• Scouting with Sean Johnson

    As Spring Training approaches, we’ve hashed and re-hashed Prospect Lists. We’ve dissected the signing of Kevin Correia many times over. We’ve projected lineups of every affiliate.

    There are few things more informative than talking with those that are behind the information. So today let’s do something else. Let’s talk scouting with West Coast Scouting Supervisor Sean Johnson.

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    First off, huge thanks to Sean! As baseball is starting to get rolling, he took some time out of his schedule to answer some questions and shed some light on our favorite franchise.
    Sean had great things to say about the organization “from the top down” and exudes the “Twins Way positivity”.

    My original plan was the use quotes to formulate an article, but when you find all the quotes are worth using, it’s going to be presented in a Q and A fashion. I apologize for the lengthiness, but it’s should make for a great read.


    (www.texastech.com)

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    Jeremy Nygaard: It’s great to catch you: A guy on the “front lines”. What’s the scouting life like? After seeing Trouble with the Curve, is that realistic?

    Sean Johnson: It’s not as gloomy as Clint Eastwood’s character. It’s not that bad. The time on the road is extensive in the spring. Guys are away from their family and friends. From now until draft day, you go where the players are. There’s not a lot of off days. I’m bouncing all over the country. It’s real hectic. I spend most of my time in California.

    If there’s a guy you have to see, it’s his last high-school start and his team isn’t going to make the playoffs, you have to make a decision. Deron [Johnson, the Twins Director of Scouting] might have to be in Seattle or might have to be in Miami for one last look before the draft. You have to be flexible.

    JN: You’re listed in the Media Guide as the “West Coast Scouting Supervisor”. Do the Twins have “crosscheckers”?

    SJ: Yeah, we have four regional supervisors. We have two “National Crosscheckers” that don’t supervise any areas. Tim O’Neil is dedicated to the amateur world year-round. Earl Frishman does national work too, but also spring training and pro scouting in the summer.

    Most teams have “crosscheckers”. Some have “scouting supervisors”. The only difference is that [as a supervisor] I’m directly in charge of the scouts on the west coast. We get to hire, or if a guy gets promoted. I talk to my guys on the west coast almost every day in the spring. We’re connected. We compile the information to get to Deron or Mike [Radcliff, Vice President, Player Personnel] and I get it to them.

    I basically see each one of my area scout’s best players, typically the guys that go in the top five or ten rounds. I see as many as I can and try to put them in some kind of an order. So take the catcher in Southern California versus the catcher in, say, Denver. Which one do I think is better? Or do I think that someone else might need to come and see?

    JN: How do you stack a draft board when not everybody is familiar with all the guys?

    SJ: We rely on the area scouts and their conviction levels in the lower rounds to help us figure out who to select. We don’t have enough time in the spring to get lots of looks at every player we turn in.

    JN: So when the draft rolls around, are you in the Cities for that?

    SJ: Yeah, we’ll come in and have about seven full days of preparation. From 9 am until we are done. We used to go crazy, get in at nine and leave at 11 pm. The way we set it up is that we have them ordered by the grades we’ve given them walking in the room. Now we can get it done in time to go grab a nice dinner and go get some sleep.

    JN: How many guys are there?

    SJ: The draft room usually has about 10 guys. Most teams don’t bring everybody in. The room in Target Field is much nicer than the room in the Metrodome. We were in a poorly vented room downstairs. Down in the dungeon, we’d have fans we’d have to bring in and coolers with ice for our drinks. It was really blue-collar. But it was what it was and we made it work.

    Since moving to Target Field it’s like we moved to Taj Mahal. We have a room with a projector. We can watch film. We have a place to make coffee and can bring some food in. It’s got air-conditioning. It’s not the biggest room in the world either, but it’s adequate. So we’ll have about ten of our scouts and Terry Ryan is there for the whole thing.

