Bruce Seid had a tough act to follow when he replaced Jack Zduriencik as the Brewers‘ director of amateur scouting following the 2008 season. His predecessor was widely regarded as one of the best in the game, with Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Prince Fielder, and, more recently, Alcides Escobar, proof of his evaluation acumen. From early indications, the club’s former West Coast crosschecker is quite capable of matching the success of his former boss. Seid’s initial draft reaped a multitude of high-ceiling prospects, most notably a triad of electric arms in the first four rounds. Formerly a minor-league player in the Cubs system, Seid joined the scouting ranks in 1992.
David Laurila: How would you describe the Brewers’ scouting philosophy?
Bruce Seid: We feel that scouting and player development are at the forefront. I’ve been here since 1998, at that time as an area scout. When Jack Zduriencik came in 2000, we were lucky to have one or two prospects in our system; I think we were ranked 30th. But through some pretty good drafts, we were able to develop some players within our system. Reid Nichols, our special assistant to the GM/farm director, and his staff have helped to develop and provide an opportunity for players to succeed in our farm system, which has helped make us a contender over the years. I don’t think that you win championships by just developing your own players alone, but it is one of the major components. Most championship teams have a combination of players they develop, along with some acquisitions made along the way, both through trades and free-agent signings. Mid- to small-market teams need to draft well and develop players from within their systems to stay competitive.
DL: Is there a specific type of player that fits the Brewers’ mold?
BS: The scouting philosophy of the Brewers, within my regime, is that we like athletic, physical players who have good instincts to play the game. We like toolsy players. Athletic, physical players stay around a longer time and are more apt to be able to make needed adjustments that the game may call for.
DL: Do you differ philosophically in any way from Jack Zduriencik?
BS: First off, I learned a lot from Jack. I worked with him for nine years, so I couldn’t help learning from him. I think that the philosophy he instilled in us, which is to draft the best player available, is something that we certainly still go by. Now, are there any philosophical differences? I can’t really say that there are. I may draft different, or the same, players than he would draft if he was still the scouting director, but the bottom line is that both of us would take the player that we feel is the best in our own eyes. That’s without question.
DL: Were there any instances last June where you thought, “You know, Jack might have taken so-and-so instead?”
BS: I never thought about that. It never crossed my mind. Like I said, our staff, Ray Montgomery, myself, the cross checkers, and the area scouts, are going for physical, athletic players who bring some skills to the table, and whether or not Jack would have taken those same guys or not, you just don’t know. All I know is that we took them. We did maybe draft more of a little older player, college players, but it just happened to be that way. We drafted two high school players in the second round, but our first three picks were college-type players who’d had some success. Does that mean that we just look at, and take, those types of players? No, they just happened to be the guys on the board when we were picking. We line the board up based on what we feel the impact of the player is, whether he’s college, high school, or junior college, and we stand by how that board is set.
DL: What is your philosophy when it comes to drafting high school pitchers in early rounds?
BS: Well, there is obviously that stigma, but the bottom line is that if you have someone who is a big, strong-body guy that throws hard and has a chance to be Josh Beckett or Roy Halladay, he’s going to be pretty hard to pass up.
DL: Mark Rogers fit that profile when he was drafted in 2004, but there were also questions about his mechanics. Should that have been more of a concern than maybe it was?
BS: The more things you have to change in a pitcher, obviously, the bigger the task. But Mark is a gifted athlete. His delivery was somewhat of an issue back then, but I will say this: After seeing him this past year, he has really made strides. It’s been a long, arduous type of program for him, and whether or not he winds up being the guy that we always hoped he’d be… well, he’s got terrific tools. The kid can throw up to 98 mph and he has three plus pitches, so it’s just unfortunate that he’s had two surgeries. But you’ve got to give Mark a tremendous amount of credit for where he’s at based on where he’s been. So yeah, we’re going to look at delivery issues. There’s no doubt. The more things you need to fix, the harder the task is going to be.
DL: With the ability to make adjustments in mind, to what degree do you assess aptitude?
BS: That is a huge part of what we do. Instincts to play the game are something we discuss as an organization and as a scouting group. And with 18 years as a scout, I will say this: Hitting a baseball is one of the toughest things to do in all of athletics, hitting a 90, 100-mph fastball. If you don’t have a feel, if you don’t feel comfortable, or if there are things that you’re doing with your swing that are a hard fix, I’m going to say that’s probably a pretty good indication that the kid isn’t going to hit, because it doesn’t get easier as you go up the ladder.
DL: When you’re scouting a hitter who shows a lot of raw talent but lacks plate discipline, how difficult is it to assess the likelihood of his markedly improving in that area?
BS: Again, it’s part of instincts. It seems that guys who hit have always hit, although there are exceptions. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely exceptions, like maybe they haven’t had their repetitions, so a lot depends on their backgrounds. If a guy’s plate discipline isn’t very good, you find out things like: Has this guy played enough baseball to understand, and to have gotten enough reps to know what the strike zone is, and to know how to be disciplined? If a guy has played baseball his whole life and still doesn’t grasp the discipline part of the game in high school, and most importantly in college, well, to me that’s a red flag.
