Monday, July 2, 2012

An Interview with Bobby Heck, Part 1

Well, I finally got up the nerve to arrange a phone interview with the person whose name I blatantly (mis)appropriated when it came time to give my blog a catchy moniker. I was frankly terrified as I picked up the phone to dial, wondering if I might be greeted with the threat of a cease and desist order at the other end. I couldn't have been more wrong.

When Bobby Heck, Astros Assistant GM, Scouting, answered the phone, I immediately did two things. I congratulated him on last month's terrific draft, and then I addressed the elephant in the room, "I'm sorry I co-opted your name. I didn't realize this thing would take off the way it did." The laughter came, and it was sincere. "We're fine. No, we're good. As long as they don't start throwing darts at it, I'm good." Phew!

I started by talking with him about how the Scouting Department is set up and just generally the big picture of how it all works. Let's start with the last first. Heck sent me this detail on the breakdown after the interview:

·         15 full-time Area Scouts, 5 per region (East, Midwest, & West)
·         4 part-time scouts (PR, NYC, San Diego, & the Bay area of Northern CA)
·         3 Regional Supervisors (JD Alleva/East, Ralph Bratton/Midwest, & Mark Ross/West)
·         1 National Crosschecker (David Post), this role is solely evaluating prospects and he becomes my other set of eyes and ears.

New this year was Mike Elias, Special Asst to GM /Scouting who Jeff brought in with him from STL. Mike is highly involved in a number of areas of scouting (international, professional, & our system). He served this Spring as another National Scout seeing the same caliber of players as myself  & David Post.

The Regional Supervisors crosscheck players that have been turned in for the first 5-7 rounds of the Draft; these players are typically players that are deemed to be Average Major Leaguers or better within our profiling system. The focus for Elias, Post, & myself is the top 2-3 rounds & more of my focus is on the top 50 players.

He went on to emphasize that the entire structure is very much a group effort that feeds off opinions from the bottom up.

On to the interview (edited for clarity and brevity)  ~

On a general overview of the Scouting Department: "Most importantly, we start with 15 area scouts, so called ground troops, and they're divided up into three regions. We have five in the east, five in the central and five in the west. The larger concentration of that group of fifteen is in the southern part of the United States. Looking at my map here, 10 of our 15 really are in the southern end of the country, the southern third. I go out actually and see a number of players. I'm almost like another National Crosschecker. Every Scouting Director does it different. I think some go out and try to see 50 or 75 or 100 players deep and each one is different to that. I try to get out as much as I can and to be involved more with the evaluation process as well as the administrative responsibilities that go along with this position."

On the concentration of scouts in the Southern U.S.: "There are probably some clubs that are closer to this model. If you go back over time and you look where the players have come from, and continue to come from, what's amazing is the percentages that come out of the draft and then the percentages that wind up on the 40-man roster [from certain areas of the country]. The numbers, the parallels are truly remarkably close. We've tried to concentrate our scouts to where most of the players are and still keep a handle on the northern part of the country. If you go to the northwest, our guy has six states. Our upper midwest guy has nine states. Our Ohio Valley guy has five states. But then we have two guys in Florida, two guys that cover Texas, three guys that cover California. We have a guy that does Georgia (and South Carolina as well) and those are the top four states there."

On where they concentrate scouting efforts: "When this last draft ended, the next one started. There's a national event that is the Perfect Game national event that is two weeks after the draft each year. This year it was in Minneapolis for four days. Perfect Game gathers up what they think at that time [are] the top 100 to 125 high school players in the country and we'll send four or five scouts to that. For the most part, this is the kick off [of what Heck refers to as the summer third of the scouting program] and then it ends with the Under Armour Game and the Perfect Game All-American Game late in August. But between those two, there's big tournaments that we cover in depth. There's a Tournament of Stars that just went on in Cary, North Carolina. We had five scouts at that event. And that's really become tryouts for the Junior National team. We really saturate a lot of these high school events during the summer and, for the most part, the best players from college go to the Cape Cod League which we collectively see 50 to 60 games as a staff as well as the U.S.A. National team. So we'll see these players in the summer. Every time we go to an event, our scouts turn in a preferential list of the players they saw there and they rank them and then put them in different categories as per how we profile players and these lists continue to evolve. The summer ... becomes where we identify players and work on seeing them in different venues against good competition and just really take those repetitions and develop history with them in the short periods of time from all the places they play.

And then the second third is the fall season where we go out to the colleges. Most of the major college programs have scout days. They play a lot of scrimmages and intersquad games and most of them have a World Series to cap off their falls. Then we have an opportunity to go back on to these campuses and see these players and see how they progress, whether it's [from] their freshman year or sophomore year or from the summer, and we continue to see the player evolve. Then there's a couple of bigger events for the high school players that we can see where they're progressing at that point in time. The first list the scouts turn in [after the fall] has the players that are on your radar for 2013 and that list will grow and be curtailed as they see the players more, and by the time we get to December first, that list is more ... how we're going to prioritize and scout the players come to the final third of the [scouting] year as we go into the spring."

Heck went on to explain how players will often come to their attention while they are scouting other players. As an example, he used Tampa Jesuit. Since the scouts had seen Lance McCullers numerous times, they would also have seen other players with Tampa Jesuit. "You're going to wind up seeing a junior that's interesting and probably a sophomore just because the legacy of that program. So the junior is going to go onto a 2013 follow list. The sophomore's going to go on a 2014 follow list. [At] colleges, you'll see a freshman, you'll see a sophomore, and they go onto these lists that are down the road. '13, '14 and '15 - these lists are ongoing and they're updated every time we go out and see players."

On how often they will see a mid rounder before drafting him: For the most part ... an area scout would have seen him multiple times and he could have seen him for over a period of two to three years. When you get that low in the draft, it's much more dependent on the area scout. Our crosscheckers, our focus is really the first five rounds of the draft. We've really concentrated on the first five rounds as far as getting extra eyes on players. [That] really takes us through the first ten rounds and then you're really reliant on your area scouts out there so the players that are taken later in the mid rounds of the draft are players that they've had history with. If it's a high school player, they've probably seen them for a year, year and a half, up to two years ... and, at some point in time a regional supervisor would have seen him at some venue or tournament. Possibly there [are] times where I see twenty, twenty-fifth round [players] on Cape Cod league or at the Florida Diamond Club or Jupiter World Wood Bat Tournament."

In Part 2 to be posted on Tuesday, we talk about how one becomes a scout, the new draft rules, working with Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane, and the improvements in the Astros minor league system.

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