A lot of talent is developing within the Blue Jays‘ farm system. Under the direction of Dick Scott, the system has recently graduated promising young players like Travis Snider, Adam Lind, and Jesse Litsch to the big leagues, and others, like catcher J.P. Arencibia and pitcher Brett Cecil, are on their way. Scott, the team’s director of player development since 2001, talked about Toronto’s development philosophy and some of top prospects in the organization at the Granite State Baseball Dinner in Manchester, New Hampshire.
David Laurila: You’ve been in your current position for seven years. How has the system progressed over that time?
Dick Scott: When we first got our jobs, we had some players at the top of the organization, like Orlando Hudson, Josh Phelps, and Jason Werth, and we had some players at the extended spring level, like Brandon League and Dustin McGowan. We had a few players in between, but there was kind of a gap, so I think the need to draft college players was pertinent because we had to get some players in our system to cover that gap. I think that’s why you saw J.P. [Ricciardi] go to a high school draft the last couple of years, because we had kind of filled those holes. Now we think that we have players at each level that we’ll be able to put in the big leagues on a regular basis.
DL: Has anything else changed since you’ve been on board?
DS: I don’t think so. I guess we’ve changed our approach a little bit in Latin America, but we have most of our same coaches with us. I know that we’re not Boston or New York, but we’ve done our share of putting guys in the major leagues, like Litsch, Purcey, Aaron Hill, Lind, Snider, Thigpen, League, Janssen, McGowan. And we have more guys coming, like Brett Cecil, so I think we’re doing a good job.
DL: Your Triple-A team is moving from Syracuse to Las Vegas. What impact will that have?
DS: What it is going to be, mostly, is our front office people understanding that a guy can have a 4.90 ERA in the PCL and be doing a pretty good job. The International League is definitely a pitchers’ league, and the PCL is a hitters’ league, so the media and everybody alike is going to have to understand that things are a little inflated in the PCL.
DL: How important are statistics in your evaluation process?
DS: It plays a part, because the numbers don’t lie after a while. But still, we’ll have people with eyes on our guys, and guys are going to have to make the jump. I mean, other teams have been playing in the PCL, and they have guys who do well in the big leagues, so it’s just a little adjustment we have to make.
DL: Are there specific numbers that mean more than others when you’re evaluating players?
DS: There’s so much that goes into this stuff, because we’ve had guys pitch well at Triple-A when he haven’t had good defensive teams there. So a lot of balls are hits that should have been caught and are not, or guys make errors, or whatever, so it’s just the judgment of the staff, and the judgment of me and [assistant GM for player personnel] Tony LaCava, when we come in to watch our players; it’s our scouts. I think we have a pretty good grip on what’s going to play in the major leagues.
DL: How does the organization go about communicating the relative importance of OBP over batting average to the players in the system?
DS: It’s hard to communicate that to players, because everywhere they’ve been it’s all about the average. Everybody wants to hit, but you try to get them to understand that having a good strike zone-you can still hit. Having a good strike zone, getting on base, passing the torch to the next guy, that’s what the big-league teams that are successful do. And it’s hard for guys to shift gears, but once they’re in our organization long enough, they understand that.
DL: Travis Snider jumped from High-A all the way to the big leagues last season. Can you address the willingness to push him through the system as aggressively as you did?
DS: We were aggressive, because he’s a big-leaguer at 20. He’s a talented kid; he’s very mature for his age, and Travis is going to have a big career ahead of him. I think we’re aggressive overall, and I think we almost have to be. Everybody has to be, because of the price of players these days. You can’t afford to keep a guy down too long, because how are you going to find out if he can play or not? Let’s get right down to the nuts and bolts. You can get a guy to the big leagues and pay him $400 grand, or you can go sign a free agent for $2.5 or $3 million bucks. A lot of it is cost effectiveness.
DL: Which level is the toughest jump for a player?
DS: Single-A to Double-A. I think that a lot of guys get weeded out, because there’s a better caliber of play in Double-A than there is High-A, and my feeling is that if a guy can compete in Double-A, he has a strong chance of being able to compete in the major leagues.
DL: Does that apply to all positions, or does it differ for pitchers, catchers, or anyone else?
DS: I think that it’s across the board. My experiences have shown that if you can play in Double-A, you have a shot to play in the big leagues.
DL: How similar are Adam Lind and your top pick this past season, David Cooper?