    JN: How has draft changed? A handful of years ago it was on ESPN2 in the middle of the day. Now it’s an event…

    SJ: Things haven’t really changed. Obviously we’re happy it’s becoming an event. It will never be as big as the NFL draft. Those guys are already famous. That’s what will prevent our draft from becoming extremely popular. No one knows who these guys are. We took Aaron Hicks. No one knew who he was. We’re projecting on a 17 or 18-year-old kid. Hopefully he’s good. Check in in five years and see how he’s doing. It’s a totally different dynamic. It’s great for our sport, but it doesn’t really change our approach.

    The draft used to go much faster. Last year it was more fun because we had more picks. Now there is more time in between picks. It used to be just one big conference call. It wasn’t on TV. It seemed like it was really fast. My first draft was 2002 and I couldn’t believe how fast it went. Now there’s a minute between picks, which gives you a little bit of time to collect your thoughts in case a guy you wanted gets picked. There’s a little more strategy to it, which is good.

    JN: Later in the draft it seems so rapid-fire. Does it happen very often where a guy you’re looking to take gets picked or is it that the draft pool is so large that the odds or your guy going is pretty small?

    SJ: It happens a lot more in the first ten rounds. Everybody has the same 90 or 100 guys at the top because their tools are much more evident. Those guys stand out, everyone has scouted them. They’re a little more famous. But once you get a little later – to the 3rd or the 4th round – you can see a guy taken that you didn’t like at all and he goes in the 3rd round. There could be a guy that goes that you’ve never heard of. That’s happens more on Day 2 and 3. Later though guys get picked off less than you’d think. At that point teams like different guys, scouts turn different guys in. You’re going to have 1500 players get drafted. Our scouts don’t turn all those guys in.

    Some teams will take guys [they have connections to] later. Maybe the Tigers take Ty Cobb’s great-great-grandson. We don’t have any of those “favor picks” as we call them. So-and-so’s whoever… we don’t typically do that.

    JN: How many guys do you typically have on your draft board?

    SJ: We usually turn in around 900 guys. We’ll have about 900 tags in our room - which is overwhelming. We’re only going to get 40 of them.

    JN: Up until last year – before the CBA changes – you had a pretty good idea about what teams might take a guy that slips. Last year, the Astros save money right away and take expensive guys later. The Blue Jays take expensive guys early and draft college seniors later. The Twins did what the Twins do. Take a guy, pay him near slot. Is there a lot of strategy?

    SJ: We contemplated doing all that stuff. It was the first year; there was a lot of feeling out. We didn’t know what other teams were going to do. We knew someone would re-arrange their money to squeeze out one more guy.

    First, you have to analyze the draft crop and see what the strengths are. Obviously we thought about all the scenarios, but you don’t want to save money up for a guy who might not be there. We really like Buxton. We saved some money here and there, but we always just tried to take the next best guy.

    Next year we have one of the biggest pools. We had a huge pool last year. We can explore. If we don’t like any of the guys that want a certain amount of money, we have options. There’s not clear cut group of four or five guys. It’s wide open.

    JN: But it’s still early…

    SJ: I mean, Bryce Harper isn’t going to come out of nowhere in March. We’ve seen all the guys. The high-school crop of pitching is down. Most of the better arms are college guys this year. There are not a lot of great bats in this draft.

    It’s a shallow draft this year. High-school right-handed pitching is way down. There’s some high-school catching, there’s some high-school left-handers. There’s some power armed college-armed at the top…

    Look at Dylan Bundy’s year. It would be Bundy and everybody else in this draft. Archie Bradley and everybody else, Rendon…

    JN: How about Appel? Do you treat him differently?

    SJ: Well he’s not going to come at a discount. His advisors aren’t going to let him take a discount. They think he’s the best guy in the draft and he will get a chance to prove it. He might be. I wouldn’t plan on him taking a discount, no.

    JN: Didn’t he want the full pick value for #1 no matter where he went last year?

    SJ: I can’t answer that. I don’t think anybody can answer that.