DL: Can you tell from talking to a young player, and looking him in the eye, whether he has the aptitude to learn?
BS: I don’t know if that’s entirely true, because kids can be tricky. Some of them have a way of talking to make you believe in certain things. The bottom line is that as an evaluator you have to use your instincts. You have to use your eyes. Yes, you do have to listen, but at the same time, sometimes when you’re listening to a kid it’s hard to tell if they’re just talking the talk or if they can actually walk the walk. Sometimes you can have a feel for what they’re saying, and their approach to the game, but it’s not always simple.
DL: What about reading the guys on your own staff? Do area scouts sometimes send in reports that are a little too rose-colored?
BS: Well, there’s no question, as we have all done it in our careers. We have meetings in January and break down how we want things put together throughout the year, and we have a scouting manual that we abide by. Myself, Ray Montgomery, and our cross checkers instill in our scouts to be aggressive and if you make mistakes they should be aggressive mistakes. But you have to learn from them and limit them as you go along. It is also important to be honest with the player’s ability and not to let emotions come into play when evaluating. If that happens, you may end up getting a player that you let your emotions get in the way with instead of the true ability of the player. And if a scout is trying to over-evaluate someone, well, the cross checker is going to see him and I may see him, so they have a lot of integrity with what they’re doing.
DL: Can you talk a little about the club’s 2008 first-round pick, Brett Lawrie?
BS: Brett can hit. He’s fearless, he plays the game hard, he runs hard. He’s not the kind of guy that I want bearing down on me at second base on a double play. But he’s got a gift to hit. He’s got power. Brett Lawrie is a player that we really feel has a chance to be an impact major-league player as he continues to develop and takes the right path to the major leagues.
DL: When he was scouted, did you see him as a second baseman or as a catcher?
BS: When I saw him, he was catching. In all honesty, if he wanted to catch, he could catch. If he wanted to play third base, he could probably play third base. I think he could play second base. We’ll see. I don’t have a crystal ball, but he’s an athletic kid. This guy has made some dynamic plays at second base and he’s also booted some routine balls. You know, all the tools and athleticism are there for him to mature into a second baseman.
DL: Is there any one position that is hardest to scout and project?
BS: Good question. Here’s the thing, at the premium positions of catcher, shortstop, and center field, you want to make sure when you draft a kid and say, “This kid is going to play shortstop on a major-league team,” or “This kid is your center fielder of the future,” or if you say he is going to be your catcher or even your third baseman, third base, too, those are the positions you want to be right on. You can always get a guy and say, “Oh, this guy is going to mash,” and maybe he’s left field, right field, first base. But those premium positions up the middle, and even third base, because that’s a tough position, as a scouting director, and as an organization, you want to make sure. You’re not going to be right all the time, but if we draft someone for one of those positions, that’s where he is hopefully going to end up playing.
DL: Your top pick last summer was a college pitcher with a good build. Was Eric Arnett a “safe” pick?
BS: He was the guy who was on the board when it was our pick, and I actually didn’t think he was going to get to us. But as for being a safe pick, I don’t think there is such a thing. When someone gets to the big leagues and performs, then I’ll say he’s a safe pick. Until that happens, there’s no such thing.
DL: What was your scouting history with Arnett?
BS: Mike Farrell, our scout in Indiana, had seen Eric since his freshman year in college. He’s always said that the guy has a good arm and that he’s athletic, he just hadn’t put it together until last year. Last year, he became a pitcher. He began to focus on baseball, solely. He had played basketball as well, so he’s athletic. We’re talking about a 6-foot-5 athletic kid who has agility, his arm works good, his delivery is good, and when you talk about that you get excited. He threw up to 97 mph at times; our pitching cross-checker, Jay Rooney, saw him in the mid-90s with a pretty good slider. Ray Montgomery saw him and liked him a lot. I saw him twice and he was impressive. The tools are in place, although I will say that he’s not the finished product. The tools, and everything else you need to be successful, are there with Eric Arnett. He just has to tweak some things and make it work.
DL: Arnett presumably tweaked a few things last year, given his ascent up draft boards. What adjustments did he make?
BS: I think that a lot of it was the ability to work on the pitching aspect of his game. I think that Eric was a lot more of a thrower at one time and he learned to become a pitcher. And he threw harder. Now, I don’t really have the answer as to how he developed from his freshman to his junior year. All I can tell you is that what we saw this past year is someone who has all the makings to be in our starting rotation a few years down the road.
DL: How important is the ability to throw a solid changeup?
BS: I think you’ve got to have it. If you have a good changeup, if you have the differential with that and your fastball and breaking ball, and are able to locate those pitches, it can be devastating. I think that the changeup is an undervalued pitch. The ability to throw a good changeup is an equalizer. It gets hitters off balance. But we’re not going to look at a guy, and if he doesn’t have a good one, say, “forget it.” But I will say this, again: It goes back to athleticism, physicality, agility, and good makeup. If a guy has a good fastball and the makings of a breaking ball, we will definitely try to teach him a changeup. I think it’s very important.
