When Major League Baseball announced a set of draconian new restrictions on spending in the draft and the international market a couple months ago, teams like the Rangers and Rays and Blue Jays and Reds and anyone else not positioned to spend in more conventional markets like the Yankees and Red Sox can were penalized.
The competitive advantage that Texas had developed in Latin America, for instance, was watered down considerably because of hard composite spending caps, the requirement that international amateurs register with the Scouting Bureau, and the rumored implementation of combine-like showcase events where the top players from that pool would be spoon-fed to all 30 clubs. The upshot seemed to be that tenacious scouting would be less advantageous, and theoretically less essential.
And yet the Rangers added to their scouting staff this week.
With the ability to score internationally diluted, Texas fortified its stateside scouting effort substantially. While spending in the draft will be capped, the strike rate on finding high school and college players can always improve, and the Rangers are seeing to it that more talent evaluators will see more draft-eligible players going forward.
In 2011, Texas employed 17 full-time area scouts. That number increases to 18. Several new scouts were brought in to replace those who departed for other organizations or were promoted or dismissed, and the added post comes in the State of Texas, where Randy Taylor’s job will now be handled by two men, Jay Heafner (who will cover Lousiana in addition to Southern Texas after having had the Northeast United States region, where he scouted and signed Mike Olt) and Steve Watson (entering his first season as a scout). The Rangers also have two part-time scouts in North Texas, Mike McAbee and James Vilade.
Taylor is the new Midwest Crosschecker, part of the organization’s effort to boost the tier of the scouting department that reports to Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg. Last year, Texas had three crosscheckers, responsible for specific regions of the country (Western, Central, and Eastern) and the area scouts who scour them. This year, the role will be split into four territories (West Coast, Midwest, Southeast, and Eastern), and an extra tier above those four is being reinstated in the form of two National Crosscheckers.
Phil Geisler remains the Eastern Crosschecker, John Booher moves from pro scout to Southeast Crosschecker, and Casey Harvie comes in from the Angels organization (where he scouted and signed Mason Tobin) as the West Coast Crosschecker. Before joining the Angels, Harvie served as an area scout for Cleveland (overlapping in part with John Hart and Mike Daly) and Colorado (coinciding with Thad Levine).
The National Crosscheckers are Mike Grouse, who has scouted for the Rangers for 20 years, mostly recently as Central Crosschecker, and Clarence Johns, who comes over from the Astros, where he was East Coast Crosschecker the last four seasons after scouting for the Dodgers (at a time when A.J. Preller and Don Welke were there) and Rockies (including one year while Levine was still there).
The key bullet point for both Grouse and Johns came in the 17th round of the draft. Grouse, at the time an area scout with coverage of six Midwest states, recommended Ian Kinsler in 2003, a year after Johns, who was scouting in Florida for the Dodgers, had traveled to Chipola Junior College to scout the school’s starting catcher, a draft-and-follow that Los Angeles had chosen in 2001. He didn’t like the catcher, but was convinced that Chipola’s third baseman, Russell Martin, could be a tremendous catcher prospect himself. The Dodgers took him in 2002’s 17th round.
The Rangers’ 18 area scouts will report to Taylor, Booher, Harvie, and Geisler, who will report to Grouse and Johns, who will report to Fagg. They’ll all see players.
Texas employed 10 pro scouts in 2011 and will go with that same number in 2012, though the group includes two new men, Chris Briones (who caught in the Rangers system in 1995 and 1996 and was most recently a hitting coach in the Diamondbacks’ farm system) and Ross Fenstermaker (who began last season as a pro video scout for the Rangers). They replace Booher and Greg Smith, the latter of whom was promoted to Special Assistant, Major League Scout, a key advisory position in Jon Daniels’s cabinet.
Joe Furukawa, Hajime Watabe, and Curtis Jung, all integrally involved in the scouting and recruitment of Yu Darvish, are now officially listed as international scouts for the organization. Jim Colborn’s title was amplified from Director of Pacific Rim Operations to Senior Advisor, Pacific Rim Operations.
I don’t know whether Roy Oswalt is going to sign with Texas (despite Dave Cameron’s proclamation at FanGraphs that “[n]o team in baseball needs a starting pitcher less than the Texas Rangers”) and I don’t know what the club has planned next if he does.
But I do know that Texas will pick four times in the first two rounds of the draft in June, positioned (for now) at 29, 39, 53, and 81, a range in which the club has made plenty of noise the last few years (2007: Julio Borbon , Neil Ramirez , Tommy Hunter , Matt West ; 2008: Robbie Ross ; 2009: Tanner Scheppers , Tommy Mendonca , Robbie Erlin ; 2010: Luke Jackson , Mike Olt , Cody Buckel , Jordan Akins ). And even though the specifics of some of the CBA changes are still murky, I know that each team’s league-imposed draft budget will be amplified to cover extra picks.
And I also know that, no matter what measures the league implements in an effort to even the playing field by amputating the clubs that have scouted the most aggressively and effectively, the Rangers aren’t going to surrender that advantage they’d created for themselves. We’re already seeing how resources might be reallocated, how strategies might be adjusted, with this week’s expansion of the scouting roster.
That’s not to say that Texas won’t remain at the forefront internationally – because it’s not about who spends the most money in that market as much as it’s about who spends it most intelligently – but it’s clear this week that the Rangers are taking steps to be even stronger in the draft, as they strive to find the next Ramirez and next Erlin and next Olt and keep a top-five farm system in that same tier, even as waves of prospects continue to graduate.