The Twins have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and Mike Radcliff is a big reason why. The longest-tenured–and arguably the most respected–scouting director in the game, Radcliff has a long track record of successful drafts. The core of the Minnesota lineup–Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Torii Hunter–are Radcliff picks, as are highly-touted pitching prospects Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowey. Radcliff joined the Twins organization in 1987, and has been the team’s scouting director since 1994.
David talked to Radcliff about his selection of Ben Revere with this year’s top pick, taking high school players in each of the first five rounds, and why the Twins have been so successful in the draft.
Mike Radcliff: Well, I didn’t know that was our M.O.–the Twins’ M.O. But we’ve been fortunate to have been picking low in recent years, because the big league club has been so successful, and the farther down you get in the first round the more unpredictable it is. That’s probably part of it. And this year’s draft was the most unpredictable I’ve seen since I’ve been here. You normally have a pretty good idea of how things are going to unfold in the first round, but this year David Price was the only lock; after that it was really hard to gauge what was going to happen. In our case, we had our fingers crossed on a few guys we thought we had a chance to get, like Nick Schmidt, Pete Kozma, and maybe two or three others, but they didn’t make it to our pick.
DL: Along with the Brewers taking Matt LaPorta seventh overall, your selection of Ben Revere at number 28 was probably the most talked-about pick in the first round. Why Revere?
MR: I know we raised some eyebrows when we took him, but we liked him a lot, and it comes down to having a lot of confidence in your scouts. Believe me, there was a lot of discussion on the pick, and not everyone was on board with it–there were a few guys who weren’t 100 percent convinced. But with the system we have in place, it’s more about consensus at the top than it is the opinions of just one or two guys. I’m willing to admit that Ben Revere wasn’t a name a lot of teams were looking at in that part of the draft, but we think he’s a legitimate player with a lot of upside. A comparison I’ll make is when Tim Wilken drafted Alex Rios and Vernon Wells. They were somewhat higher picks, but they were still out of the box to many people in the industry. They weren’t looked at as guys who were going to be taken quite as high as they were.
DL: When Baseball America released their draft preview, Revere was rated number 135 among draft-eligible players. What indications did you have that he wouldn’t be available when you made your second pick at 92?
MR: We did a lot of work on that. You don’t want to try to outsmart the draft, but you still need to do your due diligence and make your assessments based on the information that you have. We gauged the interest in Revere, and because we wanted to make sure we got him, we decided we’d have to take him in the first round. There’s a lot of conversation within the industry, and knowing which four teams had a high interest in him, we came to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be available when we made our second pick.
DL: Give us a brief rundown on your second- and third-round picks, Danny Rams and Angel Morales.
MR: A big part of scouting is having a timeline of history, and we’ve seen both of them a lot over the last couple of years. We have a belief, and a conviction, in our evaluation of each of their tools and skills. One thing we like in Rams is that he has a lot of raw power, and while he’ll be less of a prospect if he doesn’t max out with his bat, that’s pretty much the case with every position player you draft. We see him applying that power, along with his good arm-strength. Morales is more well-rounded in his skills, more of a five-tool type of player with a higher ceiling. With each of them, the bat will be a big determiner.
DL: Tim Wilken has said, “As a scouting director, you really can’t afford to spend much time looking at guys you have little chance of taking.” Do you share that opinion, and if so, would it be fair to guess that you didn’t give more than a cursory look to hard-signs like Rick Porcello, Matt Harvey, and Jack McGeary?
MR: There are two sides to that. You do need the quantity of information in case someone you can afford does fall to your pick, but with your budget in mind there are always going to be guys you won’t be able to take because you won’t be able to meet their demands. There were some players who fell into that category this year, and while we scouted them, we didn’t go into the same depth we would have had we felt they were viable options. So yes, there’s a lot to what Tim Wilken said.
DL: Do the new rules–the August 15 signing deadline and next-year compensation for unsigned picks–make the decision whether or not to draft players like Porcello, Harvey and McGeary any easier?
MR: Not so much in our case, because we’re in a position where we really need to sign the eight or 10 best players we pick. That goes for us and [the] other small-market teams. Did we talk about the possibility of taking a guy who might be a harder sign? Not someone who’d have demands way over slot, but a guy who we might be able to fit into our budget? Sure, but in the end, we decided not to tackle anyone like that. Also, we picked low and didn’t have any extra picks. Teams that had multiple picks early, like the Giants, Rangers, and Blue Jays, well, maybe they had something they could play with. They could maybe take a shot at someone they might not be able to sign. We couldn’t afford to do that. Looking at the draft overall, I don’t think many picks were affected. As for actually signing all of them, maybe there will be an impact.
DL: You’ve been quoted as saying, “The Twins probably focus more on pitchability and playability in how we set up our order of how we want to draft.” Can you elaborate on that?
