Scout's Honor Premium Interview: Dan O'Brien

In his new book, "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team," Bill Shanks talks about how the Braves use their farm system to strengthen their major league roster. Last spring the Braves did just that when they traded Bubba Nelson and Jung Bong to Cincinnati for reliever Chris Reitsma. In another preview of the book, Reds' General Manager Dan O'Brien talks about the trade with the Braves and how he's using some of Atlanta's same philosophies in Cincinnati.

SHANKS: You probably knew how deep the Atlanta Braves are in starting pitching prospects. So can I assume when John Schuerholz called and wanted to talk with you that you knew right off the bat what you were going to ask for and were probably pretty excited about it.

O'BRIEN: I'd say that is a very safe statement.

SHANKS: Is it difficult when a team has so many pitching prospects to decide which ones to go after?

O'BRIEN: Well the reality is any trade always has multiple twists and turns. There's obviously a position taken by the Braves and a position taken by us in terms of what we were looking for. Ultimately, after going back and forth many times, this is what we felt was in their best interest and in our best interest as well. It evolved over the course of several days. It took a variety of shapes and sizes, but ultimately this is how it played out.

SHANKS: How long did the discussions go on?

O'BRIEN: I would say it was approximately a week. I'm not certain of the exact time frame.

SHANKS: When you're trading an established major league with Reitsma, do you start out with a list of minor leaguers and go from there? Is that a difficult process to get teams to agree to trade young pitchers?.

O'BRIEN: What it ultimately comes down to is that every organization is responsible for structuring their scouting information, and I suspect we're no different from Atlanta or any other club. You have prospects classified into different categories based on their future potential. Basically you try to position yourself to be able to acquire as many of the desirable prospects as possible in any given transaction.

SHANKS: How high did you have Bubba Nelson and Jung Bong rated?

O'BRIEN: On our particular organization of the Atlanta Braves we had those two individuals in the upper end of their system.

SHANKS: Many thought Bubba was the top prospect after Wainwright was traded.

O'BRIEN: I think we were equally pleased to have both Jung and Bubba and understanding that Jung was going to have to go through a transformation this year in going back to starting. While he had been a starter his entire minor league career, the fact that he relieved last year it's not a automatic where you just turn the switch and oh he's a starter again. You've got to build him back up and get him conditioned for that role.

SHANKS: Was it difficult to get John Schuerholz to give up prospects like Bubba and Jung?

O'BRIEN: The reality is this was a process, and ultimately this is where we ended up. I mean there's no doubt that John was very forthright as he always is in the fact that Reitsma was his target.

SHANKS: Let me ask you about Dean Taylor. He was John Schuerholz's assistant GM in Atlanta. You guys go back a ways don't you?

O'BRIEN: Well we've certainly known one another a long time, but we've never worked together. But I've always admired Dean and the way that he conducted himself and always respected his baseball acumen.

SHANKS: Did you go to college together?

O'BRIEN: No we both went to the same school at Ohio University. Dean wouldn't want me to say this too loud but he was a little ahead of me.

SHANKS: Wasn't Terry Reynolds (Reds Amateur Scouting Director) there too?

O'BRIEN: Correct.

SHANKS: What are Dean's attributes? Does his background with John Schuerholz enter into his attraction as an executive?

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Obviously the Braves and what they've accomplished speak for itself. They stand alone in the industry for what they've accomplished and the continuity and the consistency. Bottom line is they are a winning organization. They position themselves that way year in and year out. They've done it ostensibly through player development and scouting. Dean obviously has had success working with John in Atlanta and in Kansas City as well. And the fact that Dean has run his own club in Milwaukee. Bottom line is Dean is a professional through and through. He knows this business and I rely very heavily on his judgment.

SHANKS: Your father was a longtime baseball executive. Was he your biggest influence?

O'BRIEN: Yea I would have to say so. Realistically when you literally from the time you can remember grow up at the ballpark you're going to go one of two ways. You're either going to learn to love it or hate it. I learned to love it. Certainly I could spend a lot of time on my father but that's not the focus of what you're doing. But let's just say I learned what it was to be a profession in this business and the responsibilities that carry forward with it.

SHANKS: He was with Texas, right?

O'BRIEN: He was in Texas, Seattle, Cleveland, and Anaheim in various titles, but in essence President/General Manager.

SHANKS: Who else influenced you?

O'BRIEN: I'm very fortunate that I've worked for some outstanding people during my career. I learned a great deal from Bill Wood, who was the longtime Farm Director and General Manager in Houston. I learned a little different perspective on the game from Bob Watson, who was a General Manager but also had played the game, and in terms of understanding the game and structuring and putting a team together with the roster Bob really meant a lot to my understanding of it. I could give you a long list of people. There were two people, both older gentlemen, one who is now deceased, George Brophy, who was the longtime Farm Director of the Minnesota Twins who I worked with. He was invaluable history book of the game and how it evolved into the modern game. He was an outstanding individual. A fellow by the name of Hal Keller, who was a Farm and Scouting Director for Texas and Seattle, basically reinforced the importance of player development and scouting as the foundation of any successful organization. Period.

SHANKS: It's obvious from looking at your trades that you are trying to get young pitching in return. How important is that – not only to get pitching for the Reds, but so when you need to go out and get a Chris Reitsma you'll have the prospects to be able to do it?

O'BRIEN: As an organization, we're continually working and striving to add depth to our system. We know the importance of it. We've got some work to do in that area. There's no question about it. In all of the transactions we contemplate, we look for pitching.

SHANKS: The last few years the Reds have gone after college players. Then last year you had a number of high school draft picks. Is this going to be the trend now for the Reds?

O'BRIEN: I don't know that we're necessarily focus on the age of the pitchers. But at the same token we're not going to limit ourselves to the talent pool to a particular type be it college, junior college, or high school

SHANKS: Last year in the draft you could have taken the Sowers kid from Vanderbilt but instead went with a high school pitcher. Is this an indication you are going to try to be patient and build up the system at a good pace? Is this the patience shining through here?

O'BRIEN: I think it is and as you well know patience doesn't just manifest itself in making decisions in the draft. It comes into play as far as your development process in your minor league system, and this is the thing that gets frustrating for the fans, it also has to permeate what you are doing at the major league level.

Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team will be out this spring. Bill Shanks can be reached at

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