DL: How does Arnett’s changeup grade out?
BS: Eric’s changeup is in the development stages. He has shown improvement since we drafted him, but he still needs to continue to develop that pitch for the highest success he can have.
DL: You had two supplemental picks after the first round last summer. With one of them you took Kentrail Davis.
BS: This is a fun player. You talk about physical and athletic. He doesn’t bring 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 to the plate, but he’s a fireplug of tools. I think he’s got a very good swing. He didn’t have a great year at Tennessee, but he was on a bad Tennessee team his last year. He had no one around him and I think he tried to do a lot more instead of just staying within himself. With Team USA, he was superb. We’ve seen flashes of him in instructional league that say “Wow.” He’s a left-handed hitter, a plus runner, he has power. He just has a feel to hit. And I’ll tell you what: You talk about playing the game with vigor. Well, he plays the game with a lot of vigor. It’s fun to watch Kentrail play.
DL: Your other supplemental pick was Kyle Heckathorn.
BS: Kyle has… I want to be careful when I say this. His stuff is really good. This is a big, physical horse who has thrown hard and harder. Kyle has a few issues in his delivery to work out, and once he does that he will be able to make big strides in pro ball. He throws strikes too. His slider, at times, is plus. His changeup he throws at 88 mph. He’s got to figure out a few things about how to use those pitches, and again, a good changeup can be dominant. If he is able to make some adjustments and find a way to use his changeup with less velocity, combined with his fastball and slider… you know, Kyle could be pretty good. I’ve got to tell you, when he gets in a groove, he is really good.
DL: Can you talk a little about the pitchers you took in the fourth and fifth rounds?
BS: I can’t wait until Brooks Hall gets going. He signed late and he’s another 6-foot-5 physical, athletic pitcher that we’ve seen up to the mid 90s. Of course, just because you throw hard as is the case with Arnett and Heckathorn, sometimes upper 90s, that doesn’t mean it’s what you’re going to pitch at. But the physical attributes are there, so I can’t wait until Brooks Hall gets going. I think that his upside, at this point, is good. D’Vontrey Richardson, our fifth-rounder out of Florida State, is physical and has probably the best tools of anyone we took. He’s crude and raw, but we’re pretty excited about what we saw in his progress this year.
DL: If a high school or college pitcher is excelling while throwing 97 mph once a week, how can you tell if he’ll still be effective throwing at a lesser velocity every five days in pro ball?
BS: It depends on their ability and how you see their delivery. Maybe a guy will still throw 97, but maybe he’s only a one-inning guy; maybe he’s a set-up guy or a closer. But you can’t expect a guy like Arnett, or Heckathorn, or Hall, who we’ve seen throw at higher velocities, hold them pitching every five days. But if a guy is throwing 91-95, that’s still pretty good. And if he’s got the ability to rear back and throw it 96-97 when needed, well that’s really good. If they’re throwing consistently at 97, then you’ve got guys who are special. God bless them if they wind up pitching at that (velocity). We don’t anticipate that, but what we do anticipate is these types of pitchers throwing with a solid-to-plus fastball.
DL: You signed Nick Neugebauer in 1998. How did a healthy Neugebauer compare to Stephen Strasburg?
BS: Well, I did see Strasburg and he was definitely as good as advertised, but gosh, Nick was special, too. When Nick was a junior in high school, he had four pitches that you could say were plus pitches. He was big, physical and strong. I think the biggest difference between him and Strasburg is that Nick wasn’t able to repeat his mechanics. Eventually, he got out of his delivery and encountered some issues with his shoulder. With Strasburg, everything works. It just works. The delivery works and the arm is special. If you’re trying to find faults in Strasburg, you’re really nitpicking. You can find faults in anything, but Strasburg is simply very good. You weren’t going to find much disagreement on him.
DL: Some general managers are more hands on with the draft than others. How involved is Doug Melvin?
BS: Doug is great. Doug lets us do our thing. He’s there for guidance, but with his experience, he always gives us a lot of information from what he’s learned throughout the years. He just makes sure that we, as a young staff, and an aggressive staff, are guided in the right direction.
DL: How would you assess the job you’ve done since taking over as scouting director?
BS: In my first year as the scouting director for the Brewers, I think we did all right and I want to give my scouts a lot of credit. I also want to give our management and our ownership a lot of credit. We had some extra picks, and they wanted to make sure that we were able to go out and get who we thought were the best players that we could put into our system. We had the backing of ownership and management, and my scouts worked endless hours. Endless hours. The transition from Jack to this particular regime, I would have to say, went well. Ray Montgomery is my assistant scouting director and he does a tremendous job in that role. Our cross checkers, Corey Rodriguez, Jim Rooney and Doug Reynolds, work real well with the scouts throughout the country. Our communication, and everything they bring to make this work, is simply real good. It’s not a one-man show. We don’t walk around saying, “I drafted this one,” and “I got this one.” We walk around saying, “The Brewers drafted this one.” It’s team effort from ownership on down. I’m just one part of that equation.