MR: I think that a lot of teams want specific tools in the first round; things like a 95 miles per hour fastball or big-time power. In our true opinion, especially with high school players, the true separators are what you’d call playability and pitchability. In other words, can they combine that power or fastball with good baseball instincts? Do they have the mechanics to apply to their tools? If we don’t have confidence that a player possesses those attributes, we’ll discount that from his overall rating. An 80 fastball [Ed. note: scouting scale, not mph; 80 is highest.] is an 80 fastball, but if you can’t get it over, or if you don’t have good makeup, it’s not going to matter. I think we might look at that more than some of the other teams out there.
DL: You took high school players in each of the first five rounds this year. Even with the “best player available” mantra you hear in scouting, that’s fairly notable.
MR: We certainly addressed that after every pick we made and again when the day was over. We looked at each other and said, “We just took five high school players in a row at the top of the draft.” But what’s important is the fact that we’re not afraid to do something like that. And I think we’re in the minority, because I can’t think of a lot of teams that would. We simply have a high degree of confidence that we can scout the future potential of high school players just as well as we can with college players. With high school guys you tend to gravitate and project to their ceilings, and some put more weight on risk than others. We have a player development system that allows for being more patient. If you look at the guys we’ve developed, some of them muddled through the minor leagues for a number of years before putting it together. Torii Hunter is an example. It took him seemingly forever to get through our system, but we recognized his potential and were patient enough to stick with him.
DL: In his mock draft, Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldsten projected Will Middlebrooks as your first-round pick. Was Middlebrooks on your radar?
MR: For whatever reason, his name was attached to us, but yes, he was on our radar. We did scout him pretty hard. But some of that goes back to the unpredictability of this year’s draft. How many picks did Baseball America get right in their mock draft? I think it might have been two. In normal years I could tell you within two or three guys who we’d get if we picked around 20 or so, but this year was different. There were a lot of guys we liked, and Middlebrooks was one of them, but we just went in another direction.
DL: Middlebrooks, like Trevor Plouffe, was a very successful two-way player as an amateur. What are the primary factors in determining whether players like Middlebrooks and Plouffe have better futures as pitchers or position players?
MR: That’s a hard question to answer, but every year there are a few guys coming out of high school who have those special physical abilities. I can tell you that we scouted Michael Main both ways this year, and there were probably 20 teams looking at him one way and 10 more the other way. I also know there were five teams that considered drafting Trevor Plouffe as a pitcher. It’s not always an easy decision, but in the end you just have to trust your scouting instincts and determine your projection as best you can.
MR: We considered him with our top pick, but there were reasons we took the guys that we did. We’re the Twins, and having three picks in the first round we had to make a few concessions when it came to money. We liked Hughes a lot, but at the time he didn’t make as much sense to us as the guys we went with.
MR: He definitely has great playability, but we didn’t look at him as a candidate for one our top picks, as we didn’t see him as a top-25 guy. We didn’t see him as a first-rounder. He would have been in the mix with our next pick, though. I actually liked him when he was still in high school. He was kind of a pint-sized guy, but he could play. He went right around where we had him on our draft board.
DL: Throughout baseball, scouting departments procure talent (while) player development tries to optimize that talent. Do the Twins treat that division of responsibility any differently than most teams?
MR: I think that what we have is a real culture of inclusion, where everyone feels like a part of what we do. We have organizational meetings where we discuss the draft, and our player development people are part of that process. They see tapes of guys we’re looking at, and they file reports like our scouts do. We spend a lot of time talking with our player development guys, because we feel it’s important to be on the same page.
DL: Hypothetical situation–you wake up one morning and your entire staff has been replaced with that of another organization. What impact would that have?
MR: It would have a big impact, because one of the things that keeps us on the same page is the fact that we’ve been together for a long time. We probably change personnel far less than other organizations. There have been a few changes, of course. You’re always going to have a guy or two moving on for a higher-level opportunity somewhere else. But even though we’ve added a new area scout each of the last three years, most of our hierarchy has been together for over ten years. In my opinion, that’s a big part of the success we’ve had.
DL: What is Terry Ryan’s role in the draft?
MR: He used to run our draft, so he’s certainly been a mentor. Terry is one of the best talent evaluators in the business. He’s influential in that way, and we fully apprise him of all of our early picks. A big part of his job is delegating, but he’s also part of the process.
DL: How much of being a scouting director is having a good eye for talent, and how much is being a good manager of people?
MR: That’s changed over the course of time, and it’s moving in the direction of delegating responsibilities and trusting your staff. The biggest decisions you make every year are with who you hire. We’re fortunate in that we haven’t had to do it much, but you need to find the right people and then empower them. Motivation and people skills are big. I see a million players, but where you pick and how much money you have to spend are things that are out of your control. The scouting process is long, and I don’t believe in the idea of the “super scout” that knows everything. It’s not an ego trip. It’s a process, and a culmination, of good communication and analysis.
DL: Is scouting more of an art, or is it more of a science?
MR: That’s a great question. I was just talking to our staff, and I hit on exactly that. In some ways you want to look at it as a science, but when you get down to a human being evaluating a human being, it’s more of an art. Of course, art is more subjective. You want to be as objective as you can, and there was statistical analysis long before there was Moneyball, but scouting will never be 100 percent objective. Both elements are part of the evaluation process. I’d say that scouting is both. It’s art, and it’s also science.