Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An Interview with Bobby Heck, Part 2

In case you missed it from yesterday, Part 1 can be found here.

My interview with Bobby Heck continues (again edited for clarity and brevity) ~

On how one becomes a scout: "Usually you're a bad player. [laughter] I played in the minor leagues for a few years. I grew up in south Florida and once I got done playing I had a chance to go on and had some opportunities but I saw the writing [on the wall]. I guess I was a pretty good scout, knowing that I was just going to be spinning my wheels and got back and finished up my degree while I went back and I coached at the junior college I played at in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida - Broward Junior College. At that time, I thought I wanted to be on the field and be in player development but I got to create some relationships with some scouts that were in the South Florida area and I was lucky I had a pretty good mentor, a guy name of Steve Souchock, who incidentally was in the Yankees organization for over 30 years as a player, as a coach, and roomed with Joe DiMaggio at one time. He kind of steered me toward the scouting world and once I got a taste of it, it's definitely what I wanted to do. And from there, I was coaching in my junior college, finishing up my degree and had a chance to be an associate scout ... the term [is] bird dog scout where you don't get paid, you help out a full-time scout, try to turn up names and look for players and help that guy out. It can lead to opportunities, which it eventually did. I actually started as an associate scout with the Brewers and did that for two years. Then they put me on part-time. That was still without pay [but] I got reimbursed for my expenses and that led to a full-time area scout position in '95 with the Texas Rangers."

On the new draft rules: "We've had rule changes over the years. We don't get to pick them but we always have to work within the rules that we're given. It took a while to digest and understand how we're going to have to go about this, but I think no one really knew what was going to happen until we got engaged in the draft and the parts were moving at that point. I think philosophically we looked at it a lot of different ways. We just looked at it as a pool of money and weren't married to any of the soft assigned slots and what we tried to do was maximize that top ten pool money and we feel like we did. We feel like we executed the plan that we set out to."

On not having a clear cut number one pick: "I've never picked number one before. You look back through the history of the draft where there's just clear cut number ones. You can't really pass on a talent. In recent drafts with Harper and Strasburg, and you go back over time with Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr., where they're clearly a different grouping than the rest of the players in the draft and they almost, they pick themselves. But that player wasn't in this draft. Fortunate, unfortunate, the plus was we had options, we had a handful of players where we had a collective opinion that we liked them and then Correa, with that signing, it did allow us to see some opportunities beyond the first pick."

On the success of this year's minor league affiliates: "It's fun reading our minor league reports each day because obviously we'd been getting our head beat in know[ing] we had the worst collective record in minor league baseball last year and we had no teams that were. 500. Then we get to the draft and we have four of our long season clubs that get through the first half and all are playing over .500, very competitive, and with the same players because we hadn't added this new draft class [yet]. We had added some guys at AAA that were free agents which you do every year, but obviously we did a better job of that. We had a number of players repeat this year, which a lot of them needed to do, but even those that repeated are still below league average age wise. It doesn't change their prospect status. It's been fun watching and I think as much as Jeff [Luhnow] gets credit for his scouting acumen and resume in St. Louis, he was also heavily involved with the minor league development, and I think his shadow has been cast on that side as well because the [improved] run differential is tied to a lot of things we're doing much better. We're catching the ball better in the minor leagues. Our pitchers are striking out more hitters than they did last year and the difference between earned runs and unearned runs has tightened up as well and that says a lot for how our pitchers are handling situations as well as [how] our defenders are doing."

On working with new GM Jeff Luhnow and new owner Jim Crane: "With Jeff and his background, it was almost like having two scouting directors. He was familiar with a lot of the players, then putting what he did in St. Louis together, combined to what we had done here since my arrival, I think once we sat down and lined our stuff up against one another, we realized we do things much more similar than probably people would have thought from the outside. I do know, over the past five years, we've been in a lot of the same parks as the St. Louis Cardinals. I think there were a lot of assumptions made that we were going to become a Moneyball club, but we never really saw St. Louis as a Moneyball club when Jeff was at the reins. We didn't do a whole lot different or ask our scouts to do a whole lot different than they were doing. I would say the management and application of information is much more advanced than we were doing. I think that was probably the biggest leap we made as a scouting staff in helping us make decisions, but the one common thread [is that] we've got a good group of scouts here. Did we have to change? No, I just think we had some adjustments to make and some adapting to new thoughts and new ideas. I think Jim's very aggressive and Jim has a thorough understanding of having a pipeline of players coming through. It takes a long term commitment, a heavy financial commitment, an aggressive commitment to buy into that, which Jim does and from that standpoint, I think he understands that there's a time for this process. We live in an instant gratification world now, but I think from Jim's playing background he understands as much as we live with clocks, a lot of baseball is still timeless and it takes a time commitment to rebuilding an organization."

My thanks to Bobby Heck for his time and his graciousness. As we wrapped up the phone call, he once more assured me with a good-natured chuckle, "No, we're good, we're good." What the Heck, Bobby? lives on.


  1. Please, next interview with Bob Heck, ask him about his evaluation of player tool sets, generally speaking, per position, and the over-use of the term "5-tool player". You can probably count on one hand the # of 5-tool players in the Majors, so why not reserve the phrase for truly special athletes, maybe a Bo Jackson type player or Willie Mays, Mike Trout could be the latest inductee to the club. Maybe there should be a 5-Tool Award each year similar to the triple crown, but it doesn't necessarily have to be given out each yr. Thanks. Enjoyed the interview. Great draft this yr by Houston, very efficient use of the bonus pool.

  2. Thanks for this information. Some great insights into what Heck and the Astros are doing.