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Seven Principles of an Effective Scouting Director

Since today is the first time in awhile where I haven’t had to write a draft preview or game report, I want to take this opportunity to write on something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, but just haven’t had the time to do.

Every scouting director is faced with a unique situation in which they have to operate. I’m sure you notice that I focus a lot of my attention on that scouting director level. That’s because that’s where drafting strategy needs to originate. The scouting director is where the buck stops when it comes to drafting, and that’s what my writing is all about.

As such, I’ve been thinking about what sort of things a scouting director has to juggle in order to run a solid draft. They have to create policy, implement policy, and then stick to policy, all things that are hard to do. So here is a piece that helps you think about the challenges a scouting director faces, and how they can deal with those challenges.

Here are the rules for drafting I’d put in place for myself if I took over as a scouting director today:

1. Know your place in the front office.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but one thing that scouting directors always struggle with is where they fall in the totem pole. Some scouting directors can be the right-hand man for their general manager, while others are so new to their position or place in the front office that they have to struggle to have their opinions heard. You wouldn’t think this influences drafting as much, but it does. I think we’re all aware of the influence and decision-making power of a general manager when it comes to deciding on picks early in the draft. General Managers generally are the decision-makers for the first round pick, if not a little more than that. As such, knowing your place at the table is critical when it comes to draft meetings. If you know that your opinion is heard, but isn’t the biggest factor to your general manager, then you need to convince those that have the general manager’s ear. Building consensus beforehand is so critical in those situations, so building relationships with those other than just the general manager is so important. Scouting directors are never going to be that right-hand man, as general managers have their own personal assistant general manager for that, but wielding influence through relationships is critical, and knowing where you stand from day one is the first step.

2. Know what resources you have to use.
This also seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a moving target from some scouting departments. Let’s take a look at the White Sox. When Doug Laumann made the decision to pick draft-eligible sophomore Bryan Morgado in the third round of his draft in 2009, he didn’t know that his general manager, Ken Williams, would be making deals to bring in more salary to the Major League level, cutting his resources available to sign Morgado after his good summer on the Cape. Morgado wasn’t asking for a lot of money, but because of a lack of foresight, the resources weren’t there to sign him. They lost their third-round pick, and now Morgado’s seen as a supplemental first round arm 7 months after the signing deadline. This isn’t Laumann’s fault, but it’s a fault of the front office in general. If I was a scouting director, my main pushes would be for autonomy of personnel decision-making and autonomy of financial decision-making. I’d want a hard budget that is used exclusively for amateur scouting, and it’d be up to me how to spend it, including all the spending for the scouting process itself. If I wanted to increase the percentage of the budget that’s given to bonuses, I’d have to cut in other areas, maybe consolidating my resources to focus on the specific players to target for over-slot bonuses in rounds beyond the first round. But as long as I know my resources, and I have that written in stone, then I know where I can go from there. If I know the budgeted amount is relatively low, as long as I know this ahead of time, I can work with that. However, changing the budget and going back and forth is never good for anybody, so that would be my stance.

3. Know your scouts.
Many times when a scouting director moves into their position, they don’t have time to change around their scouts to reflect who they want in any given area or region. They take on their predecessor’s scouts. Usually there is higher turnover than usual, but a scouting director can’t turn over the entire department the moment they come in. It takes time to mold a scouting department to make it what you want to make it. However, even if you come in to a predecessor’s network of scouts, there’s one thing you can access to make the system efficient in your own way. You have access to your scouts’ reports. By poring over past reports, you can get a feel as to what scouts’ strengths and weaknesses are, and also which scouts have the detail or eye you are looking for when thinking about future promotions or discussions. At the same time you’re getting a feel for their reports, you need to go out and get to know the scouts in person or on the phone. Talk baseball or talk personally, it really doesn’t matter. You just need to develop a relationship with them, getting to know their personality and style. Also, bringing all your scouts together for a meeting other than draft time is also a good idea. Bring them in, show them you appreciate their work, even if you’re new and they’re not. Sit them in a room and talk baseball. See who the leaders and influencers are. Find out which scouts are the true decision-makers in the group, not just the ones who talk the most. The scout that sits there quietly soaking it in could be the most influential man in the group, and when he talks others listen more intently. That’s not uncommon. However, the main theme here is that you need to know your scouts inside and out so that when it comes time to make decisions based on their recommendations, you can do so with second-guessing, knowing the source and the information.

