Beginning this Thursday at 2:00 PM EST, Baseball Prospectus will kick off its brand new industry chat series as readers get a chance to interact with A.J. Hinch, the San Diego Padres' VP of Professional Scouting and former field manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks! In the upcoming weeks, BP will unveil more guest chats and bring the Baseball Prospectus community even closer to the people in and around the game of baseball.
A.J. Hinch: Hello everyone. Thanks for taking the time to ask questions. Spring Training is an exciting time for everyone who loves baseball, so let's get to it.
Tom (Madison): Do you think we're reaching a point where windows for small-market teams to compete for more than a couple of seasons before having to rebuild are gone?
A.J. Hinch: Hi Tom. The large market vs. small market debate is always a good one. Certainly, small market teams face a few more challenges and have to adjust rosters at a more rapid pace, but in my experience, no one would ever want to use it as an excuse or crutch for not winning. Being a small market is a reality for some teams, but the game is played on the field, and teams have shown that it is possible to have great seasons on a smaller payroll.
Umass12 (ATL): Best advice for working in baseball ops?
A.J. Hinch: Working in baseball ops is challenging, competitive, and rewarding. First and foremost, I think it is important to love the game and have passion in what you are doing to contribute to a ML franchise. There are so many aspects within baseball ops (PD, Amateur scouting, pro scouting, quantitative analysis, contractual negotiations) and all allow us to do our part to build a winning team. Being a good listener, being open to different perspectives, and challenging conventional thinking are all positive attributes of good baseball operations staffs.
Bartolome (San Diego): A.J.,
How is the coverage divided up by the professional scouting staff? Is there a scout assigned to each league, or do the scouts each have several organizations that they're responsible for.
A.J. Hinch: Coverage in pro scouting departments vary based on how the organization wants to cover the teams. Some teams do it by assigning their scouts by organizations, meaning each scout will cover the major league and minor league teams based on the parent club. We have set up our pro department to be more regional. For example, we'll have multiple scouts in almost every league based on where they live. Each scout will cover approximately 20 teams (including ML and minor league), so we get a very broad based view of players as they play in the summer. We like to have our scouts see multiple levels with different organizations. At the end of the summer, we want to have scouting reports on every player in professional baseball (sometimes multiple reports).
Thomas (Phoenix, AZ): Was it a challenge for you to put together a pro scouting staff for the first time and what were you looking for in potential hires?
A.J. Hinch: One of the first things Jed Hoyer said to me when he hired me was that he wanted to invest in putting together a dynamic group of pro scouts with different backgrounds and different perspectives. We doubled the size of our department within the first few months in the off-season. I looked for a variety of skills in our new hires including scouting experience, playing experience, commitment, passion, conviction etc. Just like putting together a team, the challenge was find the right mix of people who are passionate about being a part of what we are building in San Diego.
Tony (Albuquerque): What do you think the biggest gap (or room for improvement) for "traditional" scouting to benefit from statistical analysis and vise versa?
A.J. Hinch: I think it is important to get as many different perspectives on a player as possible. And that may come with getting the opinions of people who view the game from different angles. All the information we can get on a player plays a different role in Jed's decision making process. And each scout may value different things based on their personal history. Therefore, in my opinion, there's always a benefit to weighing everything from on-field evaluations from our PD staff, statistical analysis, traditional scouting viewpoints, performance history, age. In this day and age, there's really no reason not to look at a player from every angle so we can make the most informed decision.
joechris96 (New York): Hi AJ, it's Joe Hamrahi. Yes, I have some privileges :) Just wondering, what is the mood in camp with Adrian Gonzalez no longer with the Padres?
A.J. Hinch: There hasn't been too many days in camp without an Adrian Gonzalez question. And to answer the question, there has been a great mood in our camp. Jed and Bud Black have done a great job of handling a tough situation, and we like our team heading into camp. Player movement is a reality in our game, and we appreciate what Adrian did for this organization. At the same time, we are excited with the players we received in the trade and look forward to their time in San Diego.
R.A.Wagman (Toronto): After your experience as field manager, what can you say about managerial impact on the game that does not show up in the box score (ie. beyond lineup construction and bullpen usage)? Thanks and good luck in San Diego!
