a guy—I saw it in Mike Mussina when he was in high school—there was no place that he enjoyed more than being right there on that mound, no matter what the situation was.  I think that’s one thing you look for.  When you see it, and it doesn’t come around very often, you better get it, because that is the kind of guy who is going to win for you later on.

We drafted Gregg Zaun.  Paul Fryer was the scout.  We took him in the 17th round in 1989.  He was going to go to the University of Texas.  He says to us, “I really want to sign but I think I am worth $40,000.  If you guys come watch me play, you will realize that is a bargain, but I am staying at $40,000.”  That was him.  Here’s this five-foot-ten, 165-pound catcher and he’s telling us that this is what I am worth.  When Zaunnie was behind home plate, that was his life.  It was where he loved to be.

There may have been players who were taken ahead of Joe Panik who had a higher ceiling and some guys taken after him who had a higher ceiling too, but Joe Panik helped us win a World Series Championship.   What’s better?  The selection of Joe Panik or the selection of a five-tool high school guy who may have been a difference maker but didn’t make it.  It’s hard to find big leaguers.

-- John Barr, Scouting Director

Jeff Bittiger Interview Excerpt

It’s hard enough to get there; it’s super hard to stay.  So much of the game is about opportunity and when your draft order and your bonus are not in the higher echelons, right from the get-to, you don’t get the opportunity.  The choice roles are not given to you initially as a minor leaguer.   I always knew that I would have to pitch my way to the major leagues.  I knew that I was never in anyone’s plans to start a season.

Some people have to pitch their way in and show they can.  Other players have to pitch their way out and prove they can’t.  That is dictated mostly by projection.  With hitters, it is different. Pitchers are projected by scouts.  You not only have to pitch successfully for the most part, but even more so, you have to do it in a certain way that the scouts project you as being successful at the big league level.

If you hit, hitting is such a mystery and so hard that if you hit, they will keep letting you hit and keep advancing you.

I pitched so long I was all of the labels.  I was prospect, I was suspect, I was a minor league free agent.  I spent time in every category.  I came out of high school throwing 94 miles an hour as a shorter right-hander.  As a shorter right-hander, I could maintain that four-seam plane and I threw a lot of balls just right by people all the way to the big leagues.  Then I lost a bit of my velocity and I really had disdain for the scouts who would really lean on velocity because I spent the bulk of my big-league time probably throwing right at 90 mph for my four major league years (1986-1989) and I happened to be a four-pitch guy.

Baseball is so hard.  It has so much failure in it.  When I coach kids, I tell them it is not simply a case of whether you reached first base or not, you have to figure out whether you won the at-bat.  A hitter who hits the ball relatively hard has won the at-bat.  Once a hitter hits the ball, he doesn’t have a lot of control over what happens.

The one thing they can’t measure with Sabermetrics is the desire and heart of the player, how much they love it, how driven they are.  That’s why they are always going to have to have guys go out whom they trust to get their opinion along with all the technology of measuring the things they measure.

-- Jeff Bittiger, Former Player and Current Scout

Gib Bodet Interview Excerpt

In any draft, the odds are 29 to 1 against a team.  You’re competing against a lot of very good evaluators who work for a lot of good clubs.

The reason he [Billy Beane] didn’t have more success was that his makeup was not that resilient.  When he struggled, he didn’t have the makeup to know how to react.  Everybody struggles to some extent. The more Billy Beane struggled, the less competitive he became.  Very early on, he was telling people in the organization that he wanted to be a scout.  It was amazing to me.  Here’s a kid who had a lot of ability and instead of taking the attitude that I have to bear down and work harder, it was as if he was thinking, “I can’t play at this level.”  To me, that reeks of makeup. 

The press treats certain people differently, and I always felt that Billy Beane got quite a free ride from the press and critics.  When the book came out that proclaimed him as a genius who was competing against all these big money teams and doing exceptionally well, I never saw it that way.  I thought the Athletics were doing okay. 

To put Oakland on this pedestal because of Billy Beane, I never saw it.  Incidentally, I did see the Moneyball movie and the best thing about the movie was that they put the right actor in there to play Billy Beane. 

I walked into La Palma Park in Anaheim.  As I was walking in, Joe [Stephenson] was walking out.  It was about 8 o’clock in the evening.  He asked me, “Where are you going, I’m leaving.”  I said, “I can see that.  I want to see Hoffman, I haven’t seen him yet.”   Joe said to me, “Gib, he’s got great big feet, he can’t play shortstop,” and I asked him why he would say that.  Joe replied, “Have you ever seen a guy play shortstop with feet like that?  This guy wears size thirteen shoes, Gib.  His feet won’t work, not at shortstop.  Come on, let’s go over to the bowling alley.”  So I passed on Hoffman’s game at the time but I certainly went back to see him.  When the draft came around that year, 1976, in the second round, the Red Sox took none other than Glenn Hoffman.  I asked Joe later about it.  I said, “What happened to that shortstop with the big feet?  I see you drafted him.”  Joe said to me, “Hey, kid, if I didn’t think you could scout I wouldn’t have tried to steer you in the other direction.”  That was Joe.

