Winter Meetings Notebook: Scouts Honored At Ceremony

ORLANDO—The 2013 Scouts of the Year are being honored this week during the Winter Meetings, including Monday at Minor League Baseball’s honors luncheon.

Three of the winners, who were selected by their scouting peers, were present Monday: East winner Howard McCullough and Midwest winner Bill Bryk, both of the Diamondbacks; and West winner Doug Mapson of the Giants. Directors winner Bill Kearns of the Mariners had not arrived by Monday’s luncheon, but could be in attendance for Wednesday’s Scout of the Year banquet.

Mapson is best known for signing future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux as a second-round pick in 1984 when he worked for the Cubs. He scouted for the Phillies and Cubs prior to the Giants, whom he has worked the last 22 years. He’s currently their national crosschecker.

Bryk has spent 44 years in the sport in a variety of roles, including assistant farm director and field coordinator. He also is credited as a signing scout for Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. He’s spent the last decade as a trusted aide to Arizona general manager Kevin Towers, first with the Padres, now with the Diamondbacks.

McCullough has deep North Carolina ties, as both he and his son Clayton played at East Carolina; Clayton now manages in the Blue Jays system. Howard McCullough scouted for the Red Sox for a decade before joining the Diamondbacks when the expansion team began drafting players  in 1996. He’s currently their Southeast crosschecker.

Kearns, who has scouted in New England for a half-century, has been with the Mariners since their inception in 1977 and has served them as a major league and special assignment scout for the last two decades. He previously coached in Massachusetts while serving as a scout for the Dodgers and Royals.

—John Manuel

Leaders Offer Hope At Opening Session

Even after another challenging season in which overall attendance remained flat for a third consecutive season, Minor League Baseball’s top officials kicked off the Winter Meetings on Monday with a message of optimism and encouragement for a strong industry.

Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, vice president Stan Brand and new chief marketing officer Michael Hand each praised the minors’ standing in the professional sports landscape and offered reason to believe the sport will only continue growing as the overall U.S. economy stabilizes.

“We continue to deal in an economy lacking stability, direction and consumer confidence.  As we battle higher costs of goods and operations, I am extremely proud of your commitment to keeping our prices affordable, attractive and competitive in the marketplace,” O’Conner told a packed ballroom of minor league team operators and league officials. “We are forced to keep a constant eye on the “profits and losses” while not compromising quality.

“We are experiencing growth in our business while other sectors are still being forced to deal with recessionary conditions. It was brought to my attention last week that our fans spent over $50-million on licensed merchandise last year and since 2000 our program revenues have risen 63 percent. It is not easy to maintain this kind of consistent commitment and impressive growth, but we do it.”

O’Conner did speak of the increasing challenges teams face, “including widespread confusion and mounting frustration of a national healthcare system undergoing a historical change,” and growing consideration for “fan safety and anti-terrorist thinking into our business model at new, higher levels.”

Brand—who works out of Washington, D.C., and oversees the sport’s efforts on Capitol Hill—updated his presentation last year on Minor League Baseball’s efforts to protect its digital rights. He offered optimism that the Stop Online Piracy act, which would have allowed the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue felony charges against websites that pirate copyrighted work but was previously defeated in Congress, will be revisited by legislators in the near future. He stressed the importance of this measure on the industry’s online presence.

“Protecting the new revenue sources that we are developing for video streaming of our games, as one example, will become more important as we improve technology and expand this product into more markets,” Brand said. “This past season MiLB had approximately 33,000 subscribers who had access online to more than 3,500 live games watchable on personal computers and mobile devices at reasonable prices. The revenue from these products helps MiLB clubs offer fans wholesome entertainment at affordable prices. The failure to protect these copyrighted works could threaten the financial stability and profitability of our industry.”

Perhaps the most interesting and entertaining speech came from Hand, who is in his first year on the job since taking over Minor League Baseball’s Project Brand initiative that looks to market the industry as a whole rather than 160 separate teams. Hand, who describes himself as high energy and showed that off at podium while describing how the minors are positioned in the marketplace compared to other professional sports. Hand described Major League Soccer as “glorified minor league soccer” and Nascar “as a bunch of guys who turn left.”

“We’ve drawn over 41 million fans for nine straight years,” Hand said. “We are in front of real people, real consumers every year.”

Hand noted the minors’ affordability—a family four can take in a minor league at an average cost of $62.52 compared to $459.65 for the NFL and $207.80 for MLB—and its reach—minor league teams play in 77 of the top 100 U.S. markets and cover 74.4 percent of U.S. markets.

While discussing the sport’s future, Hand said he is planning a 50 markets in 50 days trip—when he plans to put teams in contact with top local and national companies.

“The next phase is to try and draw revenue,” he said. “We’re asking for seven-figure deals.”

Josh Leventhal