Tigers scouts lay groundwork for prospect-laden deals
On various barstools, in certain office cubicles, and over plenty of phone lines, Tigers fans talk about possible or imagined trades. All the time.
As does a certain front office at Comerica Park.
Four separate deals came Detroit’s way in the past six weeks, all engineered and authorized by Tigers brass that specifically insisted on nine kid-talents from the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Angels, and Astros.
Among a few thousand farmhands, there were reasons the players were earmarked. The Tigers’ interest had nothing to do with national top prospects lists that are readily available and, for the most part, are credible.
The Tigers instead trusted their big-league and minor-league scouts. They relied on the scouts’ reports that each day spill into the organization’s Caesar software system, which helps identify talent other clubs have stashed on their big-league and farm rosters.
Al Avila, the Tigers general manager who on Thursday got four young players in deals for Justin Verlander and Justin Upton, offered something of a toast to scouts who this season had eyeballed each of the players Detroit sought and landed.
He spoke of the “great job” done by Scott Bream, the Tigers vice president of player personnel who heads the team’s big-league scouting staff, and who Sunday was at work in Burlington, Iowa, taking notes on a potential player to be named the Tigers will soon add as payment from the Angels in the Upton transaction.
“The vast majority of these guys, we had multiple looks at, and often times we had three people (scouts) look at these guys,” said Bream, 46, a one-time Padres prospect who in past years has worked as a Tigers scout, as well as a front-office staffer with the Padres. “Guys were bouncing around, all while we were getting cross-looks at those players.
“We were trying to stay a little ahead of the ballgame. As it started to become evident that some of these trades might take place, we started sending guys to where we thought potential targets would be.
“There were a lot of multiple looks. And the guys really worked hard. We asked them to do a lot of things: last-second flights, cross-country flights. We got a lot of important information on these prospects.”
Big-league scouts, of course, differ from amateur scouts whose business is tracking high school and college players ahead of June’s draft.
Big-league scouts operate under something of a misnomer. They take occasional breaks from sizing up big-league talent to check on high-level minor leaguers within their regions.
Mike Russell works the National League East Division. Bruce Tanner is assigned to the National League Central. Jim Olander pays strict attention to the National League West.
On the American League side, Jeff Wetherby is the Tigers’ East Division sleuth, while Joe Ferrone sticks with the Central, and Ray Crone works the West.
Additionally, a pair of longtime Tigers scouts formally retired from everyday labors are yet involved as assistants and advisers: Scott Reid, who keeps an eye on National League players, and Dick Egan on the American League.
Randy Johnson and Jim Rough sweep the Single A minors, as does Murray Cook, as well as former Tigers all-purpose star, Don Kelly, who has added scouting to his minor-league coaching seminars.
Another person heavily involved, Bream said, was Sam Menzin, the Tigers’ director of baseball operations.
“He really helped, especially when I was traveling,” Bream said. “Sam helped coordinate the pro-scouting stuff. There were calls all the time, and Sam was regularly involved with pro scouting, along with baseball operations.”
Because of concentrated info the Tigers had on each club’s prospects, Detroit’s targets were easily identified when Avila and his fellow GMs began to talk deals.
Heavy on the Tigers’ shopping list as they spoke seriously with the Astros were three players: pitcher Franklin Perez, outfielder Daz Cameron, and catcher Jake Rogers.
“We had multiple looks at those guys,” Bream said. “We think Franklin Perez is going to be a quality major-league starter. Cameron, obviously has great bloodlines (his father, Mike, is a former big-league outfielder) and is a great athlete who can play center field.
“And, offensively, his bat’s starting to show. We think he’s going to hit and be a quality everyday center fielder.
“Rogers is a highly regarded defender and we actually think he’s going to hit well. Again, we got multiple looks. Everyone loved the way he carried himself behind the plate, the way he handled pitchers. We think he’s going to be a good one.”
It was the same scouting process that had drawn the Tigers to third baseman Jeimer Candelario, and shortstop Isaac Paredes, who were the Cubs’ payment for Justin Wilson and Alex Avila.
“Candelario, like Perez, was one of the higher-profile guys, and we really like Paredes,” Bream said. “This kid’s got a chance. For being so young (18), he’s got a mature, balanced approach at the plate.
“He’s going to hit, and we think he’ll stay in the middle of the diamond, as well. He’s got great instincts and handles the game well.”
Neither was there a lot of catch-up homework on three Diamondbacks youngsters the Tigers pried from Arizona in a July swap for J.D. Martinez.
Dawel Lugo, now playing second base at Double-A Erie and a potential replacement for Ian Kinsler, was the most advanced of the three infielders Detroit landed.
Sergio Alcantara is perhaps a more likely big-league utility infielder if he makes the cut, while 18-year-old Jose King was a classic high-ceiling speedster whose bat will determine how fast, and how far, he rises.
“The only one we hadn’t seen multiple times this year was King,” Bream said, “but we did have history there.”
And that, Bream explained, was all because Russell, the Tigers’ longtime N.L. East scout, is back with Detroit after having spent two years with the Diamondbacks.
It was Russell’s knowledge that helped make King part of July’s machinations with Arizona.
“We asked a lot of them (scouts) through July, and even through August, and all of them provided great information,” Bream said. “I thought we were as prepared as we could be.”
Now, the next stage: development. It’s the phase where kid talent is prepared for the big-league stage by way of instruction, coaching, and overall preparation. It’s business that remains a low-percentage pursuit, given big-league baseball’s often-cruel capacity to turn prospects into ex-prospects.
It’s an endeavor made more complicated, at least initially, when minor-league regular seasons are wrapping up ahead of next week’s playoffs
“I haven’t yet seen any of these guys, but it’s a big boost talent-wise,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers’ vice president of player development, speaking of how the Tigers farm has been altered in 40-plus days. “You’d like to get your hands on them for a little while and see what the staff thinks about them, but with the season ending so quickly, that’s not realistic in September.
“At the same time, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. We’re confident we’ve got some good players here.”
Littlefield and the front office are mulling who can benefit from winter ball, and what prospects they’ll send to the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla., for the postseason Instructional League, where follow-up teaching will follow into October.
Meanwhile, amateur scouts will take a brief break before they get busy bird-dogging the high school and college baseball fields, all before a most-important date arrives: Next June’s draft, when the Tigers are expected to have an exceptionally early pick, and an invitation to help speed a team’s roster remodeling.