June 1, 2013

Texas Rangers scouts go extra mile to uncover draft gems

Rangers have dug deeper draft to find two rookie starters, Gentry, Kinsler and Moreland.

Jay Eddings has been scouting amateur baseball players the past 16 years for the Texas Rangers, scouring North Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas for future big leaguers.

He’s checked in on players from varying backgrounds, from one-stoplight towns to major universities such as Oklahoma and Arkansas.

But, whether he’s in Hope, Ark., or sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth, Eddings is always looking for two things: tools and makeup. Does a player have something that can get him to the next level, and the mindset to go with it?

“The first thing you do when you walk into a stadium is ask yourself, ‘Does this player pass the eye test?’” Eddings said. “Do they fit in? Do they look athletic? Are they strong and developed? If you see a guy who is overweight, you might have some questions about his work ethic.

“But it comes down to tools and makeup.”

In other words, Eddings and the rest of the scouts are always looking to find who will become the next superstar. From Clayton Kershaw to Matt Kemp to Yovani Gallardo, Eddings has seen several players from the region before they were household names.

It isn’t an exact science, though. Statistics, especially in high school, can be misleading.

“Stats are tough to go by, although if they’re not performing like they should, that can scare you,” Eddings said. “College is a little bit better because the competition is better. You can look at conference stats and if they have a 9-for-12 series or something like that. For pitchers, I always like to see how they fared against a team’s 3-4-5 hitters.”

Said Kip Fagg, the Rangers’ director of amateur scouting: “Those numbers are a piece of the puzzle, but they’re not the end-all, be-all.”

Justin Grimm went 3-7 with a 5.49 ERA over 15 appearances (13 starts) as a junior at Georgia, but the Rangers took him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. Later in the 14th round of that same draft, they selected Missouri right-hander Nick Tepesch, who went 6-6 with a 4.20 ERA over 15 starts.

Now, Grimm and Tepesch are in the Rangers’ rotation and among the early candidates for American League Rookie of the Year this season.

“For me, that’s a very prideful thing,” Fagg said. “We have a staff that works very hard. We’re out there a lot. I can’t imagine there’s one staff in baseball that works harder than we do. We push our guys to go the extra mile and find the extra information. I think that’s attributed to getting some of these guys in the later rounds that have done well for us.”

Hits and misses

For all the Grimms and Tepesches who exceed expectations, scouts and front offices are always wondering what might have been. Or what could have been.

Just ask Eddings.

For instance, he knew Kemp had potential coming out of Midwest City (Okla.) High School in 2003, but didn’t know how it would translate at the next level. The Dodgers, though, found a gem in the sixth round of that draft in Kemp, who has gone on to win a pair of Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers.

Eddings has a couple other regrets, such as seeing hometown players such as Gallardo of Fort Worth Trimble Tech and Shelby Miller of Brownwood not end up with the Rangers.

Gallardo was taken in the second round of the 2004 draft by the Brewers, with the Rangers using two first-round picks on pitchers Eric Hurley and Thomas Diamond. Miller, meanwhile, was available when the Rangers selected Matt Purke with the 14th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

But Eddings has had his fair share of hits. Two who have impacted the big-league club recently include outfielder Craig Gentry and right-handed pitcher Blake Beavan.

Gentry was a 10th-round pick out of Arkansas in 2006, and has spent the past three years with the big-league team. And Beavan, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2007, was part of the trade that landed Cliff Lee during the organization’s first World Series run in 2010.

Eddings first saw Gentry at Arkansas-Fort Smith as a 160-pound outfielder with speed and defense. Gentry then added some weight when he played at Arkansas, and has since developed into a big leaguer.

“I wrote a report saying he had difference-making speed and hoped his bat would develop,” Eddings said. “And he got bigger and stronger from there.”

None of this comes as a surprise to Gentry, of course.

“I wasn’t drafted for my power, obviously,” said Gentry, who batted .326 with a .429 on-base percentage and 16 stolen bases his final year at Arkansas.

“I knew I had to put on weight to play at this level, and I was able to do that.”

As for Irving product Beavan, Eddings said: “He was dominant in high school. He stood out against even the elite high school hitters, and was always sitting 92-96 mph. He had an extreme amount of confidence, too.”

Overcoming odds

It’s always interesting to see what players overcome the longest odds, and the Rangers have a few on their team. Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland were 17th-round picks, and Derek Holland was a 25th-rounder. But nobody faced a bigger uphill battle than reliever Jason Frasor.

“I had four strikes against me,” Frasor said with a grin.

Yes, he did. First of all, he’s a right-handed pitcher and that is always in abundance during the drafts. Second, his size (5-foot-9) was not an ideal size. Third, he was a senior coming out of Southern Illinois. And, finally, he was two years removed from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.

But the Detroit Tigers took a flyer on Frasor in the 33rd round of the 1999 draft, and Frasor has made the most of it. He’s in his 10th season in the big leagues, and has carved out a respectable career as a reliever.

“I was pretty disappointed I wasn’t called that first day, but looking back I understand,” Frasor said. “Ultimately, all you want is a shot and I got my shot. And I understand the whole height thing. It’s just harder to hit a baseball from a higher angle, but sometimes the little man can do it.”

Being drafted in a later round adds motivation, too.

“I’ve always felt like I should’ve been picked higher, but that’s the way it goes,” said Kinsler, who was drafted three times: in 2000 (29th round, Central Arizona College), 2001 (26th round, Arizona State) and 2003 (17th round, Missouri).

“You’re always proving yourself in this game and that was just another moment where I had to prove myself.”

Moreland was a two-way player at Mississippi State, and had potential as a pitcher or position player at the next level. But he slipped to the 17th round after thinking he could be taken in the sixth or seventh round.

“Everybody wants to be a first-rounder, but that wasn’t the case for me,” Moreland said. “So I wanted to go out and prove that I was capable of doing it. It definitely added a little drive.”

Tepesch was once projected to extend Missouri’s long line of pitchers going high in the draft. Aaron Crow and Kyle Gibson were both first-round picks in 2009, the year before Tepesch was eligible. Max Scherzer was a first-rounder in 2006.

But Tepesch went in the 14th round, although he received third-round money.

“I was just happy I got an opportunity,” Tepesch said. “Once you get drafted, everyone is in the same spot.”

That is true. The minor leagues ultimately show whether a player can make the most of his raw ability.

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