For Scout Jack Powell Lightning Struck Twice
CHICAGO—Jack Powell entered scouting as a bird dog for the Reds in 1974. Though he helped land Tom Browning as a part-timer in 1982, he still hadn't claimed a big leaguer all his own when he visited Chipola (Fla.) JC in the spring of 2000.
Little did he realize he was about to see the most talented player he would ever scout.
"I had no idea who he was," says Powell, 58, who was then with the Pirates and now with the Twins. "He wasn't very physical, but I liked his looseness and the way he went about everything. He showed some power, even for a kid who wasn't physically developed.
"I was down there early watching practice, and he was at shortstop taking groundballs. I knew he was a center fielder, but he really jumped out at me taking infield."
The Diamondbacks, Reds and Yankees had tried to sign Jose Bautista out of the Dominican Republic. He would severely sprain his ankle later in the spring of 2000, curtailing his production as a freshman. The Pirates drafted him in the 20th round that June, but he never got healthy enough to sign.
Rules at the time allowed teams to retain the rights to draftees who attended junior college. When Bautista returned to Chipola, healthier and 20 pounds stronger, Powell no longer was the only scout on his trail. Bautista hit 15 homers in 186 at-bats and threw 93-94 mph as a closer, making him a top-three-rounds prospect.
The Pirates inked Bautista for $500,000, the equivalent of late second-round money. In his post-signing report, Powell wrote: "This kid has a chance to hit 35 homers a year in the big leagues." It took Bautista six organizations and seven seasons to become a big league regular, but he has justified Powell's forecast by leading the majors in homers in each of the last two years.
"I never lost faith in Jose Bautista," Powell says. "I always had faith that he'd be able to hit and hit for power."
Lightning Strikes Twice
For almost any scout, signing Bautista would be the highlight of his career. For Powell—who also landed Jeff Bennett, Matt Capps, Jeff Keppinger and Steven Pearce for the Pirates—it might not be.
In 2006, the Rays hired Powell and assigned him to cover the Southwest. He was told what little talent came out of New Mexico high schools usually wound up at the state's colleges and junior colleges. In the first 40 years of the draft, just six players signed out of New Mexico high schools made it to the majors.
Nevertheless, Powell ventured to the state tournament in Albuquerque that May to get acclimated to his new area. There he spied an underdeveloped but athletic lefthander from Moriarty High.
"I fell in love with the way he competed and went after hitters," Powell says. "His velocity was a little erratic, but he got up to 92 (mph) and broke off a couple of very good curves. All that led me to believe there was something more in there."
Powell continued to follow Matt Moore during the summer and watched him play football in the fall. He looked forward to Moriarty's 2007 season opener.
Moriarty is 6,000 feet above sea level, and with the wind whipping down the Rocky Mountains, it can be an inhospitable pitching environment early in the year. On a near-freezing day, Powell and several other scouts saw Moore top out at 88 mph in the first start of his senior year. Many crossed him off their lists.
"I kept going back and kept going back," Powell says, "and the more I went back, the fewer scouts I saw there. It just took a while for his velocity and breaking ball to get back up there. Every time, he kept getting better."
Though Moore hit 92 mph consistently by the end of the spring, most clubs believed he'd join his brother Bobby at the University of New Mexico. Powell knew he was signable and that the Rays could wait to select him. He projected Moore to develop an above-average fastball, curveball and control with at least an average changeup and command.
During the draft, the Cubs inquired of Moore whether he'd be willing to sign in the eighth round. Because of the relationship Powell had built with the Moores, the family tipped him off and Tampa Bay grabbed Moore with the first choice that round, two picks ahead of Chicago. He signed for $115,000.
Now the game's top pitching prospect, he has developed each of his pitches to a grade better than Powell dreamed. Moore won his first major league start with five scoreless innings at Yankee Stadium last September before blanking the Rangers in the American League Division Series opener.
As physically gifted as Bautista and Moore are, Powell points to another shared trait as the key to their success.
"Matt's stuff is totally ridiculous, but I also love the way he challenges hitters and he's a quality, top-shelf kid," Powell says. "I really felt Jose was special, and he never got down on himself.
"It's all about makeup."