Failing to allow your judgment to evolve can be a danger in scouting.  Scouts can see a kid in high school and say things like, “I don’t think he’s a prospect” or “He doesn’t have a position.”  So the kid might go to college and when they see him in college, the scouts might still see the same guy.  They disregard the improvement.  I think that’s what happened in Piazza’s case.  The thought was that he’s still the same guy. 

-- Gib Bodet, Scout

Ned Colletti Interview Excerpt

Dunston had athleticism, the arm, electricity.  The kid could run, hit and do a lot of different things.  He was a little rough around the edges as a player.  The Cubs were trying to build from the ground up at that point and he was a good pick for us.  I still see Shawon.  He works for the Giants.  When I was with the Giants, we acquired him twice and then hired him as a coach after that.  So I have had to make a decision on Shawon three or four times — always glad I did, by the way.

Some players don’t want to be great; they are content to be good.  Being great takes a lot more work.  It’s tougher to maintain that level and persist in the pursuit of greatness.  Clayton Kershaw, however, always had that extra gear and an inquisitiveness about learning how to pitch and then a competitiveness that is as strong as anybody I have ever been around in my 40 years.

He [Kershaw] competes against the other team but he also competes against the craft of what he does.  He competes against the lack of perfection inside a baseball game — to see how close he can get to perfection in a game.  That’s how he competes — against the other team but also against the game itself.

I saw Maddux throw his first pitch, traded for him twice, and saw him throw his last pitch.  I don’t know anybody smarter at the craft of pitching than Greg.  There were many different versions of Greg Maddux, but the results were always the same.

Both Dan Marino and John Elway were drafted ahead of Don Mattingly.  To go from being a pick in the 19th round (1979) to be the Most Valuable Player of the American League and have your number retired in Monument Park, that told me that this man was a worker who dissected his swing and dissected the game and so I always had the utmost respect for Donnie, because he came from where he came from and he did what he did.  He was not afraid and he knew the value of hard work.

They might not feel well on a given day or they are facing a pitcher who is a particularly difficult matchup.  Think of Albert Pujols.  Even the Cardinals missed on him.  We all missed on Pujols.  I saw him a couple of times.  And I saw him the year after he got drafted and I thought, “Oops, that’s a big one!”

The two days that I saw [Albert Pujols] before the draft, I just didn’t see enough at-bats.  I saw him in Class A ball the next year and I said, “Oh, man, did I miss this one!”  He loved the baseball life.  He loved professional baseball.  He was a guy who, every day, would come into the park and thrive on it.  He got into that environment and just started getting better in leaps and bounds.  I’ve thought about that one a lot and, quite honestly, I couldn’t have done anything differently than the way I had written it.  Some guys just get better.

-- Ned Colletti, Former General Manager

Orrin Freeman Interview Excerpt

Tony Gwynn as a kid, he didn’t just wake up and be a great hitter, he worked. I used to go down to San Diego State to watch them play and even after Tony was in the big leagues, he would be in the batting cage hitting for hours, talking about hitting. learning the game. Some guys make it their goal to be drafted high, some guys have a goal of just getting to the big leagues, others like Tony really strive to be the best player they can be and they put in the work to achieve that goal. The guys like Tony Gwynn are going to succeed because they work at it and work at it properly.

Chip [Ambres] had all the tools.  Chip was about sixth or seventh on our board nationally and we were somewhat surprised he was still there at 27.  When I first saw him in high school, he could really hit, really run.  He was a quarterback in high school and had plans to go to Texas A&M.  He had played on the Texas state champion football team.  He had an issue with his knee but that never turned out to hinder him.  When we signed him, he was everything we thought he would be.  He just never really developed power and because of that knee, he didn’t have the great speed that he once had.  Then there’s always the aspect of opportunity.  He was never on a team that had a spot open for him to play.  He was a great kid.  It was a great disappointment.  I thought he would have had a much better career.

-- Orrin Freeman, Scout

Dick Groch Interview Excerpt

What impressed me most of all was I thought [Derek Jeter] he had the maturity to play in Yankee Stadium, which is the toughest place to play in all of sports.  He had so much poise and so much confidence.  He had the ability to handle failure.  He turned out to be Pied Piper of the Yankees.  Whatever Derek was doing, everybody followed...  That was such a strong factor in terms of being able to play in the big leagues and play in New York and handle the demands of playing for GMS [Yankee team owner, George M. Steinbrenner].

