The Arizona Diamondbacks arguably had one of this year’s best drafts, and it happened under the direction of first-year scouting director Tom Allison. Formerly a cross-checker for the Milwaukee Brewers, Allison replaced Mike Rizzo as the man making the picks for the Snakes after Rizzo moved on to become an assistant general manager for the Washington Nationals last season. Allison was with the Brewers for seven seasons, and prior to that spent five years as a scout with the New York Mets.
David talked to Allison about his draft philosophy, his selections of Jarrod Parker, Wes Roemer, and Barry Enright, and about how coming to terms with last year’s top pick, Max Scherzer, impacted his selections.
David Laurila: This was your first time running a draft. What was the experience like?
Tom Allison: By far, what made it such an outstanding experience was working with my staff. We spent a scouting season scouring the country looking for major league prospects, then came together in our draft room to carry out (a) dialogue on each player. After listening to all of the opinions conveyed in the room, we felt like we were able to make fifty-two solid picks. Having two extra picks certainly provided us more opportunity to dip into the talent pool.
DL: You went from being a cross-checker to a scouting director. What’s involved in that transition?
TA: I’m fortunate to have worked with two quality scouting directors–John Barr with the Mets, and Jack Zduriencik with the Brewers. Their teachings and experiences really helped provide me with the background and foundation I needed to conduct my first draft. A big difference in the two roles is time management; there are more people and there is information to manage. It was a challenge, but because of the staff I work with it was also very rewarding.
DL: Compared to cross-checkers, how much scouting do scouting directors actually do?
TA: My days out in the field did not vary much from the days I spent cross-checking. The number one thing we do as a staff is to evaluate the player, and that can only be done at the park. I am also fortunate to have a strong support staff in the office that kept things in order while I was out on the scouting trail.
DL: Baseball America‘s pre-draft bio for your second round pick, Barry Enright, said he could go early to a “performance-oriented organization.” Does that describe the Diamondbacks?
TA: We certainly like guys who are winners, and you can say that about Barry Enright. His record speaks for itself. That goes for what he did as a high school football quarterback too, and you can even sum it up for what he’s done in his life. He’s gone through things like losing his father, and has never let adversity get the best of him. Are we “performance-oriented” as an organization? I don’t know if we are, because that’s kind of a catch-all phrase. Numbers are a part of the puzzle, but you have to look between the numbers also. You have to see with your own eyes how someone reacts to a situation, or if they can make a pitch when they need to. Someone like Barry Enright has a good blend of the ingredients that we want in a player.
DL: Baseball America’s draft bio for your 15th-round pick, pitcher Josh Collmenter, said that he could go as high as the fourth round to a club that believes in his feel for pitching and his track record. It also referred to him as being creative, and said he’ll sometimes throw an eephus pitch and a knuckleball. Can you talk a little about projecting pitchability, and your opinion of what could be referred to as “gimmick” pitches?
TA: We were very pleased that Josh was available for us to select with our 15th-round pick. He is a guy that uses more “creative skill” than pure “stuff” while pitching. He has had success at the collegiate level, and our scout, Matt Haas, felt that he deserved an opportunity to prove what he could do in our development system. Sometimes it is good to take a chance on a “different look”-type guy; they sometimes bring a varied aspect to your major league staff. That one “gimmick” pitch that is located is something hitters have not seen much. It can allow for success one time through a lineup.
DL: Under your predecessor, Mike Rizzo, the Diamondbacks took primarily college players in the early rounds. Your draft was similar. Was that a coincidence, or was it indicative of a shared philosophy?
TA: What Rizz and his staff did here in previous years was very impressive; it set a high standard of success. I would have been remiss had I not examined and learned from their methods. That said, our staff must react to the pool of talent available in the draft. You can’t say to yourself, “We are high school-oriented or college-oriented,” because you don’t want to limit yourself. Our philosophy is to draft and sign talented young men with strong character and passion, then give them to A.J. Hinch, our minor league director, and his staff. They have proven that when they receive the above ingredients they can develop them into major league players.
DL: What impact did the signing of Max Scherzer right before the deadline have on your draft?
TA: The signing of Max Sherzer showed the commitment that Josh Byrnes and the Diamondback ownership have to signing and developing homegrown talent. Our organization is committed to developing the players within our system. The addition of Max Scherzer allows our development staff to have another solid prospect to mold into a major league player. The impact it had on the 2007 draft was limited. Our focus stayed true to the talent pool available to us at each selection.
DL: How much of an impact did the prolonged negotiations with Scherzer–and Stephen Drew three years ago–have on the Diamondbacks’ willingness to draft Scott Boras clients?
TA: When you go into the draft, the one thing that’s most important is that you maintain your focus on the players and line them up correctly. If there are obstacles, like health questions or signability, you need to be aware of them, but skill and talent level are more important. That’s how we line up our board–we do our homework, and will always take the best player for the Diamondbacks organization.
DL: Your fifth-round pick, Tyrell Worthington, is potentially a difficult sign. Can you address both his skill-set and signability?
