Hinch, scouts emphasize gathering information
Assistant GM has department canvassing country, getting multiple looks at players
PEORIA, Ariz. -- If you survey the landscape of any professional scouting department, you'll run across a common -- and entirely understandable -- objective.
"We're trying to be in as many ballparks as we can," said Padres assistant general manager A.J. Hinch, who is in his third season overseeing the professional scouting department.
Where teams differ is how they go about achieving that goal. For Hinch and the Padres, it's been about building the department with quality hires -- he added eight scouts after joining the organization in the fall of 2010 -- with the intent on canvassing the country and getting multiple looks at players.
"Our job as a department is to provide [general manager Josh Byrnes] with as much information as we can," Hinch said. "Being able to impact our Major League roster, our Minor League depth and through trades, you can feel the impact of the scouting department through and through."
The Padres have 13 scouts in their professional scouting department -- Joe Bochy (brother of Giants manager Bruce Bochy), Chris Bourjos, Jim Elliott, Al Hargesheimer, Kevin Jarvis, Eric Junge, Steve Lyons, Mark Merila, Jeff Pickler, Matt Smith, John Vander Wal, Mike Venafro and Chris Young.
Jarvis and Vander Wal played for San Diego, and Merila was a longtime bullpen catcher for the club before moving into the scouting department a year ago. The Padres lost one of their best, and most revered, scouts when Van Smith passed away last May.
All of the scouts gathered at the team's Spring Training facility in Peoria this week. They've already been dispatched throughout the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues to evaluate players.
"We've been able to get different backgrounds, different styles and different points of view, and been able to grow our department in a way so we can cover all 120 full-season Minor League teams and certainly the 30 Major League teams to a greater extent," Hinch said.
"Information is power in our business. And getting the perspective of a scout who has seen the player more than once, watched him grow and mature and change, we can better utilize the scouting eye in our decision-making, which is something that's very important to the organization."
Case in point was before the Trade Deadline in 2011. Seeing how the Rangers matched up pretty well with what the Padres might be willing to move -- relievers Heath Bell and/or Mike Adams -- San Diego had Elliott extensively watch Texas prospects.
"Jim Elliott had the Rangers, and he was able to really identify Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin as guys of interest," Byrnes said. "We scouted them a lot. That was a good job by a scout to ring the bell to let us know about these guys."
On July 31, the Padres dealt Adams to the Rangers for Wieland and Erlin. Wieland made his big league debut last season before having Tommy John surgery. Erlin is a candidate this spring to win a job in the rotation. Even if he starts at Triple-A Tucson, he's not far off.
Byrnes saw the benefit and need for a strong professional scouting department years ago when he was part of the Indians' dynamic front office that not only included general manager John Hart, but future general managers Dan O'Dowd and Mark Shapiro.
"In Cleveland, we were one of the first to create a dedicated pro scouting department," Byrnes said. "The first trade we made was acquiring a Minor League outfielder from the Tigers, Dave Roberts [who is, oddly enough, San Diego's first-base coach]. He went on to have a great career.
"That's a perfect illustration. Dave was in the Florida State League and one of our scouts identified him. There's a lot of players out there, whether that be prospects or getting a guy at the right time, such as [current pitcher] Tyson Ross. Those are the guys we're scouting more than Zack Greinke."
The Padres had plenty of information on Reds prospects leading up to the December 2011 deal that saw San Diego send pitcher Mat Latos to Cincinnati for four players. Jarvis got an extensive look at one of the players in the trade, first baseman Yonder Alonso. Jarvis estimate that he saw Alonso in upwards of 10 times before the trade.
"When you watch him over 20, 25 at-bats, you see he's got the ability to make adjustments to different velocity, recognize spin," Jarvis said of Alonso in September.
The Padres don't just have their professional scouts scour the Minor Leagues looking at the prospects from other teams.
"Another thing our guys do from the scouting department through the front office is scouting our own players," Hinch said. "We've got to have a good knowledge of our own system -- where they are developmentally, where they are in relation to the vast amount of players throughout baseball.
"We're fortunate to have good scouting eyes in our player development system with Randy Smith, Randy Johnson, Mike Cather, guys who have scouted before and coaches throughout the organization."
Smith is the vice president of player development and international scouting. Johnson is the Padres' Minor League field coordinator and Cather is the Minor League pitching coordinator.