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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.

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.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
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.

Attached Image: scoutpic.jpg

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.

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