TA: Again, staying true to our philosophy, we wanted to select players with tools, skills, character, and a passion for the game. Tyrell possesses all of those ingredients. Our scout, Howard McCullough, lives in the same hometown as Tyrell, and over the years has developed a strong relationship with him. That said, Tyrell is a talented football player that has signed to play for East Carolina University. The challenge for the Diamondbacks, Tyrell, and his family is whether he is ready to give that opportunity up and start his professional baseball career now. Our conversations have been very positive concerning the matter, and we hope that Tyrell joins our organization sooner rather than later.
DL: Was Jarrod Parker a no-brainer when he fell to you with the ninth overall pick?
TA: The pace of the first round was a lot slower due to [the] television coverage, and that certainly gave us time to weigh our options as the board unfolded. Our scout, Mike Daughtry, has evaluated Jarrod thoroughly and provided us with strong comfort in selecting him. After the Rockies made their selection, we knew that Jarrod would be our pick.
DL: You were quoted by MLB.com as saying, “As I started getting calls and information starting coming from other organizations, I did have a strong feeling that (Parker) was going to be available.” Where do calls and information like that come from, and how reliable does it tend to be?
TA: We got a lot of that, especially the night before and the morning of. However, that time leading up to the actual pick is full of misinformation. It is important to read between the lines and know other club’s drafting trends. Doing that the morning of the draft, my feelings became stronger that Jarrod was going to be there for our selection.
DL: Jim Callis (Nick Schmidt) and Kevin Goldstein (Daniel Moskos) both had you taking college left-handers in their mock drafts. What did you think when you read those projections?
TA: Mock drafts are always interesting, but you need to keep them in perspective, because information is only as good as its source. Those guys are both talented evaluators and have solid opinions. Did we like Schmidt and Moskos? Sure, they were in the mix of players we looked at. Every year, every team will consider taking a good college left-hander. We’re no different.
DL: Which picks in the first round most surprised or intrigued you?
TA: I felt that the board stayed pretty true to form–at least our board. Of course, we’re only one team, so it’s somewhat subjective to say that everything fell in line. Still, most of the first-round guys went pretty close to where we thought they’d fit. That is what the draft was intended to do.
DL: You’re obviously quite familiar with the Brewers scouting department. How surprised were you when they took Matt LaPorta seventh overall?
TA: A lot of people were surprised, but I wasn’t. I spent twelve years working with Jack, so I know his philosophy and I can’t see myself ever questioning what he and his staff do. Jack knows what he’s doing, and I am sure he felt that their selection was the best for the Brewers at that time.
DL: Wes Roemer, who you took with the 50th overall pick, hit more batters in his college career than he walked. With that in mind, tell us what you like about Roemer.
TA: I can’t speak for Roemer himself, but the quote that comes to mind for me is something Don Drysdale once said: “Why waste four pitches if I can put him on with one?” But from an evaluation standpoint, he’s an aggressive strike-thrower who pitches to contact but still gets his share of strikeouts. He’s a little bit like Doug Davis in that respect–Wes is a sinker/slider guy who gets good action down in the zone. We like his bulldog mentality, his athleticism, and his track record. He knows how to compete.
DL: Ed Easley, who you took 61st overall, was the eighth catcher taken in the draft. Where did you rate him among draft-eligible catchers, and was drafting a catcher in the early rounds one of your goals?
TA: Two things that always fly off the board are college left-handers and catchers, both high school and college. It’s an important position, and there’s no question we targeted getting a catcher early if there was someone we liked. We had Easley ranked in the upper end of catchers in the draft, so he was a good pick for us in that slot.
DL: Your third-round pick, Reynaldo Navarro, was taken out of Puerto Rico. What is your approach to scouting internationally?
TA: We understand that major league players come from all over the globe, and we will use our resources to find them. We recently signed a player out of Australia, and our director of Latin America, Junior Noboa, continues to spend a lot of time in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Mexico looking for talent. We put a full time scout, Jack Pierce, in Mexico for the first time this year, and we also hired a part-time scout for Puerto Rico. Ray Blanco, our southeast regional scout out of Miami, covers Puerto Rico and liked what he saw in Navarro. We feel he brings solid attributes to the middle of the diamond.
DL: What constitutes a good draft?
TA: It’s when five years later you’re revisiting what you did, and you have three or four of your picks in the big leagues, and three or four more on their way. That’s what your objective is, every year. I can tell you that we’re comfortable with who we drafted. A.J. Hinch and his staff are among the best in baseball when it comes to developing talent, and hopefully a number of the guys we send his way are going to make it to Chase Field.
DL: Which of your scouting director brethren most deserves a shout-out for a job well done in this year’s draft?
TA: I don’t know that I should really offer an opinion on that. Being the rookie guy in this year’s draft, I’ve certainly sat back in my chair and looked at what other teams did, but Tim Wilken gave me some good advice a long time ago. He said that in this business, it’s best to take an approach of “Don’t laugh at mine, and I won’t laugh at yours.” I’m pretty sure that there are 29 other scouting directors who are happy with how their drafts came out. I know they all worked hard, but only time will tell.