Friday, February 15, 2008

Reason #22: The Scout.

For every great player, there’s a great scout who found him first. No great team was ever assembled without the assistance of the tobacco-chewing, Panama-hat wearing, Good Face-searching set. Scouts are the forgotten members of the baseball landscape, almost criminally ignored by the average fan. Can you name fifty Hall of Famers? If you’re reading this, you probably can. You can probably also name a hundred current or former managers, dozens of team owners, and the names of literally over a thousand men who have played in the major leagues. But can you name five scouts?

Do you know the name of the guy who signed Mickey Mantle for the Yankees and recommended Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers (Tom Greenwade)? The scout who helped build the Yankees’ dynasty by signing, among others, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Whitey Ford (Paul Krichell)? The Indians’ scout who signed Bob Feller, Herb Score, Bob Lemon, and Hal Trosky (Cy Slapnicka)? The guy who found Allie Reynolds, Steve Garvey, and Don Sutton (Hugh Alexander)?

I sure couldn’t, which is why I had to ask Rob Neyer to give me these names, which he did off the top of his head. He definitely will be one of my lifelines if I’m ever on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Major League Baseball doesn’t recognize scouts any better than most fans do – consider that while the Hall of Fame has methods to induct managers, owners, announcers, and writers, there is no way for a scout to enter the Hall of Fame. Perhaps the new Buck O’Neil award – Buck was, among other things, one of the greatest scouts of all time – will change that.

The Royals will actually be inducting a scout into the franchise’s Hall of Fame for the first time this summer. I’m sure that Art Stewart has earned the award; he’s been with the team since its second season, and was responsible for much of its early success. But this is a Lifetime Achievement Award, not a testament to his recent work, which is (to say the least) spotty. I’m still bitter for his role in pushing the Royals to draft Colt Griffin in the first round back in 2001.

(The first inkling I got that Griffin might not be all that, even if he was the hardest-throwing high schooler on record, came the day after he was drafted. Joe Posnanski wrote an otherwise-glowing column on The Boy Who Hit 100, allegedly the first high school pitcher ever to do so. (Jeremy Jeffress, the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2006, also hit triple digits in high school.) In the column, Posnanski wrote:


“I never got him at 100,” Royals senior adviser Art Stewart says, and he shakes his head in disappointment. A couple of weeks ago, Stewart went down to Marshall with a whole gang of Royals officials, including George Brett. Colt Griffin threw his first pitch 98 mph just under the batter's chin. Needless to say, the batter and his whole team was never the same after that.

“I got him at 98 a couple of times after that,” Stewart says. "But never at 100. I've never gotten a high school pitcher at 100. I really wanted that."

St
ewart shakes his head. He's been scouting baseball games for nearly 50 years.

“I know he can throw
100,” Stewart says. “I just didn't get it.”

I remember thinking, well gee, it’s too bad the radar gun didn’t cooperate with you, but shouldn’t you be more worried about whether the guy has anything other than a fastball than in whether you’re going to have a story to tell the other scouts?)

Anyway, this entry isn’t about Art Stewart. It’s about Cliff Pastornicky, who according to the Royals’ media guide covers only central Florida, yet from his small jurisdiction has made a major impact on the team’s roster.

In 2002, Pastornicky convinced the Royals to spend the 6th overall pick from a kid out of suburban Orlando. It’s not just that the kid turned out to be Zack Greinke, who has already had more major league success than the Royals’ top picks in the nine previous drafts…combined.

Greinke has been good and has a chance to be great, but rumor has it that if the Royals hadn’t taken Greinke, they had serious designs on another Florida kid, Prince Fielder. I love Zack, but it’s hard to take him over the youngest hitter ever to mash 50 homers in a season.

But it’s not just that Pastornicky sold the team on Greinke, it’s that he nailed the kid perfectly. Legend has it that prior to the 2002 draft, Allard Baird made it clear to his staff that he didn’t want to draft any more raw high school arms in the first round – he only wanted polished college pitchers who knew what they were doing. (Translation: they already knew Griffin was a bust.) And Pastornicky raised his hand and said, in essence, “Well, I’ve got this kid who throws like a polished college pitcher, only he’s still in high school.”

And that’s Zack Greinke, who two years later was carving up hitters in the majors like a ten-year veteran, changing speeds, working the corners, dropping ultra-slow curveballs out of the sky, fielding his position flawlessly. There have been better pitchers in the under-21 set in my lifetime, but Greinke might be the most polished 20-year-old pitcher many of us have ever seen.

Two years later, Pastornicky struck again, convincing the Royals to take Billy Butler in the first round. The 2004 draft was one of the weakest this decade; that was the year Matt Bush went first, for God’s sake, and the only pick in the top 10 that looks like a sure thing today is Justin Verlander. The Royals were rumored to be looking at Boston College right-hander Chris Lambert, who was drafted 19th by the Cardinals, and has been such a disappointment that St. Louis sent him to Detroit last summer as the PTBNL for the immortal (and now-Royal) Mike Maroth.

