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March 29, 2010

Prospectus Q&A

Logan White, Part 2

by David Laurila

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BP's David Laurila completes his conversation with Dodgers assistant general manager, scouting Logan White. Part One can be found here.

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David Laurila: You’re in charge of scouting, but you also employ an amateur scouting director. How does Tim Hallgren’s role differ from your own in regard to the draft?

Logan White: You know what? We do it just like we did. When I was promoted to assistant GM, the only thing that changed significantly was my international work and level of involvement with the major-league team. The one element that [general manager] Ned [Colletti] requested was that I make sure to stay very focused on the amateur draft, because we’d had success. Tim and I had worked together as a scouting director and a national cross checker, so it was an easy process for us after he was promoted. We still collaborate and work together. The final say is obviously mine—who we take and don’t take—but we work the draft board together like we have since I’ve been here.

DL: You draft more high school pitchers than do most scouting directors. Why?

LW: Number one, we trust our development people. We think our development staff is outstanding. We think that when [pitchers] come here, we can take care of their arms better than the college game. And with the coaching staff that we have, we think that we have better instruction than the college game. We have great confidence that these guys are going to make major-league pitchers out of the talent that we hand them. We think they have fewer flaws. Plus, if you notice the talent quicker, you can get it quicker. By waiting until he goes to college, you might not get that player down the line. For example, we took James McDonald out of high school. To me, he’s the perfect example of being able to get a pitcher who has some ceiling that you might do something with. But there are a lot of good college pitchers who make the big leagues—we took Aaron Miller last year and Josh Lindbloom—so we are definitely not opposed to taking college pitchers.

I guess, to me, it’s kind of a weird question. It’s kind of like saying, "You guys sign more players of one nationality than another." To me, nationality doesn’t play into it any more than the high school-college thing does. I think that if we evaluate the player right, the high school player has just as good a chance of success as the college player, and a lot of times better. They may have a better secondary pitch, they may have a better delivery, and they may have better size. In today’s game, with the showcases and the exposure these kids get—like when we took Chad Billingsley. He was arguably the ace of the Junior Olympics team that won the gold medal. So there is a track record there already. He’s pitched against great competition. It’s not like you’re taking some raw high school kid from Iowa that you’re guessing on. Clayton Kershaw is the same way. [Jonathan] Broxton is from Georgia, albeit from a small town, but we loved his delivery. He was 90-93 [mph} with a good arm and he had an excellent breaking ball. If they’ve got quality secondary pitches to go with a plus fastball, and they’ve got size, it doesn’t really matter if they’re high school or college.

I do think that college is easier to go evaluate. They’re closer, and it’s easy to drive to a college ballpark and get involved in the atmosphere, and see them in that environment. It’s darn tough to go out to Defiance, Ohio and freeze your butt off and try to determine what someone is. But if you have the courage to do it, you can have success with it. I actually wish that all teams would just draft college players and leave us the high school guys. That would be fine by me.

DL: You drafted Dee Gordon in the fourth round, in 2008. At the time, did you have any idea that he would become the top-rated prospect in your organization?

LW: I don’t know if I would have expected him to be ranked as our top player, but I will tell you that when he came to us… [Dodgers farm director} De Jon Watson had roomed with his father in pro ball at one time, and De Jon said, "Hey, I have this kid, Flash’s kid." I said, "Yeah, let’s bring him down to Vero Beach." We brought him down and he was outstanding in his workout for me, but De Jon and I both kind of cold-shouldered him. You can ask the kid and he’ll tell you the same thing. We kind of acted like, “Hey, thanks for coming” and we didn’t bother him for the rest of the year, until late, because we did not want to tip our hand in any way, shape, form, or fashion. But once you know the player and see his desire and his tool set, his skills, it’s not surprising. When we drafted him, and I think that our scouts—Tim and everybody—would agree, I was his biggest fan. I’d had a lot of looks at him. But to say that he’d be our number one prospect? No, but after he’s been here, and knowing what kind of makeup he’s got, it doesn’t surprise me.

