By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
More than any other factor, the organizational culture of the Minnesota Twins is shaped by its reliance on scouting. Where most other major league baseball franchises budget for at least one high-priced free agent every year or two, the Twins overwhelmingly prefer to eschew free agents and instead draft and then develop their own players. When that approach isn't sufficient, the organization has proven to be very resourceful at trading for players who are undervalued by other clubs, but who have received high marks from the Twins' encyclopedic scouting reports that are internally circulated and updated every year. USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year for 2005 was the Twins' Francisco Liriano, who was an unheralded pitcher used by the San Francisco Giants to complete a trade involving higher-profile players three years ago. USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year for 2006 is Matt Garza, the Twins' top draft choice in 2005. This shrewd appraisal of talent is the primary reason why the Twins have become consistent playoff contenders despite retaining one of the lowest payrolls in the major leagues.
The Twins' current general manager, Terry Ryan, was first hired by the team as its director of scouting, and is the person most responsible for the franchise's steadfast commitment to quality scouting. The current scouting director, Mike Radcliff, is completing his 13th year in that job, the longest tenure in the major leagues. Now 49, Radcliff oversees the work of 53 scouts (28 of them full-time) arrayed throughout the country and at select baseball hot spots around the globe. Most of the time he too is out bird-dogging baseball talent, only coming to Minneapolis for a week to coordinate the annual amateur draft, and then for a few days in late summer when the minor leagues have finished their seasons. That's how we were able to snag him last week—at the ballpark, naturally, watching from the stands along the third-base line as the Twins took batting practice three hours before game time.
City Pages:Is there a secret, or a succinct explanation, for why the Twins have been so successful with their scouting operation?
Mike Radcliff: I'm not sure you can summarize it quickly. First of all, Terry Ryan is a major reason we do the things we do. He is a former scout, he is very regimented and detail-oriented; his communication is great and everyone is included. Terry doesn't get off-track very often when he is going through whatever exercise it is. And most of the things involved in scouting development are an exercise. They require teamwork among a lot of people, and time, patience, research, and study. Most of the decisions in player development and scouting aren't spontaneous; they occur over the course of time.
CP:How many sets of eyes you will put on somebody you are looking to draft or acquire? A half-dozen, or maybe just one or two really top-notch people?
Radcliff: There are different ways to do it. Some teams will subscribe to the "expert" approach where one guy makes the bulk of the decisions. We are definitely a team where if we get nine looks on a player, we want the tenth one if possible. All of our player-development people, including our minor league coaches and managers, are required to evaluate players, which is different from most organizations.
CP:You mean like a third-base coach in AA is required to write reports on every player he sees?
Radcliff: Yes. And we'll call anybody, from the trainer to the GM to the other front office personnel in the minor leagues, to get information through any source that's out there.
CP:Let's take a high-profile example. In what is generally regarded as one of the most lopsided trades of all time, you dealt catcher A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco for three pitchers: Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, and Francisco Liriano. Did you have reports on those three?
Radcliff: We have a book on every organization, and in it there are reports we have made on every player in that organization. So before we make a trade we look at the book and talk it out. Wayne [Krivsky, the Twins' former assistant general manager, who is now GM of the Cincinnati Reds] saw and recommended Joe Nathan for that deal. I saw Bonser; other scouts had seen Liriano.
We had thought about drafting Bonser, so we had reports on him going back to high school and every year since. Same thing with Liriano, we knew him pretty well. He was actually a big-money signing out of the Dominican League. He was an outfielder originally, and they converted him to pitcher when he was 17 years old. Then he had arm problems his first few years in the minor leagues. He only had very limited innings the year we took him, pitching out of the South Atlantic league, but we saw him before he was hurt. Then he was in the Instructional League and we found a report from our guy who saw him there.
So we had those two reports defining him as having physical talent. He was way down there in the minors, so there was a lot of projection and a lot of risk, but our guys had defined his attributes and made it clear that this guy was worth the risk. We were going to trade Pierzynski anyway; he was a good player but we were fortunate because Joe Mauer was ready. We had three or four teams pursuing A.J., and Terry was persistent about trying to get a third body. The Cubs and some others made some offers.