    JN: When he didn’t go first overall, was that a big shock to you in the Twins draft room?

    SJ: We knew from talking to other people that Houston was taking the temperature of a lot of guys, all who went in the Top 10. They weren’t dead-set on him, we could tell that. He seemed like the right fit, Houston-kid, it all made sense. But you never know. It was all tight-lipped and all hush-hush. But no, it wasn’t a shock. We knew there was a chance he wouldn’t sign, or be hesitant, if the money wasn’t right. Houston did a great job, we commend them. They got a great player - we like Correa too - and loaded up with Rio Ruiz and Lance McCullers.

    If you can squeak another player out of the draft… if you get two big-league players out of the draft, that’s a good draft.

    JN: Tell me about Zack Jones.

    SJ: Elliott Strankman, my area scout, really liked him. He saw him pitch a lot and everyone that saw him believed he would have one of the best fastballs in that draft.

    He was on a bad team at San Jose State and they started him. He’s a high-wired, amped-up guy who throws it hard and tries to strike people out. It’s going to come down to him developing a breaking ball, which we think he will add over time. We like his athleticism; he played shortstop back in the day. He’s got good life on his fastball throwing it 95 or 96. When we got him, we were pumped; we were high-fiving in the Draft room. To get to the big leagues, he’s going to have to have a secondary pitch to finish hitters off. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw it if that’s all you have.

    JN: A lot of the college relievers will get a chance to start, will Jones?

    SJ: No, he’s locked in the bullpen.

    JN: With a chance to move quick?

    SJ: Absolutely. We’ll keep challenging him. Our hope is that he’ll start in Fort Myers.

    Mason Melotakis and Tyler Duffey, those guys are going to be starters this year.

    JN: Speaking of that, are assignments determined in Spring Training? Or are they decided ahead of time? How does that work out?

    SJ: There are group of guys that put their heads together. There is some Spring Training element to it, when a guy shows up he needs to look like he can play. The rule of thumb is that you want to start a guy at a level he can handle and survive and succeed and build confidence at that level. And when he does, he’s ready for the next level. It’s one step at a time with us. No one is entitled by any means.

    There’s a lot that goes into it. More than people think.

    JN: Any feelings on other guys?

    SJ: I saw Buxton in Elizabethton. The sky’s the limit with that guy. He’s a gifted player.

    We really like Berrios. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got a live arm and great feel.

    JN: How about Travis Harrison?

    SJ: I saw him this summer. He’s in really good shape. The power hasn’t come yet, but he can really hit. We’re counting on him. Where he’s going to end defensively, I don’t know. He’d tell you he’s a good hitter, not a slugger. He can go foul line to foul line. He’s hitting for a good average and taking good at-bats, a lot like Aaron Hicks was. Guys change a lot from 18 to 23.

    JN: He’s going to stay at third for now?

    SJ: I think that’s the plan. We hope he’ll start at Cedar Rapids.

    JN: It seems like the farm system has more “prospects” in it. That’s a testament to you guys doing a great job.

    SJ: We think we’re going in the right direction, but we’re not satisfied. We need to have another good draft next year. We feel good about last year’s draft. But that’s over with. Time to knock it out of the park again!

    JN: When does the page turn on the draft? As soon as the previous draft is over?

    SJ: It’s faster than that actually. We had one year where we took the tables down in the draft room and talked about our picks and literally 40 minutes later we’re in the press box watching the next crop of guys play for four days. It was a very quick turnaround.

    ----

    Sean and I talked about other baseball-related happenings before our conversation took an interesting turn when we started talking about the Prospect Handbook.

    SJ: We follow the site. We get on there every now and then. Before it was TwinsDaily, when it was Seth’s deal, we go on there to see what you guys are saying. The thing with scouting is that you can get out of touch with reality. What we think and what other people think and the other 29 teams in the league think about our players. Most of the guys you get in the draft, you like those guys more than the other teams, that’s how you got them. It’s good to get that perspective: Are we really getting the right guy, or do we just think we are?