DL: You mentioned having an ideal-hitter prototype. How would you describe your third-round pick in 2008, Kyle Russell?

LW: Well, Kyle Russell was a little bit different from how we normally draft, because generally we like to draft guys who are quality hitters first and then the power comes. I believe that you have to hit to get to your power. But Kyle Russell’s makeup as a person is outstanding, and he’s got tremendous raw power. And in our opinion, he can play center field. We’re probably going to play him in center field this year. He can run, he can throw, and we figured that if the guy can hit .280, and hit 20-plus [home runs], and play center field, we don’t care if he strikes out 150 times; he’s going to be a pretty decent major-league player.

One of my scouts that I trust is very much a Kyle Russell fan, and there’s that yin and yang where you look at all that other stuff and then you also look at your scouts and piece it all together. When we got to the third round, we just felt that the tools—being able to play defense and hit for that kind of power—were too much to pass up. Plus, we had Billy Mueller, who was a good hitter, in the draft room and I asked him, "What do you think? Can we help him with that uphill swing he’s got? Can we improve it?" He seemed to think that we could. Sometimes you have to have trust in people that they can help with things like that, and I think that if Kyle Russell makes those improvements, he’s got a chance to be a pretty special hitter. I know it’s rare, because there were guys like [Reggie] Abercrombie and different people in the past that I wasn’t big on because it’s tough, when you strike out that much, to get to the power. But I think that Kyle will, and I think that he’ll be able to play center field. He’s really smart and a hard worker with some pretty good aptitude.

DL: How closely do work with De Jon Watson?

LW: I’ve been the most fortunate man in scouting, in my opinion, in that I’ve had really good development people. It started with Bill Bavasi and went to Terry Collins, and now De Jon. We’ve all been on the same page since I got here. I ask for their input and they ask for mine. One thing about De Jon is that he’s scouted. He was the scouting director for Cincinnati, so he knows how tough it is. There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on between us and we have a very good friendship. We help each other all the time and pick each other up on things. We share a lot of things together, and that’s important. If you’re not going to have one person running both departments, you better have the two on the same page or it could become a disaster.

DL: Does De Jon weigh in on players like Kyle Russell leading up to the draft?

LW: He sits in the draft room, but he doesn’t come in and say, "Draft this guy and that guy." Not by any stretch. I’m pretty particular about that. I believe that the scouts scout and I trust them. It’s no more than I allow my scouts to go down to the bullpen and instruct the pitchers. You need to know where to draw the line on what your job is. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to have input, but you have to go through the right channels. I have no problem if De Jon comes up to me and says, "Hey." It’s like with Dee Gordon—I give De Jon credit all the time for being the first person to bring the name to us. That was awesome. But he was never a factor in going, "You have to draft this guy" or "Don’t draft this guy." By the same token, I never tell him, "You have to hire this coach." We have a lot of respect for each other that way.

DL: I’ve heard it said that there are no secrets in scouting, that if someone can play, everyone knows it within five minutes. Do you agree with that?

LW: The people that say that there are no secrets in baseball… I‘d say that 90 percent of the time… it’s probably like a relationship. With my wife and me, our friends know who we are and everything, but there’s maybe 10 percent of our relationship that nobody knows. When you think that everything is an open book, that’s when you’re going to get beat on a Dee Gordon or a Matt Kemp. You can go look at the Scouting Bureau and see if they had Dee Gordon. If there are no secrets, how can we get Dee Gordon in the fourth round and have him become our top-rated prospect?  There are definitely secrets.

I come from the old-school way of thinking and granted, the internet and everything else makes it harder today, but… and another thing: When I first started scouting, people talked about finding a sleeper. That’s what they called them, sleepers. I train my scouts that most of the time the sleeper is right under your nose. What I mean by that is, in my first year of scouting, Arizona State had Mike Kelly, who was the second pick in the draft. They also had a second baseman/shortstop named Fernando Vina who went in the ninth round. Well, Vina turned out to be the best player on a highly-heralded class of players there. And that’s what I try to teach scouts. I don’t care how the industry drafts them. I don’t care where the publications have them. I want our scouts to get the best guy right, because the sleeper might be right under your nose. Yeah, everybody may know about him, but it’s how you rank him.

