March 7, 2010
Scouting out new territoryJays GM begins reconstruction with cutting-edge system
By BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency
Alex Anthopoulos is not into Band-Aid solutions.
Rather than filling a gaping hole with a temporary fix, the general manager elected to perform major surgery on a Blue Jays scouting department suffering from years of neglect.
The numbers were depressing:
- Just 75 wins for the Jays in 2009.
- Zero minor-league prospects capable of filling opening-day lineup vacancies at shortstop, behind the plate or in the closer’s role.
- An astonishing 27 teams ranked ahead of the Jays in Baseball America’s ratings of the farm systems.
So, Anthopoulos came up with a number of his own, hiring 32 new scouts during the off-season — 14 on the pro side and 18 to scout amateurs.
Both pro and amateur departments were redesigned, each with a three-level hierarchy.
For the amateur side, that meant having three national cross-checkers responsible for five regional cross-checkers, with five area scouts reporting to each of them.
On the pro side, the Jays now employ three major-league scouts, three cross- checkers covering the major and minors and 14 organizational scouts covering two clubs each from class-A to the majors. A 15th scout will cover one club top to bottom, or bottom to top, if he prefers.
Will the Jays bat 1.000 in June’s first-year players draft?
No one ever has.
Will all their deals work out? Likely not, it’s baseball.
But a unique foundation is now in place as the Jays try to minimize mistakes and hopefully wind up with more than one elite player per draft.
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Last year, under former GM J.P. Ricciardi, the Jays employed 10 pro scouts, two working the National League, two covering both the AL and NL, and six scouting the minors.
They had another 13 amateur scouts. That’s it.
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Anthopoulos, who was 32 when he replaced Ricciardi last October following the attempted “Mutiny in Maryland,” hired another young Turk — Andrew Tinnish, to be his new scouting director.
Tinnish, 33, has worked for the Jays since 2000, when Canadian director of scouting Kevin Briand, hired him to run instructional clinics and tryout camps during the summer.
Tinnish was promoted to area scout in north Florida and Alabama in 2003, later becoming a scouting co-ordinator, working alongside Anthopoulos. In 2009, he was appointed assistant scouting director.
In his new role, Tinnish has cut up the scouting regions like a Liberal government re-drawing ridings prior to a federal election.
For example: A year ago, amateur scout Tom Burns was responsible for a whopping 12 states — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Virginia, plus New York City.
Tinnish was able to split those 12 states into three territories.
“We’ll have our cross- checkers in to see our area guys more often, too,” Anthopoulos said. “The more you talk baseball, the better you get.
“We’re going to go deep — 10 to 14 rounds deep (in our draft preparation), not just the first two rounds like a lot of clubs are forced to do.”
The amateur side, where the Jays hope smaller areas of responsibility will translate into better scouting, boasts two former major-league scouting directors in Dana Brown, (formerly with the Washington Nationals) and Bob Fontaine (L.A. Angels, Seattle Mariners).
Cliff Pastornicky, who played for the 1983 Kansas City Royals before scouting for K.C., Oakland and Seattle, will handle the Florida Panhandle and Alabama. Pastornicky’s resume as a scout includes signing Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Mark Ellis, Kiko Calero and Shawn Estes. His son, Tyler, was the Jays’ fifth-round pick in 2008.
Blake Crosby will scout central California for the Jays after playing in the Oakland system last year. He’s the younger brother of infielder Bobby Crosby. Their father, Ed, scouted for more than 20 seasons.
Tinnish, who is from Nepean, Ont., and resides in Burlington, is the latest in a line of Jays scouting directors including Pat Gillick, Bob Engle, Wayne Morgan, Tim Wilken, Chris Buckley and most recently, Jon Lalonde who has shifted to assistant to major-league operations.
To out-scout other teams. Jays ownership has given him the bodies to do it.
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If you think Anthopoulos and Tinnish are young. If you think Anthopoulos is a neat, rise-through-the-ranks, chase-a-dream story (the GM once turned down a $40,000 US job offer from Fidelity Investments in Toronto to work for the Montreal Expos for free), meet Perry Minasian, 29.
Believe it or not, the pro scouting director has been in the game for over 20 years.
“One of biggest things my father taught me as I grew up in the game and being around the Texas Rangers and people like Bobby Valentine, Johnny Oates and Buck Showalter, was that there is no substitute for experience,” Minasian said.
The father he speaks so respectfully of is Zack Minasian, the Rangers’ clubhouse manager for 21 years until November. Perry was a bat boy at Arlington Stadium for nine season starting in 1988.
“I worked in the clubhouse (1997-2002) cleaning toilets or whatever, eventually I became Showalter’s staff assistant,” said Minasian, who interned in Montreal in 2002 under GM Omar Minaya.
Minasian was the Rangers advance scout in 2007-08 before the Jays hired him in 2009.
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Back in November, 2003 — after allowing their ranks to deplete from 105 in 1997, to 61 in 2002 and finally 32 — the Jays decided to hire nine new scouts.
One of them, Alvin Morrow, went from evaluating the Ontario Blue Jays for the Perfect Game scouting service in Jupiter, Fla., to big-league scout in just one week. Three other scouts had but a year of experience, while another was hired from a computer-scouting program.
“They were, what is known in the industry as, scout-school hires — young guys who management could teach and control,” said a scout from another organization.