    We talked some about prospect rankings and how some publications form their opinions and how a lot of the publications and people involved are very informed. Sean put it all into perspective.

    SJ: I looked at Baseball America’s Top 30; I thought they did a good job. But who cares what order they’re in? They’re all prospects. Either they’re gonna make it or they’re not.

    And a tip for anyone who aspires to be a scout someday:

    SJ: Focus on what a guy can do, not what he can’t. We’ll spend the rest of his career telling him what he can’t do.
    This article was originally published in blog: Scouting with Sean Johnson started by Jeremy Nygaard
    Comments 63 Comments
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      Thanks for the clarification. So the decisions on who the Twins are drafting are made by Deron Johnson's group of scouts based of what they see without any sort of analytics input or projections. Correct?
      What kind of analytics are you looking for in the drafting, Thrylos? Do you really care about the statistics of high school seniors, where every decent player hits over .400? Are you looking for college players with certain stats?

      How did all those Moneyball draft picks do? Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton were guys that everyone was on... Teahen was OK for a few years. What do you want? I mean, aside from any reason to bash anything that this organization you claim to be a fan of does.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Nygaard View Post
      They are not making the call on picks, they employ people to do that. They aren't out scouting, so they're not going to step on toes.
      I'm confident that someone like Terry Ryan is very sensitive to the fact that with his scouting background it would be very easy to be seen as running roughshod over the guys actually doing the work now - careful not to start too many comments with "well, back when *I* was scouting...". On the other hand, I still find it difficult to accept that there is no difference ("regardless of who"), in how draft day plays out when a Bill Smith is in the big chair versus when Terry Ryan is - Smith will certainly defer to exactly whatever his chief of scouting recommends, Ryan would by contrast... what? The discussion as the rankings are constructed the day before the draft would have to be colored in some way by his take on how to synthesize all the information into a strong and cohesive draft for that year, and as draft day itself unfolds I could imagine a glance across the room to Ryan, where even a shrug of the shoulders saying "use your judgement" means more than not even looking in Smith's direction to make each call.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Nygaard View Post
      It goes without saying, but ties are broken - at least on the West Coast - by the players WAR in the Area Code Games. Of course, you have to normalize this number based on both the years since the player hit puberty and the humidity level. It's a stat only the Twins use called WTF+.
      +1. You win teh Internets.
    1. Jeremy Nygaard's Avatar
      Jeremy Nygaard -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      The discussion as the rankings are constructed the day before the draft would have to be colored in some way by his take on how to synthesize all the information into a strong and cohesive draft for that year, and as draft day itself unfolds I could imagine a glance across the room to Ryan, where even a shrug of the shoulders saying "use your judgement" means more than not even looking in Smith's direction to make each call.
      I wouldn't doubt that at all.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      I always thought that part of the theory behind Moneyball was to draft college players because less scouting was required. Partly because their stats meant a little more than high school stats would, but also because college players would be a little closer to physical maturity so less projection would be needed when evaluating a player. Now I not sure what Thrylos' point in all this is, but I too have hard time seeing how analylic input would be very useful with high school players and even most college players.

      As far as Ryan's part in this. I know he is a skilled scout. I doubt if he sees many or maybe not any of the drafted players. So I doubt if his input is very significant during the draft. He certainly evaluates players after they have joined the organization. There could easily be some pointed questions about why certain players were drafted at that point.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      What kind of analytics are you looking for in the drafting, Thrylos? Do you really care about the statistics of high school seniors, where every decent player hits over .400? Are you looking for college players with certain stats?