I’m pretty private, and maybe that hasn’t always helped me, because I’m not open about sharing draft information with anybody. Your peers probably wonder why you don’t want to share with them, but I also don’t want to lie to anybody. And I don’t want to tell anybody that I like James Loney as a hitter instead of a pitcher. That was a secret. Every team in baseball wasn’t thinking that way. There are things that you want to keep in-house, for sure. You don’t want to promote that you want to take Russell Martin, this kid at Chipola Junior College, and convert him into a catcher. The minute you do that—there are too many good baseball people. If about eight of these other teams that I know would have known about Dee Gordon, we probably would have had to take him higher than the fourth round. There are too many good scouts out there, and too many good directors who know what they’re doing, so the more you can keep information to yourself, the better off you are. In my mind, there’s proof. There are definitely secrets and when I say secrets, probably a few teams may know about someone. And with the 90 percent that we all know about, beauty is still in the eye of the beholder. Only time will tell if you ranked them right.

DL: Having a good staff is obviously crucial. Do you look around the game and say to yourself, "This guy is a great scout; I wish we could bring him on board?"

LW: Let’s face it, baseball is very much a good-old-boy-network sport. That’s one of the things that they wrote about in the book Moneyball, and I think it’s true. I think that you have scouts, and other baseball people, who have jobs year to year to year just because of who they know and not because of ability. In a lot of industries that wouldn’t fly, but in baseball it does. But I think that if you’re objective, and you really research and watch, you learn some things. I learned a lot from some veteran people who helped me along the way. And I look at my peers and see who works and who doesn’t, and how they think and how they draft, and I have a lot of respect for a lot of people out there. It’s not easy to draft well.

Going back to the 30 per decade I was talking about, we try to get six major-league players out of every draft. That’s our goal. And you can look at one person’s draft and see that only three guys made it, and another guy had five, but you have to look at more than one year. You have to look at multiple years and at a combination of what they did, including where they were picking in the draft. I’ve done the research, and if you’re picking in the top 15, in the first round, your odds of getting a quality big-league player are far greater. That’s just the way the numbers play out. That’s partially why we have the mindset of having to be really diligent after the first 15 picks, and more than likely it’s going to be a high school player. There are so many good scouting directors. Say [the Twins'] Mike Radcliffe misses someone. Well, if he does, [the Cubs'] Tim Wilken probably won’t, or [the Padres'] Jason McLeod won’t. There are a lot of people out there who know how to evaluate. Maybe someone didn’t even have a first-round pick and they still got some guys down lower. You say to yourself, "They’re doing something right."

DL: Any final thoughts?

LW: Oh, man. I love talking about scouting. I could talk all day about the different aspects of scouting. One thing I will say is that I love that much more attention is being paid to scouting, and that there is an accountability factor with so many people going back and looking at past drafts. That’s great. With the internet, and people like yourself, doing this—but don’t get me wrong, not every blogger or media outlet is unbiased. Some have a certain way they want to paint something. But a lot of them are open and fair, and it adds to the accountability. We put a high premium on our scouts, on their experience and their wisdom. We put a lot of trust in them. We don’t consider our guys to be just information gatherers; we consider them evaluators as well. That’s maybe a little different philosophy than some other teams might have.

I come from the old-school way of scouting, but I also like to think that I’m educated enough, and smart and modern enough, to know where a lot of the younger, progressive people are thinking. I admire what the guys in Boston have been doing, like Jason McLeod and Theo Epstein and those guys. They’re very progressive. They use a lot of avenues and aren’t stuck in just one way of thinking. I like to believe that I’m the same way.

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The Week in Quotes: Ma... (03/29)
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