The big-name players in the 2012 World Series were famous, in scouting parlance, when they were signed.
The Tigers drafted Justin Verlander second overall in the 2004 draft, and drafted other regulars such as outfielder Andy Dirks and catcher Alex Avila. Many other key pieces were acquired in trades, such as triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, American League Championship Series MVP Delmon Young and leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, as well as rotation righthanders Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer and playoffs closer Phil Coke.
The Giants are a similar fusion of draft picks and trade pieces, though they have relied more on homegrown players than the Tigers. Their pitching staff—Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo—was well-chronicled in their 2010 World Series run, and four lineup regulars also have known no other organization but the Giants. Buster Posey was the No. 5 overall pick in 2008, while Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt were fourth- and fifth-round picks. Pablo Sandoval joined the organization way back in 2003 as a free agent out of Venezuela, signing at age 16.
But like most teams in the playoffs, you could argue that the Giants wouldn’t have made it without some excellent pro scouting. If developing homegrown talent and trades provides the cornerstones of both big league clubs, pro scouting has helped fill in the complimentary pieces.
National League Championship Series ace Ryan Vogelsong was originally drafted by the organization back in 1998, then came back to San Francisco on a minor league deal in January 2011 after a trade, two stints in Japan and trips through the Phillies and Angels organizations.
Big Shoes To Fill
Minor league contracts also were used to acquire infielder Joaquin Arias, Crawford’s platoon mate and a key reserve who actually started 79 games between third base and shortstop, and outfielder Gregor Blanco, who has stepped into the hole left by the PED suspension of Melky Cabrera.
Blanco got his first major league shot in 2008 with the Braves, playing 144 games and batting .251/.366/.309 with 13 stolen bases. His lack of power at age 24 prompted the Braves to replace him in center field in 2009 with a midseason acquisition of Nate McLouth. Blanco didn’t even play in the majors in 2011, spending the year in Triple-A with the Royals and Nationals. Between the two stops he hit .201/.350/.307.
When he became a minor league free agent in the offseason, the Giants were ready. Pro scouting director Jeremy Shelley said the club’s process of identifying players starts with preference lists compiled by pro scouts throughout the year, mixed with data compiled by front office veterans such as himself (a Giants employee since 1994, when he graduated from Santa Clara) and Yeshayah Goldfarb, the club’s director of minor league operations and quantitative analysis.
Former Giants catcher Brian Johnson was the pro scout who covered the upper levels of the Nats system in 2011 and naturally had Bryce Harper at the top of his pref list. But he had Blanco next.
“Our scouts liked him and thought he could compete for a starting role,” Shelley said. “We saw a guy with a .360 career OBP, who could defend up the middle, who could run and swing the bat. We also had followed him in Venezuela in winter ball, and (big league hitting coach) Hensley Meulens and our minor league infield rover, Jose Alguacil, helped recruit him to sign with us.
“We also saw that he hadn’t had much luck; his average on balls in play was low, and we thought that played a part in his low average last year. Even when he didn’t hit, he still had a .350 OBP. So he was at the top of our list last offseason. There’s no question it was a group effort with a lot of people involved in acquiring him.”
Blanco has made the Giants look good, hitting .244/.333/.344 during the regular season, when he ranked second on the club with 26 steals. He posted a .364 OBP through the first two rounds of playoffs.
Every roster this postseason seemed to have a pro scouting success story. The Tigers have their own minor league free agent on the World Series roster in outfielder Quintin Berry, whose skills are similar to those of Blanco and who led Detroit with 21 stolen bases. A pair of minor league free agents helped the Athletics win the AL West in Brandon Moss (21 homers) and Travis Blackley, whom the Giants also signed in the offseason but lost in a May waiver claim.
The Orioles owe much of their success to pro scouts. They found righthander Miguel Gonzalez, the oft-injured, one-time Rule 5 pick who was the team’s top starter down the stretch, going 9-4, 3.25. Baltimore scouts also recommended McLouth, who resurrected his career after being released at midseason by the Pirates. The Orioles also gave second baseman Ryan Flaherty 11 at-bats in the playoffs, making him the first Rule 5 draft pick to start a playoff game in his protection year since the Dodgers’ Chad Fonville in 1995.
World Series championship teams are built around stars such as Verlander and Cabrera, Posey and Cain. But they can’t do it alone, and pro scouts can make a difference by identifying key complementary pieces for championship rosters.