These nine new hires had an average 4.2 years of scouting experience, including Tom Burns who had 13 years with the Angels.
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The 14 new hires Minasian has made on the pro side average 12 years of scouting experience — led by Wayne Morgan in his 40th year and Rick Down who is heading into his 41st spring.
Minasian sifted through 85 applications (“Eighty-five with qualified backgrounds,” he noted), concentrating on scouts with at least 10 years experience.
“It was a gruelling process, but the GM, assistant GM (Tony LaCava) and Mr. (Paul) Beeston gave me full autonomy,” Minasian said.
“Any good baseball man will tell you scouting is the backbone of the industry.
“We wanted good people. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and looked to the guy to the right of you and thought: ‘Man, I don’t want to be sitting beside this guy?’ ” Minasian asked. “You can have 1,000 scouts if you want but it won’t work if you don’t have good people.”
Minasian’s pro-scouting department includes three former general managers, ex-major leaguers, two former scouting directors, a pro scouting director, a hitting coach with 14 years experience in the majors and former front-office executives, as well.
“If you hire the same background, you get similar opinions,” Minasian said. “We wanted a wide range of backgrounds, a diverse group.”
His pro roster with holdovers and newcomers includes:
— Jim Beattie, who ran the Expos and was co-GM of the Baltimore Orioles.
— Former Chicago Cubs GM Ed Lynch
— Roy Smith, a former interim GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates and vice-president of scouting with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is Smith’s second year with the Jays.
“When you talk to (Lynch and Beattie), you come with your ‘A’ game,” Minasian said. “It was like they were interviewing me, wondering a) Who am I? and b) What have I done?”
All were major leaguers as were scouts Gary Rajsich, Bob Hamelin, Steve Springer and Sal Butera, who has scouted for the Jays since 1996, save for ’98 when he was a coach.
Brian Parker (Expos) and Melville, Sask., native Wayne Morgan (Jays) are former scouting directors.
Marteese Robinson was a pro-scouting director for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Dana Down was a hitting coach with the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox and Mets.
John Lombardo was director of minor-league operations (Rangers), as was Brian Parker (Nationals).
The Jays’ best scout? The upcoming drafts and trades will tell. The guy Minasian wanted the most?
“Probably Rajsich. I put a dream team list together, he was on top,” Minasian said. With the Red Sox, Rajish signed Jon Lester.
With his staff in place, Minasian listed his hires to a friend with another club.
“Good luck handling all those egos,” Minasian’s friend told him.
The day after the Super Bowl, the group met at the Rogers Centre for four days.
“Egos were checked at the door,” Minasian said. “They were there to work, make this organization better. You would not know what they’ve done. Like Hamelin, you’d never know he won rookie of the year (with K.C. Royals in 1994).”
This group has done a lot.
“It’s a professional, opinionated, non-confrontational, constructive group,” said Beeston, always a friend of scouts. “We don’t want to put a bunch of guys in a room and they all agree.”
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What are the Jays doing?
Former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott once said of scouts: “All they do is watch games.” Of course, Schott also demanded to know why scout Fred Ferreira, to whom she had provided a company car in Miami, had submitted plane tickets to Puerto Rico. “I gave him a car. Why didn’t he drive?” she asked GM Bob Quinn.
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“The (Jays) concept is terrific. It enables more looks at fewer people with the ability to repeat multiple times during the season,” said a former NL scouting director. “Basically, it’s learning more about fewer players rather than learning a little about a lot of players.
“I’ve told them they’ll have exclusivity on this structure until smarter organizations see it work. They have some inexperienced scouts, but with fewer clubs, this should accelerate their development. They won’t be overwhelmed with too many teams.”
Cubs vice-president Gary Hughes and former Jays GM Pat Gillick have applauded the Jays’ plan from afar as it will be good for the scouting arm of the industry.
And organizers do like to copy. See Money Ball teams like the last-place Oakland A’s and Arizona Diamondbacks.
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Beattie, who lives in Boston, will scout the AL and NL East. Smith, who is in Chicago, will concentrate on west coast teams and Butera of Orlando takes on the midwest.
The second tier has three pro cross-checkers: Mike Mangan of Orlando, a Jays scout since 2000 and second in terms of service, will handle the AL/NL East. Lynch based in Scottsdale, Ariz., will do the Central and Rajsich, out of Dallas will scout the West.
Anthopoulos’ plan is to give each of his 14 pro scouts two teams to cover. Springer has the 29th team.
And it’s not just the big-league rotation, starting nine and bullpen of each big-league club the scouts will be monitoring, but each club’s minor-league system as well.
“We’re going to spend more on travel, but I think it will be worth it,” Anthopoulos said.
The GM has a plan where scouts are given eight to 10 days off per month.
“Alex wants this to be a good place to work,” Minasian said. “Everyone works better when things are good at home.”
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Toronto scouts have been fielding lots of questions from curious counterparts regarding the Jays’ new scouting operation. Some are downright jealous.
“We want to know as much about a respective organization as humanly possible,” Anthopoulos said. “How many times do we see a guy for three games and he looks like Babe Ruth? This will allow our organizational guys to get multi-looks at player,”
Whether it’s one look, five looks, Shawn Green or Eddie Zosky looks, the Jays have plenty of eyes searching.