Scouting Directors, College Coaches Get Together To Talk
Every December, the baseball world converges upon the Winter Meetings, a sprawling mass of executives, agents, scouts, players, managers, coaches, media personnel and job-seekers. Yet college baseball typically has little if any presence at the Winter Meetings—until now.
At the 2007 meetings in Nashville, 10 leaders among college baseball's coaching community sat down for two hours with scouting directors from every major league club to discuss issues such as the date of the draft and the signing deadline, the escalating influence of agents and advisors in the college game, protocol for scout-player meetings, and how to increase minority participation in baseball.
"It was really good—I thought it was excellent, and probably long overdue," said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, who attended the meeting. "We talked about issues on both sides and opened them up a little bit. By doing that, it gave each group an idea of what they have to go through. In order for two groups to get along, we have to be sensitive to what they're doing, and they have to be sensitive to what we're doing."
The meeting was conceived by American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Dave Keilitz and senior director of major league operations Roy Krasik, who meet two or three times per year along with other high-ranking MLB operations staffers to talk about pressing issues. The main goal was to improve lines of communication and strengthen relationships between the college and professional sectors by getting coaches and scouting directors at the same table.
"In my eight years of going to scouting directors meetings, this was one of the most productive sessions," Indians scouting director John Mirabelli said. "It was a very important first step because we really felt as a group that our relationship with college baseball had deteriorated. We felt that we needed to talk to the coaches directly. We raised some concerns, they raised some concerns, and they were legitimate concerns on both sides."
Points Of Concern
Much of the discussion centered around the placement of the draft and the signing deadline. Major League Baseball has the option of holding the draft anytime in June, but it has traditionally been held on the Tuesday in the first full week of June—before the super-regionals and College World Series. There is an element of risk for clubs, who in some cases must watch their first-round picks compete (sometimes on short rest) for a national championship before they ever sign a pro contract. The timing is also a concern for coaches.
"I'd say obviously it's an issue that really needs to be addressed," said Arizona State coach Pat Murphy, another meeting attendee. "It's not fair to the kid competing for a national championship that he has to drop his focus and look elsewhere. It's exciting for anybody looking at the draft—I'm excited about the draft—but it's not appropriate during the season."
Keilitz said some coaches would rather move the signing date up from Aug. 15 than move the draft back, because they need time to plan their rosters before renewing scholarships on July 1. Nearly everyone agrees that an earlier signing date would be a good thing, but that is unlikely to change before the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated.
Scouting directors also said they wanted more access to fall practice, seating and rosters for scouts at games, and for players to wear numbers during pregame infield and batting practice.
Coaches, meanwhile, said they would like for scouts to try to meet with players before the season as much as possible rather than during the season. The coaches tried to express how much of a time demand individual meetings with scouts from 20 or 30 organizations can impose upon players. One reason for in-season meetings is for scouts to gauge players' signability, but the coaches said the best time for those meetings is the week between conference tournaments and regionals.
Both sides shared concerns about advisors, though Keilitz expressed optimism that advisors will have a diminished role now that players won't be allowed to transfer without sitting out a year. Thus, agents will no longer be able to effectively shop players to potential suitors.
"This has kind of become a phenomenon in the last 15 years or so—every kid seems to have his advisor, not just advising him on pro issues but on where to go to college and what position to play and all of that stuff, and that has really come into being in the last few years," Keilitz said. "It's a total frustration to many baseball programs and coaches, and it certainly is with the pro people. It's almost a shame when you call a kid that you think you're interested in and he refers you to his advisor—some 16- or 17-year-old kid and he has an advisor."
As for the issue of getting more black players in college baseball, coaches indicated helplessness because the pool of black players at the youth levels is so small. Coaches also said their lack of scholarships was causing them to lose quality athletes of all ethnicities to football and basketball.
But Nationals scouting director Dana Brown, one of just two black scouting directors in baseball, expressed frustration with the level of discourse on that issue.
"I thought, personally, it was kind of window dressing," Brown said. "I thought it was something that was brought up. I'm scouting a lot of (prep) players across the country; certainly not all of these African-American players are going to be drafted. There's a lot of guys I see that are good students that could go to some of these elite schools that just don't get recruited. I don't buy that there's not enough African-American players that we can get in school that we can recruit."
As a player, Brown was recruited to play at Seton Hall along with Mo Vaughn and Marteese Robinson by Ed Blankmeyer, who now coaches St. John's and attended the meeting. Brown cited former Florida prep standout turned Southern star Rickie Weeks, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, as a black player who should have been more highly recruited.
"What happened with Rickie Weeks?" Brown asked. "How does Rickie Weeks get out of Florida? That's embarrassing. You don't go from suspect to a first-rounder. That might be the greatest example of neglect in the state of Florida. A guy goes second in the country out of Southern. Rickie Weeks should have had 12 baseball scholarships lined up.
"I'm sure raising the scholarships would help some, I just think that coaches have to make a conscious effort to go out and recruit players. They always talk about, 'Well, there's a drop-off in African-American players in the game.' Colleges have to scout them, recruit them, sign them and develop them also."