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July 12, 2004

Prospectus Q&A

Terry Ryan, Part I

by Jonah Keri

With a stadium that struggles to generate revenue (largely because of its co-football tenants), cash-conscious ownership and ever-stiff competition from other teams, this major league general manager makes tough decisions every year, keeping his team in contention the last few seasons and earning multiple playoff berths along the way. The similarities between Billy Beane and the latest in Baseball Prospectus' series of GM Q&As mostly end there.

Terry Ryan's scouting background and the success of his scouting and player development staff have helped the Minnesota Twins build one of the best farm systems in the game. A staunch proponent of defense, athleticism and aggressive play over power and patience, he strives to tailor the Twins to the quirky Metrodome and its unique characteristics. Ryan recently chatted with BP about the challenges of running the small-revenue Twins, the importance of makeup in ballplayers, the trade-offs of offense for defense, and more.

Baseball Prospectus: How does your own scouting background show up in how the Twins draft and develop players, and how the major league squad is formed?

Terry Ryan: Well, first of all you adjust your club based on your market and what type of payroll you're working with. In Minnesota, the Twins will always rely on scouting, drafting and development, bringing our own players up to form the nucleus of the team. I was the scouting director here for six years, and I believe in that method because it's worked.

It certainly helps with camaraderie, developing confidence and chemistry on your roster. You have players who come through it all together, from instructional leagues to winter ball, Arizona Fall League and throughout the minors. They're taught by the same coaches and instructors, who watch them and evaluate them closely every step of the way. There aren't too may surprises on your 25-man big league roster when you do things that way. We certainly supplement, get guys via the trade route here and there. But our roster is almost all homegrown.

BP: You mentioned building confidence and chemistry. How much importance does the organization place on a player's personality and how he fits in with the team? How are the Twins able to size up an 18-year-old kid out of high school or a 21-year-old out of college and learn everything you need to know about his makeup, especially before drafting or signing him?

Ryan: You have to start before the draft. Our scouts are responsible for trying to find out each player's makeup and work ethic, getting the necessary off-field recommendations before we draft him--you want to find out if your guy is a winning baseball player. The scouts will talk to the player, his coaches and people close to him to learn as much as they can. Then after four or five years at the minor league level, you'll find out if they have the type of mentality that can help you on a big league level. If you look at our club, for the most part, we don't have too many guys who are selfish or not team-oriented.

BP: The system seems to be full of hitting prospects right now. You've got Morneau, Restovich, Mauer, Cuddyer, Ryan, Ford--all these young guys who can hit, either in the minors or already at the major league level. What about the Twins' approach do you feel has allowed the organization to stockpile so many promising bats at once, or is a lot of it luck and good timing?

Ryan: It goes mostly back to the people recommending these players, and really back to when the Twins were bringing up guys like Puckett, Hrbek and Gaetti. Then of course if you look at a Joe Mauer or a Justin Morneau, those guys could hit when they signed.

We've heard some criticism about not having enough power here. I've always thought run production was the most important, rather than power. And we've been a team that's relied on pitching and defense more than perhaps some others. But we've had our good share of hitters over the years. Tom Kelly always favored an aggressive approach--we've never been ones to wait long. The approach has been if they see a pitch they like, take a whack at it. You may not get on-base percentages that are average or above. Sometimes it works out and is conducive to scoring runs, and other times it might not work out as well. But we want to keep that aggressiveness.

BP: As far as defense goes, is that something you'll stress all the way through, where you might draft, sign or trade for a player with a good glove, even if it means sacrificing some offense?

Ryan: In the amateur ranks, in the minor leagues, and in our major league personnel--if you're going to come here, you have to cover some ground. That's why we have Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones, Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter, Luis Rivas, Cristian Guzman, Mauer. To play on this surface it takes athleticism and speed, and we feel we have that. We've had a good defensive club for years. Even when we struggled here for a few years, we felt like we always played good defense. We've got several Gold Glove candidates, Mientkiewicz and Hunter, but also Koskie, Jones and Ford. These are guys who can get the ball, and most of them can throw too.

We're always looking for that complete player--everyone is. But we may have to give up a little power production to get a little more on defensive side. There are a few special guys like Vladimir Guerrero and Ichiro, Griffey, A-Rod who have that combination. But those kinds of players are so few and far between.

BP: Looking specifically at the roster, then, how closely are you watching the offensive struggles of some players and considering replacements? At second base you've got Rivas, where maybe Cuddyer will provide more hitting. At first base it's Mientkiewicz, with Matt LeCroy, Morneau and some others who could play there or at DH. At what point does the balance swing to where you're giving up too much offense to be getting the most out of a position?

Ryan: We don't have a prototypical ballclub here. With most clubs, you expect the first baseman to hit 30 homers. Doug doesn't do that, but the runs he saves down there...invariably there's a play or two per game where you say 'not many people could have made that play.' With Koskie, that gives us great defense at the corners. Hunter gives us a little different look because he gives us more homers than some other center fielders, plus his defense. So we're not exactly built like a stereotypical team, but we live with this, because it does win us games.

With Mientkiewicz, we do expect him to drive in runs. With Rivas, there may be a question of RBIs, of run production. But watching these guys every day, even if they might not give you ideal run production all the time, they do it on the other side of the field, and they also do things that don't show up much in box scores. Believe me, we're hoping Rivas matures as a hitter, and he's only 24. I have to remind myself that at 24, 25, many guys are just getting to the big leagues, whereas with Luis he's always been a level or two above what you'd expect for his age.

When there's a competitive situation where we try to sign a guy and 10 other clubs are bidding, we're not going to win that battle. So we give the people we have every opportunity to show they can play. Rivas at times has rewarded us, and at times it's been frustrating. But he'll turn the double play, he's athletic enough to play on turf, he'll steal a base, take the extra base--these are things he does that can overcome some of his shortcomings in on-base percentage or strikeouts. Just (the other) night he laid down a bunt that got us going.

BP: It sounds like you're clearly trying to tailor the ballclub around the stadium you play in. You mentioned speed and defense, what are some other steps you've taken to build the club for the Metrodome? With all the talk of possibly getting a new stadium, how would that help or hurt the Twins?

Ryan: We are very athletic defensively, and playing in the Metrodome that's vital. We changed the turf this year to a slower surface, but there's still plenty of ground to cover. We really pay attention to left-handed bats and pitchers; you've got the short right-field fence, then the left-field wall and left-field gap are quite deep. In our drafting and acquisitions, we lean toward the left-handed side just because of our building. Also, one of our objectives is that our left fielder almost has to be a center field-type, because left field's so vast here. That's part of why we went out and got Shannon Stewart.

As far as a new stadium goes, I've always asked that whatever happens, before they finalize the plans, we'd like to have some say, hopefully make it somewhat similar to the Dome so that we don't have to change our organizational strategy or set-up. Left-handed pitching is already harder to find anyway, so we value our approach. It's one of the reasons Glen Perkins was attractive to us in the draft. You can go further back to guys like Denny Neagle or Mark Guthrie and it's the same thing.

Coming soon, Part II of BP's Q&A with Terry Ryan, including the team's timetable for bringing up top prospects, its decision-making process on long-term contracts, and the Twins' strengths and weaknesses as they vie for a third straight AL Central division title.

Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jonah's other articles. You can contact Jonah by clicking here

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