There were no sure things in the 2004 draft, but as the Royals would later say, the one thing they were sure of was that Butler could hit. To their credit, they didn’t let their concerns about what Butler couldn’t do (everything else) override their enthusiasm about his bat. Four years later, that bat looks like a once-in-a-generation talent.

But Pastornicky’s greatest success – at least when you consider the round he was drafted in – was unfortunately wasted by the Royals. Pastornicky got the Royals to take an overachieving shortstop at the University of Florida, Mark Ellis, in the 9th round in 1999. Ellis is now one of the most underrated players in baseball, a guy who hit .276 with 19 homers last season and is probably the best defensive second baseman in the AL. He’s played his entire major league career for the A’s because Baird made the mistake of picking up the phone when Billy Beane called. Ellis was a throw-in to cinch the trade for Angel Berroa (well, and Roberto Hernandez), a fact I’m sure to have a laugh about one day. Probably while sitting in a rocking chair, watching my great-grandchildren play.

I don’t know much about the Royals’ other full-time scouts. I’m sure they’re great guys, but none of them have Pastornicky’s track record. (Though Louie Medina gets a gold star for having the cojones to lobby the front office to grab a Mexican pitcher who had pitched a total of 17 innings north of the Rio Grande in the Rule 5 draft. Joakim Soria has a good chance to be the best Rule 5 pick in team history. Hell, he might already be the best.)

The Royals aren’t going to turn things around without a top-notch scouting department. Pastornicky’s got Florida covered – now we’ve just got 49 states, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim to go.

15 comments:

AJ (NJ) said...

Now THIS is the type of stuff I need to know about the Royals. With your help(hopefully Posnanski & Neyer will chip in), I will be the most learned Royals fan in the NY/NJ area when they win the series in the '09-'12 area. Keep up the good work, you have already made your blog a MUST READ for all Royals' fans.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for talking about stuff that even rabid Royals fans like myself don't know. The behind the scenes stuff is great. I can't hear enough about my favorite team, and your blog looks like a promising avenue of information. Keep up the good work.

ChaimMKeller said...

As an obsessive Royals fan, I've long since known Cliff Pastornicky as a name on the Royals all-time roster who spent only a little time with the big club. Thanks for telling me that he means more to the Royals than that.

BL - Mont. said...

Just wondering... does success as an area scout typically translate as one moves up the chain (supervisor, cross-checker, etc.)? It's amazing how little I know about this profession.

Max said...

Great post, its nice to learn about the guys that are so important to the future success of this ballclub.

Just flippin through an old media guide, here are some other players signed by Royals scouts:

Mike Brown - Ryan Braun
Floyd Chandler - Mike Sweeney
Spencer Graham - Billy Buckner
Paul Faulk - Jimmy Gobble, Mike MacDougal, Kyle Snyder
Keith Hughes - David DeJesus
Gary Johnson - Shane Costa, Donnie Murphy
Jeff McKay - Jeremy Affeldt
Johnny Ramos - Ruben Gotay, Angel Sanchez
Sean Rooney - Chris Lubanski
Greg Smith - Jeremy Affeldt
Luis Silviero - Ambriorix Burgos, Runelvys Hernandez
Craig Struss - Ken Harvey

Jeff said...

I agree, Dan Quisenberry should be in the hall of fame.

Matt said...

Seems like the Sean Rooney guys haven't turned out that well (Lubanski, Bianchi, McConnell).

royals die hard from denver said...

damn, i would take prince

Old Man Duggan said...

I've actually been waiting a long time for you to start your own, Royals-centric blog. Thank you. I love Posnanski's blog, but there's not much Royals talk, and Rob doesn't write nearly enough on his own blog. This is great. In depth. Outstanding.

Max said...

Wasn't it Albert Brooks that found Steve Nebraska? Why don't we hire him?

Carl Willingham said...

Good stuff Rany, really appreciate a story like this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rany! Maybe a poor team, but best writer in MLB.

LoDoKid said...

Rany - you know I'm your guy if you ever need info on scout careers and signings.. BTW, maybe you can help me w/data on bonuses..

Anonymous said...

Rany, I can offer the following if you agree to write a column at least 5 days a week. One rusty 1997 Chevrolet Lumina in need of an overhaul, Christmas and Birthday IOU/no real gift cards from my kids in college, and last but not least, a Sears electric weed eater missing only the storing the trimming line part. I’m dying for some good stuff man. You are the best, and being from a Royals point of view only makes it better. This offer good only until May 5, 2009. Shipping and Handling Included

Let’s keep this all in perspective………Royals are looking good on paper and on the field.

Anonymous said...

In 1998, Cliff Pastornicky gave me the opportunity to throw for the Royals brass in Baseball City as a 6'0" 175 lb RHP who threw 85-86. I was a sidearm guy with a lot of run coming out of a small college in New York.. He genuinely was interested and gave me every opportunity to succeed while others ran away.. I only got a chance to say "thank you", and wound up playing parts of two years professionally.. Cliff knew what he was not only looking at, but looking for.