John Barr is the Giants’ Director of Scouting. He shares a glimpse inside the draft room.
Late Monday afternoon, a voice from New York came through the speakerphone in a third-floor conference room at AT&T Park.
“This is Chuck. We are now eight minutes out.’’
“Sounds like Mission Control before liftoff,’’ one of our scouts cracked.
I laughed because that’s kind of how draft day feels: Your entire staff has worked all year for this one moment.
We were sitting at two long tables in the so-called “war room’’ facing a large video screen where the broadcast of the first round was about to begin on MLB network. I scanned the room at the people who had worked so hard all year. Every one of them had a key part in what would happen today and for the next two days of the draft.
There was Yeshayah Goldfarb, director of quantitative analysis; Jeremy Shelley, senior director of pro scouting; Dick Tidrow, director of player personnel; Bobby Evans, vice president of baseball operations; scouting coordinator Adam Nieting; minor-league operations coordinator Eric Flemming; information technology coordinator Dan Quill; our two national scouts – Ed Creech and Doug Mapson; our three regional scouting supervisors – Joe Strain, John Castleberry and Arnold Brathwaite; coordinator of minor league trainers Jay Williams; and, of course, general manager Brian Sabean and support staff.
“Who’s going to carry the flag for our draft class?’’ I said, studying yet again our “Top Players’’ list on a white board in the front of the room.
We had begun seven days ago with 823 names on magnetized nameplates. From a database compiled and distilled by Adam and Eric, Yeshayah punched up video clips, projecting them onto the front screen. Simultaneously on a side screen he projected a spreadsheet showing the player’s statistics, the scouts’ “grades’’ and evaluations plus notes about intangibles like character, competitiveness and maturity.
From morning til night, we dissected each player’s mechanics and debated his potential. In the amateur draft, you’re not choosing players because of who they are now; you’re choosing the ones you project will have value for your organization after three or four or five years of development in the minor leagues. Jay advised us on possible health issues. Our quantitative analysts provided statistical insights and comparisons. Our scouting supervisors presented problems we might have in signing a particular player – for example, unrealistic money demands or a strong commitment to go to college.
Then we ranked the players one by one. Medical or “signability’’ concerns were noted on the nameplates with different-color stickers.
Now the 823 names were in neat rows on huge white boards around the room, arranged in order of preference. For the first time in a week, our laptops were quiet. There was nothing to do but wait and see how the board would shake out.
We had the 20th pick in the first round.
As teams ahead of us made their choices, we removed nameplates from the board. We loved right-hander Chris Stratton, a big kid who had progressed from not being drafted out of high school to pitching out of the bullpen at Mississippi State to becoming the SEC pitcher of the year. I had watched him strike out 17 batters in a game against LSU this season. This kid was athletic and competitive on the mound. He had size and strength. He had four good pitches.
As the 10th, 11th, and 12th teams made their picks, Stratton was still there.
Bobby Evans sat at the back table working the phones. He was in constant touch with the agents, gathering information about which teams might take which players and what kind of money might be on the table.
The 13th, 14th, 15th picks – and still Stratton was on the board. So were a few other players we liked a lot.
“Can you get up Stratton’s last outing?’ I asked Yeshayah.
Stratton’s video appeared an instant later on the side screen. We watched again his clean, athletic delivery that suggested he could pitch for a long time — was only going to get better.
“So everybody good with Stratton?’’ I asked. “We like him better than the other guys up there?’’
It was our turn. Adam Nieting leaned toward the speaker phone: “The Giants select Chris Stratton from Mississippi State.’’
“Congratulations, everybody!’’ I said, excited and relieved. I thought about all the work, all the travel, all the games, all the reading and all the time everyone in this room – particularly our scouts – had put into this selection and the selections that would come over the next two days.
Within seconds, Bobby was on the phone with Stratton.
“Well, congratulations. Long road, I’m sure, huh?’’ Bobby said. “Are you at home? Is your family there with you? Is that right? That’s great. Well, we’re looking forward to working with you.’’
Bobby brought the phone to me then Brian and Dick Tidrow so we could pass on congratulations and welcome him to the organization.
Around the tables, the laptops were firing up again. Who did we want next? Were we still OK with this guy instead that guy? We were looking again at the video and scouting reports, double-checking and triple-checking our rankings.
One round down.
Thirty-nine to go.