      How did all those Moneyball draft picks do? Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton were guys that everyone was on... Teahen was OK for a few years. What do you want? I mean, aside from any reason to bash anything that this organization you claim to be a fan of does.
      I do not see where you see bashing in the statement you quoted. And because you are fan of an organization, does this mean that you have no right to not like the way this organization is run, especially given the fact that they have not won since 1991? Does being a fan means accepting everything they do? I think that the opposite is true. If you are a fan you want your team to win. And if they do not win you want changes, and are not ok with mediocrity. That's where you and I differ Seth. I want the Twins to win (As much as you do too) but I am not ok with them losing. And being ridiculed the last 2 seasons in baseball. So I want changes and I am not ok with the people who have been running my team (to the ground). Some "fans" are ok with whatever. I am not.

      Back to the subject. One can project using college performance a lot, esp. analyzing performance vs. certain opponents. Major college level ball is probably close to A level competition and JC level is close to Rk level competition for good school. As someone can (and should) analyze MiLB performance beyond "ability to spin the ball", they can analyze College players. High Schoolers are somewhat of a different story because lots of them have not stopped growing yet.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      Major college level ball is probably close to A level competition and JC level is close to Rk level competition for good school
      .

      I have seen this claim before. I really wonder how true it is. I believe I read recently that the average age in the Midwest League is about 22. That would be considerably older than the average age at any major college. On top of that most of players in A ball are either the best players from college or superior high school players who often have played pro ball for a year or two. What might be true is that the skill level at in major college conference is comparable to A ball. I doubt if the talent level is.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim H View Post
      .
      . What might be true is that the skill level at in major college conference is comparable to A ball. I doubt if the talent level is.
      I was talking about the competition level, not exactly the talent. And if you look at the draft, some college teams (the best) have most of their draft-eligible players drafted even if in later rounds and usually start at high Rookie or A ball in most organizations. Fact is that A level ball has older high school draftees and foreign signees who were weeded out in the Rookie clubs, so the talent level is higher.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Thyrlos could have a point if there was a large enough sample size of playing against the top talent in high school and college. Did the moneyball book talk of doing data analysis on college players? I would wonder because Beane has had better luck trading for players than drafting.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One View Post
      Thyrlos could have a point if there was a large enough sample size of playing against the top talent in high school and college. Did the moneyball book talk of doing data analysis on college players? I would wonder because Beane has had better luck trading for players than drafting.
      There is a large sample size for college if you take the top competition the last 15 years or so.

      Moneyball is a book. I am not claiming that the A's and Beane are a prototype to follow; there are teams that use analytics more effectively (Boston for one). Last I checked, the A's won as many World Series as the Twins recently...
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      I was talking about the competition level, not exactly the talent. And if you look at the draft, some college teams (the best) have most of their draft-eligible players drafted even if in later rounds and usually start at high Rookie or A ball in most organizations. Fact is that A level ball has older high school draftees and foreign signees who were weeded out in the Rookie clubs, so the talent level is higher.
      I don't want to be argumentive, but all baseball is competitive. While major college baseball is certainly competitive, I don't think that will help much in deciding whether a guy can play major league ball. I remember a few years ago, one of Twins minor leaguers(one of Seth's favorites but I can't remember his name) had played with Nick Swisher in college. He was drafted in the middle to late rounds by the Twins. He even had similar college stats to Swisher. I believe he got as far as AA. I don't think college stats are very meaningful. They tell you nothing about where they are in terms of physical maturity, or what developmental stage they are at. Some people are physically mature at 18, most probably aren't. Stats can't tell you any of that. Most major leaguers say that work ethic and makeup are important to major league success. Stats can't tell you about that.

      There is a reason why teams have so many scouts and why more than one scout looks at the top prospects. Even with that, there is more failures than success in a draft. Can the Twins do a better job of drafting. I suppose. But there is a certain amount of luck involved as well. Injuries happen. Some kids won't do the necessary work, no matter how talented they might be. Some probably can't handle the travel or pressure. The Twins organization can certainly be criticized on many levels, but I don't think stat analysis is likely to replace oreven be much help to scouting.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim H View Post
      I don't want to be argumentive, but all baseball is competitive. While major college baseball is certainly competitive, I don't think that will help much in deciding whether a guy can play major league ball. I remember a few years ago, one of Twins minor leaguers(one of Seth's favorites but I can't remember his name) had played with Nick Swisher in college. He was drafted in the middle to late rounds by the Twins. He even had similar college stats to Swisher. I believe he got as far as AA. I don't think college stats are very meaningful. They tell you nothing about where they are in terms of physical maturity, or what developmental stage they are at. Some people are physically mature at 18, most probably aren't. Stats can't tell you any of that. Most major leaguers say that work ethic and makeup are important to major league success. Stats can't tell you about that.