4. Don’t settle for less when it comes to crosscheckers.
One show I loved to watch was the West Wing. In one episode, before the State of the Union, the President brings in the cabinet member who will be in a secure location as decided for the continuity of the government if something were to happen in the Capitol. The President asks him, "Do you have a best friend? Is he smarter than you? Would you trust him with your life? That’s your chief of staff." In a way, I see that as a similar function as the National Crosschecker and their relationship with the Scouting Director. As a scouting director, your job is to surround yourself with people that are excellent judges of talent and excellent decision-makers, then you work your way through that information in order to make your own final decision on draft day. The national crosschecker is at the top of that pile. The excellent example of a great scouting director-national crosschecker relationship is the one that formed in the 1990s in Atlanta. Paul Snyder, who had two separate stints as scouting director in Atlanta, formed one of the best scouting relationships with his national crosschecker, future Atlanta scouting director Roy Clark, a relationship that benefited the Braves on the field. The continuity that was made when Snyder moved on and Clark took his place was so crucial, and that’s how a national crosschecker should act. A national crosschecker should be an extension of the scouting director, going all over the country and delivering the information in the way that the scouting director understands best. Values, principles, baseball judgment, and more should all be things that the scouting director and national crosschecker share, though that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be disagreement. No two scouts can agree about everything and every player. Instead, I simply mean that the national crosschecker should carry out the same goals as outlined by the scouting director, and he should be a champion of those goals to every scout of the club that he comes into contact with in his travels.

5. Know your player development program.
One of the major mistakes that some scouting directors make is that they draft as if in a vacuum. They have their type of player they’re looking for, but those players don’t fit into their player development program at all. A current-day example of a scouting director being in sync with their player development program is how the Rays operate in their drafting and developing. R.J. Harrison, knowing the type of pitcher that works in the Rays’ system, drafts pitchers that fit into that mold. Conversely, the Rays have developed a set pattern for developing those pitchers, stopping at every level to maximize potential and instruction. All in all, they’ve developed a system that works best for them, and by communicating that system across departments, they’re working on creating a steady stream of talent for their general manager to use. Drafting outside of such a system would be detrimental, so knowing what your player development system is about is one of the keys to good drafting.

6. Think about balance.
Those who have read a lot of my work know that I grade drafts heavily on their balance. By that I mean that they mix high-ceiling with high-floor players and pitchers with hitters, as well as spread out their picks geographically, not focusing too much on one or two particular areas. When creating draft strategy, you need to start with this thought, because it happens so often that teams are heavy in either pitching or hitting, or high-ceiling or high-floor talent. As a result, they’re either unable to fill in gaps at the Major League level or they come out with a higher number of busts or not enough elite talent to function as a continuously winning franchise. As for the geography bit, my point is that you can’t focus too much on a few areas, as there’s a lot of risk in that. What happens if that area scout leaves or loses their edge? If you’ve spent too much time and energy in their area, then a lot of your other scouting talent would have moved on, leaving you with gaps in your talent identification across the country. Balancing throughout a draft is so important for these reasons, and it would be a big part of my philosophy as scouting director.

7. Develop and work a plan.
Once you’ve thought about all six principles above, it’s time to develop a plan and work it. Defining goals is essential in this business, and if you’ve clearly defined what you want from a given draft, then scouts know what they are looking for. If you simply say that you want a toolsy player, or a hard-throwing pitcher, you’re not giving your scouts the direction they deserve. Define the player you want. Leave the scouting of the top three or four rounds to your crosscheckers. Beyond that, define what you want in each round. That’s unorthodox, and it’s not accepted a lot in the scouting community that believes in going best player available or similar such things, but it would make for an efficient and effective draft. Let’s say you know your short list for your picks in the first three rounds. Once you’ve gone through the scenarios as to which players you’ll get and what you will pay them, you should know both your budget left for the remaining picks and the positions you’ve already filled. Say that you have ten different scenarios based on who you get with your picks in the first three rounds. In communication with your scouts, you should be continuously updating them on the scenarios available as they change, depending on how the players from the top three rounds are performing and how your crosscheckers think of them. Once it comes time for draft meetings in the week before the draft, your scouts know what you want based on the scenarios you’ve given them, and the information should flow in such a manner. Working through each scenario, you should define what position you want in each round, how much you can afford to pay for each round, and what ceiling or experience level you want out of each round. Therefore, on draft day, if Scenario A happens, you know that in the fourth round, you have a list of 5-10 players you want in order, and you draft based on that list, as each fit into your particular wishes for that slot. At that point, each player had been ordered based on the best talent, and you can go from there. It’s a plan, and you’ve worked that plan.

Obviously, there’s a lot more involved in a scouting director’s job. These are just the seven main principles I’d have in place for myself if I found myself in the drafting chair.

What are your principles?