Albert Pujols played for high Class A Potomac in 2000, his first pro season after being drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round in 1999. He finished 2000 at Triple-A Memphis and homered in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. (Photo by Diamond Images)
Fernando Arango crosschecked the Midwest for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays back when Albert Pujols played at Fort Osage High in the Kansas City area.
Pujols’ family had moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when he was 16, and he made a splash in baseball in the summer of 1998, hitting .593 with 35 home runs in American Legion ball. That’s when Arango saw him playing in a tournament.
“The field had cement stands, and I was looking around for him and saw him actually sitting behind the plate between games,” said Arango, a Cuban-American who grew up in Cuba. “I spoke to him in Spanish and we became friends from that point on.”
Pujols’ performance earned him the No. 83 spot on BA’s Top 100 High School Prospects for the 1999 season. By that time, Pujols had graduated a semester early to play at Maple Woods (Mo.) JC. Arango followed, knowing Tampa Bay had the No. 1 pick in that year’s draft.
“I saw him hit a couple of bombs over the trees at Maple Woods, in front of lots of scouts,” Arango said. “One of them was with the Royals, and I just thought we had no chance of getting this guy. He lived 15 minutes away from the Royals’ stadium.”
Arango invited Pujols to a predraft workout, which scouting director Dan Jennings and national crosschecker Stan Meek attended. They worked out Pujols at catcher and balked at his physically mature build. Ultimately, the Rays passed on Pujols, as did the rest of the industry, until the Cardinals popped him in the 13th round. Arango, who had him listed as the top player in his region, resigned to become an agent in protest.
“When I went over my guys in our draft meetings,” Arango said, “I told Dan and Stan that this guy would be a .280-.290 hitter who could hit 40 home runs some day.”
Arango went back into scouting later with the Brewers and then the Cardinals, after Pujols had left the organization. The two remain friends, however.
“When he was at his best, he was the perfect player,” Arango said, “All five tools and 80 knowledge of the game (on the 20-80 scale). That is a perfect player.”