A.J. Hinch: I learned a lot during my experience as a manager, and I have great respect for those who hold the position. The manager sets the tone of the team and has a tremendous amount of responsibility in an organization. Most fans notice the in-game decisions the most, and certainly those are important, but that is only a fraction of what a manager contributes to an organization. We have one of the best managers in the game in Bud Black, and being around him this off-season and into this Spring has been great for me. He's open, he communicates, he's competitive, he's firm.....his impact on the organization is felt by everyone who works in the front office or plays for him on the field.
Matt (Chicago): Do you think that the Cubs system has the type of depth necessary to survive Garza trade?
A.J. Hinch: I shouldn't comment directly on the Cubs system or the Garza trade, but I can comment on the trades we made this winter. It was a busy off-season with a lot of moving parts, but Jed set a goal of addressing the middle of the diamond, and we are happy with the results of trading for Maybin, Bartlett, signing Hudson, and creating competition at catcher with Johnson and Zaun. We had quite a bit of depth in the bullpen, so we ended up trading out of that depth and acquired a young CF with tremendous upside in Maybin and a proven and dependable SS in Bartlett. How trades develop is a fascinating part of being in baseball ops.
Rob (Alaska): Hey, A.J. Thanks for the chat. I'm wondering how the process of going from the front office to the dugout and back has been? Any difference in how you see your job now as a result of your experience?
A.J. Hinch: It has been a very eventful few years for me. Without a doubt, I've learned a lot and have some perspective on the game from different angles. In reality, all of us involved in baseball love the competition, whether it be at the front office level or on the field. Being able to contribute towards trying to win a World Series is equally rewarding on the field or in the office. The experience is different and the perspective is different, but the enjoyment is great either way. I enjoy the responsibility to contribute to an organization regardless of the title. I'm very fortunate to be able to see the game from the eyes of different people, and I hope that helps the Padres in a positive way.
Shane (Miami): AJ - Pleasure to chat with you. Taking both your experiences as a Manager and Scout, how important for you, in terms of a percentage, is a player's make up when making an overall assessment come draft day?
A.J. Hinch: That's a great question, and make-up can often be a separator in how we evaluate players. Jason McLeod (Assistant GM), Jaron Madison (Amateur Scouting Director), and Randy Smith (VP Player Development) emphasize make-up to a great extent in our organization in their jobs. I will do the same in Pro Scouting. As I said earlier, we want to get as much information on a player (good and bad), so we can make informed decisions.
paulbellows (Calgary): What team would you most like to emulate?
A.J. Hinch: We don't want to emulate anyone other than be the San Diego Padres. Certainly, we pay attention to what other teams do and don't do well, but we want to develop our own identity of excellence.
goiter6 (MN): I am very interested in the future of Jaff Decker. Is he projected to see time in the majors this year? What do the Padres see for him the future?
A.J. Hinch: We just held our first annual Winter Development Program in San Diego, and Decker was one of the players invited to the camp. As a whole, we are excited with the progression of our minor league players and have seen tremendous growth in players like Jaff Decker as well as players like Lollis, Hagerty (2010 SD minor league player of year), Brach (2010 SD minor league pitcher of year), Castro, etc. One of Jed's goals is to build a productive minor league system, and we like the development we have made so far.
bradene23 (madison wi): What (if any) limitations on innings will you have for Mat Latos?
A.J. Hinch: Great question......and an important dilemma when developing young ML starting pitching. Buddy mentioned the other day that we are going to lift some of the restrictions he was on last season, so that is exciting news for Mat and our team. He threw a bullpen yesterday and looks to be picking up right where he left off last season. Needless to say, he is maturing right in front of our eyes and we will lean on him quite a bit this season as he takes more positive steps forward in his major league career.
Andrew (Atlanta): Spring Training stats don't matter...we hear it every year but has anyone actually done a correlation study of per at bat or ip production compared to the following season?
A.J. Hinch: Another good question......and I don't think anyone has done an official study. Most of Spring Training is about health, endurance, and rhythm....and players are different in how they get ready for a season. We always want our players to play well in camp, but we try not to dwell too much on spring training performance. Probably the two worst months to evaluate talent are September and March when rosters are expanded or players are working on getting in shape for the season.
A.J. Hinch: Thanks for all the questions today. With Spring Training underway, the season will be here in no time. Here's to a successful 2011 season.