DS: You know, that’s a pretty good analogy. I think they’re both good; they both have solid swings. And Cooper actually surprised me a little bit with his defense; I don’t think that he worked very much on it in college. But they’re both good hitters, with strike zone command; they’re line-drive type of guys. Lind has a little more power than Cooper; Lind has a chance to be a 20-25 home run guy. Lind has power to all fields, while Cooper, right now, is more of a line-drive hitter, but his power will develop.
DL: How close to big league-ready is J.P. Arencibia?
DS: I think that J.P. might be there by the end of this coming year, and if not, next year. He’s a good player. He’s going to be an impact player. The guy can really hit. For his first full season, hitting almost 30 home runs, driving in over 100 runs, hitting close to .300 between Single-A and Double-A, and his catching probably improved more than anyone else’s defense in the organization, at any position.
DL: Is catching an organizational strength right now?
DS: It is pretty strong right now. For a long time we didn’t really have anybody. We traded Robinson Diaz, who I think is going to be a decent player. Thigpen is going to be steady. Brian Jeroloman is a very good defensive player; I think he’ll play in the big leagues. And there’s Arencibia, so I think we’re doing pretty good there right now.
DL: Can you say a little about Brett Cecil?
DS: The guy has come a long way, fast. He’s got good stuff, good poise, I think he really gets it. I think he understands what it is going to take to pitch at a higher level. I look for Brett to do a lot of good things for us, and I think he may be in the big leagues next year as well.
DL: If he’s in Toronto as soon as 2009, presumably it would be as a reliever?
DS: Maybe, but it just depends. Marcum and McGowan are both hurt, and it depends on if A.J. Burnett comes back or not, so we have some questions. But I think you’re right; if all things are in place, he may get there as a reliever to begin with, but I see him in our rotation shortly.
DL: How do you view Cecil’s innings progression this coming season?
DS: We’re going to keep an eye on that; we’ve already talked about it. We were careful this year with him; we were careful with a lot of our guys to make sure they had enough innings. We don’t want to jump a guy from 100 innings to 160. Next year, Cecil is going to have to pitch 150 to 175 innings somewhere.
DS: Stuff-wise, they’re pretty similar. I think Brad has a little better command. They’re fastball, curveball, changeup, and both have good changeups. Brad Mills really came this year; he surprised a lot of people. Ricky Romero I think turned the corner; I’m hoping that he has. That would be nice, because that’s two more lefties, and lefties pitch well in our division.
DL: What allowed Romero to turn the corner?
DS: I just think that he just got a lot more confidence. Before, I don’t think he had the confidence; he put a lot of pressure on himself as a number one pick. This year he really realized that it was time to just go and pitch the best he can, and our coaches did a great job with him. It has taken time, plus, I think we rushed him, like we do with a lot of guys. He just didn’t respond. He ended up being in Double-A for parts of three years, and this year we got him to Triple-A and he pitched fine.
DS: Talented guys; they’re so young, yet advanced. Jackson just has great personality, and he really understands the game. Ahrens is starting to get comfortable doing everything, and I’ve heard from scouts on other teams who thought that Ahrens was one of the top two or three players in the Midwest League in the second half of the season last year. We see it, and those guys are going to be good players. That draft is going to be a good draft for us.
DL: How about Scott Campbell, who hit over .300 in Double-A this past season?
DS: Campbell is the type of guy who is always going to be the dark horse, the underdog. We’re going to put him in Triple-A next year and see what we have. The guy hits. He’ll probably play second and third, and he just barrels the ball a lot. He has good swings, and I think he has a chance to play in the big leagues. He’s got to find a position. He can play second adequately, but he has to get a little bit better there to play in the big leagues. He needs more consistency, but in his defense he hasn’t played a lot of baseball. He played in the States in college, but growing up in New Zealand, I doubt that he played as many games as kids in California or Texas or Arizona do when they’re in the seventh and eighth grades. But he surprised us. We were going to send him to the Florida State League, but we decided to send him to the Eastern League, and he led the league in hitting until he hurt his wrist near the end of the season.
DL: You were a successful minor league manager before moving to the front office. Why did you make that change?
DS: Well, I think it was really just decided for me. You can’t always decide your path, and this job opened up, and I’m very appreciative of J.P. hiring me. You know, I’m still pretty involved. I just don’t have a team on a day-to-day basis. Instead, I have six teams. But it’s OK, because we have a good staff. The guys do the stuff right, and I like what I’m doing. I’m happy to be a part of the Blue Jays, and I think we’ve got it going in the right direction.