The Orioles have the fourth pick in round one of the First-Year Player Draft in June after adding talents like Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy with their top picks the last two years. With another draft fast approaching, it’s a good time to check in with Orioles first-year scouting director Gary Rajsich, who was hired by the club on Nov. 28.
Rajsich was with Boston from 1994-2006, Texas from 2006-2009 and Toronto since late in the 2009 season as a professional cross-checker until joining the Orioles. Before taking his new job with the Birds, Rajsich spent the past nine years in pro scouting.
I spoke with Rajsich yesterday when he was in Miami on a scouting assignment. We talked about that fourth pick in round one and some other topics. Here are the questions and Rajsich’s answers.
Overall, some people have termed this draft class as average and certainly not as good as last year. Do you see it that way?
“I’ve heard that in talking to other scouting directors. They say it is not as deep at the top as last year. Of course, I didn’t scout amateurs last year, so I have no way of knowing. But from what I’ve seen so far, that is probably true. But having said that, I think we are still going to get a good player where we pick.”
Right now, as you start to pare it down, how many players are under consideration for your top pick, No. 4 overall, in June?
“We are trying to identify a group of about a dozen or so that we think will be the top dozen picks. Then, we are going to focus on those players up until the draft. We are going to scout them heavily and we’re going to try and get the right one.”
Do you have it down to that list of 12 now?
“We are getting closer. We hope to be there by April, but all of us have not seen all the guys yet. It’s still an ongoing process, but we are paring it down.”
In terms of how many looks you want to get at those players, what are you shooting for?
“Well, ideally for the cross-checkers and myself, three to four would be great. More out of our area scouts, obviously. We want to know a lot about these guys before we pick them and make a decision. Our area scouts are working hard, they are doing their due diligence. They are in the houses, getting to know the families and the kids. We are on a good schedule right now.”
As you said, you want to know a lot about these kids. Obviously the baseball skills come first, but what other things do you want to know about the players?
“Well, it’s a general term, but overall makeup. We want to make sure that we have good emotionally solid and stable kids that come from good houses and they have good support systems in place with their parents and families. That they come from a loving household. This is a game of failure, so it’s important for these kids to have a good foundation behind them and a lot of support.”
Does that (getting to know the players well) come mostly from the area scouts or do you and the national guys get involved in that process?
“Well, we can do a little bit while we’re there, but we are jetting around seeing a player a day mostly. We do what we can when we are at the park. We listen, we keep our ears open and we do meet the parents and talk to coaches ourselves, but most of the work on these kids is done by the area guys. They are the ones that lay the foundation.”
How well can they get to know the players?
“Some do a better job than others, but, yeah, they get to know them inside and out. They care about them and they want to build a certain level of trust with the players so that when they talk to them and the family they are getting the truth to make the best decisions.”
You have spent the last nine years scouting more in the pro than amateur ranks. What has it been like for you to get back in that game, so to speak?
“Just playing catch-up for me, really. Getting to know the kids. Putting faces with names. Getting out there because I missed the last year scouting these kids in the summertime. But fortunately all of our cross-checkers had extensive work last summer and saw them play in the showcases and all around the tournaments and Cape Cod League. They’ve been tremendous help in lining these guys up for me. I would say just catching up and getting to see these guys for myself has been the biggest part.”
How caught up do you feel at this point?
“I feel good about it. I think we are right on schedule with where we want to be come April. We’ll meet and target the dozen or so guys that we really want to focus on for our first pick. I feel good where we are right now.”
How much guidance do you get from Dan Duquette on the top pick. Are there specifics things he is looking for in terms of positions or anything?
“No, he has not steered me one way or the other. I think we are in the camp where we are going to try and pick the next best player available. What goes into that is what the three clubs ahead of us will do and what options we may have. But as far as a certain direction, a certain position or whether it’s high school or college or junior college, no he has not.”
So you are not going to let high school or college be a factor for you and you will pick the highest rated player on your board when you pick?
“Correct, yes. We are just in the process of lining those guys up.”
How do you see a draft overall? Is it more important to hit with those high picks or get a lot of quantity over 40 rounds. How do you see what would be success for you and your staff?
“Well, Steve, we are trying to hit with all of them. I know that is impossible, but that is the goal. We are trying to add value to our system and that is by selecting good players so we are trying to target players that have value moving forward as best we can.”
How do you look at things like physical size. At times, Joe Jordan drafted some smaller players, like Matt Angle and Kyle Hudson. How do you rate that?
“Physical size is important but you need strength. It doesn’t matter if you are small, short, tall, thin, large. We look for projectable guys with good bodies that are projectable so that when they grow into young men that they have the strength and durability to play 162 games or throw 200 innings. It’s a strong man’s game and you have to be durable.”
You mentioned you were not scouting for the draft last year. But when you look at the quality of player you will get with that fourth pick, do you get a sense that the player this year may not be as highly rated as Machado or Bundy were in recent O’s drafts?
“They may be drafted behind a Bundy, say, but at the same time we are confident that we can get a good major league player that can have an impact. So while it may not be as deep as last year, when you could get an impact player at pick eight to 10, maybe this year it is only four or five. But you can still get a good player.”
Is it still pretty uncertain and wide open as to which players could be among the first four picks?
“I think it is open because the organizations are still looking at who might be there and what their needs are, especially at the top. Of course, what falls to us at four depends on what they do. We need to line them up the best way we can.”
When you yourself are out scouting, are you mainly focusing yourself on those top 12 guys?
“I will be, yes. We are just trying to get the best player that we can and I feel much better right now than I did, three weeks ago, say, that we will get a good player where we pick.”
What makes you feel better than three weeks ago on that?
“I’ve seen enough good players that I am confident we will get one of those good ones.”