      There is a reason why teams have so many scouts and why more than one scout looks at the top prospects. Even with that, there is more failures than success in a draft. Can the Twins do a better job of drafting. I suppose. But there is a certain amount of luck involved as well. Injuries happen. Some kids won't do the necessary work, no matter how talented they might be. Some probably can't handle the travel or pressure. The Twins organization can certainly be criticized on many levels, but I don't think stat analysis is likely to replace oreven be much help to scouting.
      Doug Deeds. Drafted in the 9th round. Made it to Rochester in 2007 then was let go and bounced around. Last season was in the Angels AAA team.

      I get the arguments you are making. And for every argument you are making about why numbers do not matter, I can make the same argument why opinions that were formed by scouts who saw someone pitch 10 innings or have 30 PAs matter even less. So you need to have a combination in order to make more informed decisions. And I am not talking about the kids who everyone knows that they will be a superstar (everyone knows those), I am talking about finding the diamonds in the rough who will have a great career but nobody knows it yet.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Thanks for posting this. It's a very interesting read.

      Q&a articles with folks inside the organization is just so Damon interesting.

      By the way - he pretty much cofirmed that they will take a college arm in the 1st round is that right?
    1. Jeremy Nygaard's Avatar
      Jeremy Nygaard -
      Quote Originally Posted by clutterheart View Post
      Thanks for posting this. It's a very interesting read.

      Q&a articles with folks inside the organization is just so Damon interesting.

      By the way - he pretty much confirmed that they will take a college arm in the 1st round is that right?
      I think they top names on the board will be college pitchers. I don't know who the top guy on the board will be when they draft. If they picked 1-1, yeah, I'm pretty sure it would be a pitcher.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Awesome job Jeremy. I enjoyed every part of every question. Also, what a great interviewee! Very good, thoughtful, in-depth answers. Couldn't have asked for much more.

      This is pretty much how a draft should go IMO. It is impossible to compare statistics of players that don't face the same levels of competition. I don't buy that something was different heading into the draft last year, they are changing for the better.
    1. wagwan's Avatar
      wagwan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Nygaard View Post
      It's been an ongoing discussion on the message boards since the end of last season.

      You can see my projections here.
      Thanks for the link. I have been watching this page..... pretty good starters at New Britain
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      The questions I would have liked to have seen is: How does a player like Bryce Harper fall so far in the draft and then become a superstar?? How come so many teams, including the Twins, passed on him?
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Blackjack View Post
      The questions I would have liked to have seen is: How does a player like Bryce Harper fall so far in the draft and then become a superstar?? How come so many teams, including the Twins, passed on him?
      ??? Nobody passed on him. Was the first overall pick and signed for record bonus ($6.25M) for a position player. Boras client.
    1. FrodaddyG's Avatar
      FrodaddyG -
      Quote Originally Posted by Blackjack View Post
      The questions I would have liked to have seen is: How does a player like Bryce Harper fall so far in the draft and then become a superstar?? How come so many teams, including the Twins, passed on him?
      What. The. ****?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Blackjack View Post
      The questions I would have liked to have seen is: How does a player like Bryce Harper fall so far in the draft and then become a superstar?? How come so many teams, including the Twins, passed on him?
      You're talking about the Bryce Harper that made the cover of ESPN at age 17, left high school early so he could play with a wooden bat, and went as the #1 overall pick for a record amount of money? You mean that Bryce Harper?
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