I knew that he would sign with the Yankees if we were able to draft him.  He wanted to be a Yankee.  But the important thing is that you want to know how he plays without you in the park.  A lot of players will see you coming in and they will put on a show.  I sat in a parked car and watched Derek play.  I stood between bushes just watching him.  I wanted to watch him make an error.  I wanted to watch him strike out.  I wanted to see how he addressed his parents before and after a game.  I wanted to see how he dealt with his teammates and his coaches. I wanted to see all those things by myself, as if he didn’t know I was there.

-- Dick Groch, Scout

Amanda Hopkins Interview Excerpt

I started going up with my dad to the Alaskan collegiate league when I was maybe five or six years old.  That was when my real love for scouting began.  It was when wanting to do this for the rest of my life blossomed.  I’d hold the radar gun.  I would tell people when I was that little that I want to be a baseball scout.  People would say, “That’s cute.  She wants to be like her dad.”  So I’d say that I had that passion instilled in me at a very young age through my experience with my dad.

I wanted to be known as a scout who worked her butt off.  That was the challenge that wasn’t necessarily present in the other positions that I was offered.  In the end, it came down to my love for baseball and scouting.

My dad told me:  Trust your own opinion because all scouts are wrong more than they are right.  At the end of the day, you might be that person who likes a player that others do not like.  You might be the person who is right.  More often times than not, of course, it’s the opposite.

-- Amanda Hopkins, Scout

Ron Hopkins Interview Excerpt

We used to say that a college player was a smarter pick.  The two biggest risks in the draft are high school catchers and high school right-handed pitchers.  History will show you that.  The failure rate is astronomical.  Yes, you can also get some good ones going that route.  When you look at how many high school catchers have been picked, there are not a whole lot that were taken up high and became what you thought they would become.  Pitching is pitching.  Injuries happen to all of them.  It’s probably smarter to take a college pitcher because he has already proven he can pitch in college and get guys out and, hopefully, hasn’t broken down.

Derek Lee’s number 1 guy was Tanner Roark.  He was a guy who was ineligible.  I asked Derek about Tanner.  He said, “Hoppy, I promise you, if you give this guy six weeks of conditioning, he will show us why I really want him.” Derek was right.  Tanner was never cross-checked.  It was all on Derek Lee.  It was a good job of scouting.  He saw something in Tanner.  He saw 92-93 mph.  He saw a good curve ball, a sharp slider and a good change-up.  He was a durable body guy who was a starting pitcher.  He’s had a good career.  He’s one of those guys who takes the ball every five days and gives you five or six innings and you are in the game.

-- Ron Hopkins, Scout

Sam Hughes Interview Excerpt

They asked if anybody else wanted to throw anyone else in the mix, I raised my hand and said, “Kris Bryant,” and I told what I saw and liked about Bryant and mentioned the reasons why I thought this was a guy we should still consider, his athleticism, his makeup, his power, his ability to hit, he had all five tools, and I just thought he was too good to ignore, they all doubled back on him... I at least had a hand in doing the uncomfortable, knowing that we wanted a pitcher. So we sort of took the road less traveled and doubled back on Bryant, which we ended up all being pretty happy about.

The further away you are from the big leagues, the harder scouting is, regardless of whether you are looking at pitchers or hitters.  The further away you are, the less information there is and the more guess work you have to do. I just got back from Aruba yesterday looking at a bunch of 15-year-old Venezulans. There is night and day difference between trying to predict who will be successful among a group of 15-year-olds and trying to assess a Kris Bryant.

-- Sam Hughes, Scout

Dan Jennings Interview Excerpt

My first year scouting, there was a gentleman named George Digby who signed Wade Boggs and so many great hitters for the Red Sox.  He was a Southern gentleman but he was known as a “hitting scout.” So we were sitting at a minor league ballpark and I said, “Mr. Digby, I’m Dan Jennings, I’d like to pick your brain about hitting.”  He goes, “Okay.”  So he starts talking, and I said, “What are some of the things you look for?”  And he said, “You got a pen?”  I said, “Yup.”  So I flip my card over and I’ve got my pen ready.  He said, “you’ve got to see aggressiveness.”  I wrote that down. He said, “you’ve got to see bat speed.”  I wrote that down.  He said, “You’ve got to see contact.”  I said, “Okay.” He said, “That’s it, son.  Don’t complicate it.”

Priority one, to be in the draft, you better be able to hit the fastball.   You can’t teach someone to hit the fastball.  He can either hit it or he can’t.

Josh Hamilton was the all-American kid.  He was the guy who, when the game started, would come out of the dugout and greet his grandmother and then he would have his turn at bat and they had a kid with Down syndrome in the dugout who was the batboy and Josh would help the kid retrieve bats for his teammates when he wasn’t at bat.  He was a true all-American kid in every aspect of the game.

-- Dan Jennings, Former General Manager