The Washington Nationals announced their Phil Rizzo Scout of the Year Award and the organization’s International Scout of the Year Award on Wednesday. Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo and Vice President and Assistant General Manager of International Operations Johnny DiPuglia made the respective announcements.
The Phil Rizzo Scout of the Year Award is given annually to the Washington Nationals scout who represents the integrity, character and work ethic exemplified by Mike Rizzo’s late father, Phil Rizzo. Jeff Zona, Special Assistant to the President of Baseball Operations and General Manager and Director of Pitching Evaluation, is this year’s winner, announced by Mike Rizzo.
Zona enters his 17th season with Washington and fifth with the added title of Director of Pitching Evaluation. In his role, Zona evaluates First-Year Player Draft prospects with a focus on pitchers. From 2009-13, Zona served as the national crosschecker covering the Eastern region of the United States. He became the national crosschecker after spending the 2008 and 2009 campaigns as a Major League scout.
“Congratulations to Jeff on taking home this year’s very special award,” said Rizzo. “Jeff was one of my first hires in 2006 and he has been an invaluable member of our staff ever since. His knowledge, work ethic and preparation – especially as it relates to the Draft - is some of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s a trusted, loyal member of our scouting department, and I am incredibly proud to name him this year’s winner.”
“I’d like to thank Mike for selecting me as this year’s winner of the Phil Rizzo Scout of the Year Award,” said Zona. “Phil was a legend in the scouting community and was a person I looked up to in scouting and in life. I’m extremely honored to accept this award in his name.”
A native of Richmond, Va., Zona joined Washington’s amateur scouting staff as the eastern crosschecker in 2006. He spent the previous 16 years with the Boston Red Sox, earning a World Series ring in 2004. Zona attended Virginia Commonwealth University and played three professional seasons with Boston and Atlanta before joining Boston’s scouting staff in 1991. In 2021, Zona was inducted into the Virginia Commonwealth University Hall of Fame.
Ricardo “Riki” Vasquez is this year’s winner of the International Scout of the Year Award. He serves as a crosschecker in Latin America and resides in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He oversees the day-to-day scouting operations in the Dominican Republic, including scouting reports, schedules, expenses and player signings.
Vasquez joined the Washington Nationals as a video intern in 2016 and went on to participate in Major League Baseball’s scout school in 2017. He was hired as an area scout in the Dominican Republic in 2018 and promoted to crosschecker in 2020. He has signed several players from the Dominican Republic and was involved in signing shortstop Armando Cruz and outfielder Cristhian Vaquero.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do in the Dominican Republic without the work of Riki,” said DiPuglia. “Riki started from the ground floor and worked his way up through hard work and dedication. Has become a valuable asset to the Nationals, and his career is only getting started. Congratulations to him on being selected as this year’s winner.”
“It’s an honor to win this award,” Vasquez said. “I am so proud to be a part of this organization and especially to be a part of the international scouting staff. The Nationals are like a family to me. We have done some great things together as a team, and I cannot wait to see what we accomplish together in the future. Thank you to Johnny for trusting and believing in me and for honoring me with this award.”
Phil Rizzo spent 11 seasons as a senior advisor to his son, Mike. He was named to the position on Dec. 3, 2009, at the time bringing more than 40 years of scouting experience to the organization. Phil joined his son for the second time in their respective careers when he was hired by the Nationals in 2009. The two also worked together for seven seasons (1999-2005) in Arizona, where Phil was a Diamondbacks special assignment scout.
While with the Diamondbacks, Phil Rizzo made the first call and filed the first report on University of Kentucky right hander Brandon Webb, who won the 2006 NL Cy Young Award and represented Arizona in three All-Star Games. In addition to his time with the Nationals and Diamondbacks, Rizzo’s 50-year career in baseball included stints as a scout in the Chicago area for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees. Rizzo is also credited with signing, among others, right-handed pitcher Bob Wickman, left-handed pitcher Bob Kipper, catcher Mike Matheny, infielder Dick Schofield and infielder Mark Loretta.
In May of 2008, Rizzo was one of eight scouts to comprise the inaugural class of the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame.
Phillip “Butch” Rizzo passed away at age 90 on Feb. 1, 2020. Phil led his family with the values of hard work, grit and loyalty. His impact on the Washington Nationals and the professional baseball scouting community will not be forgotten.