Braves take flyer on Nate Pudewell

On Wednesday, BravesCenter's Bill Shanks asked you to make a call on a scouting scenario. Do you sign a tall right-hander who throws hard, even though there is not a lot of statistical information to project the future? Now Shanks shares the actual story of what happened when this scenario was in front of the Atlanta Braves, and how they had a different reaction from one of the teams labeled as ‘Moneyballers.'

It was mid-May and Nick Hostetler was doing his normal due diligence as an area scout for the Atlanta Braves. He was scouting a number of high school and college players for the upcoming June draft.

And then, his phone rang.

"A friend of mine that lives over in the El Dorado Hills area called me and said, ‘Hey this kid's got a great arm, but we're not going to be able to sign him,'" Hostetler recalls. "So I said, ‘Well yeah, that's interesting.'"

The ‘kid" was 23-year-old Nate Pudewell. He had just started spring training for the Golden Baseball League, a brand new independent league in California. Pudewell had played some college ball at Southwestern Adventist University in Keen, Texas a year after he graduated from high school, and then a year after they dropped their baseball program he pitched at the College of the Southwest in Hobbs, New Mexico. Both were NAIA schools.

After his junior season in 2003-2004, Pudewell attended a major league scouting bureau tryout near Dallas, Texas. "A couple of the scouts were pretty impressed, so I filled out a few info cards," Pudewell says. "They suggested I try to go to a larger school to get more exposure."

So last fall Pudewell transferred to the University of Nevada – Reno, which was not too far from where he was from in Northern California and the school his brother attended. Pudewell started trying out for UNR, but he "played the worst baseball I'd ever played in my life," he recalls. "I don't know what was wrong with me. There were also some problems with my transcript, so they just cut me. Then there was really no point in going to this school anymore, so I just went for the fall at UNR and then decided I'd rather just work."

Pudewell got a job at a Pak-Mail store El Dorado Hills. He told one of his bosses there about his baseball experience, and his boss told him he knew a scout that he would try to introduce him to. The scout's name was Brandon Mozley of the Toronto Blue Jays.

"As soon as I got introduced to Brandon Mozley, I thought, ‘man this guy is a scout – maybe I should start working out,'" Pudewell says.

So he got a catcher from a neighborhood high school and started throwing four days a week. He also started lifting weights again, strengthening his lanky 6'7" frame. His catcher's father also knew a scout, one with the Seattle Mariners. A workout was then arranged after Pudewell felt ready to throw off a mound.

"I called Brandon and told him that if he wanted to come see me, the Seattle scout was going to be there and it would be a perfect time," Pudewell says. "So I got there and the Seattle scout was there and then Brandon showed up. Brandon brought a gun and the Seattle guy didn't for some reason."

Pudewell started his bullpen to try and impress the two scouts. He says he noticed Mozley smiling behind the fence after he threw a few pitches. After about 30 pitches, Mozley walked over to Pudewell.

"Well, let's just do this one more time," Mozley told Pudewell. "Throw it as hard as you can."

So Pudewell reared back and chunked it as hard as he could. The gun lit up in bold red numbers on Mozley's gun: 95.

"Brandon told me that I hit 95 on that last pitch and I hit 94 three other times in the bullpen," Pudewell says. "The Seattle guy, after I threw for him, started giving me this spill about how old I was and how tough it was going to be in the minors. It was kind of depressing, really."

But Pudewell knew he had made an impression on Mozley, who continued to come into the Pak-Mail store frequently. Pudewell kept asking him if the Blue Jays were interested in him as a prospect, but he never really got an answer.

Mozley had somewhat of a dilemma. He obviously wanted to follow Pudewell, and had found out that the right-hander was draft-eligible for this June's draft. But when he told his bosses in Toronto about this diamond in the rough he had found, they had no interest.

"I learned later that Toronto's organization is more of a stat organization, and I hadn't put up any amazing numbers," Pudewell explains. "So they weren't going to do anything."

But thankfully, Mozley thought enough about the young man that he picked up his phone and called one of his friends in the scouting community whom he knew would have an interest. Mozley called Nick Hostetler of the Braves.

"The same day that he called me I got a letter from our office in Atlanta that Nate had sent to our office asking for a tryout," Hostetler says. "So I figured with two things in one day I ought to at least give him a chance."

Hostetler set up a tryout the day before Pudewell was scheduled to leave for the Golden Baseball League's Spring Training. It was raining that day, so Pudewell had to go inside and pitch on one of those flat mounds with no real rubber. But even with the unpleasant conditions, Pudewell still put on a show.

"He was at 93-95 miles an hour," Hostetler says. "He had a heavy fastball with a good split-finger. I'm sitting there drooling at the fact that this kid is 6'7" and he can throw this hard."

Pudewell then took off to play in the GBL. He pitched in two games, losing both and allowing six earned runs in 10.2 innings, with five walks, and nine strikeouts. He knew he was draft-eligible, and that it was possible the Braves could draft him. He hadn't heard back from the Blue Jays or the Mariners, and the only other team that knew about him, the Padres, had never seen him pitch.

"I didn't expect much from the draft at all," Pudewell admits. "The draft came around and everybody on the team thought I was going to be drafted. I told one guy, and then everyone on the team knew."

Pudewell knew if he were drafted, it would be on the second day – on Wednesday. But his phone didn't ring until 9:30 that night; way after the draft was over.

It was Nick Hostetler.

"Sorry we didn't draft you," Hostetler told Pudewell. "We had some other people to get, but if you're still available we'd like to pick you up right now."

"Yeah, man just hook me up," Pudewell responded.

Even though the Braves could have drafted Pudewell, they gambled that they'd be able to sign him after the draft. "Roy (Clark, Braves Scouting Director) did a great job of monitoring whether those other teams (that scouted Pudewell) were taking a lot of draft and follows," Hostetler says. "I was getting a little antsy, but I wasn't going to call Roy. I was letting him do his job. Right after the draft Roy called me and said, ‘Hey don't think I forgot about your boy. Let's get him done.'"

The Braves had to buy out Pudewell's contract from the Golden Baseball League for $3000. Then they gave him a standard minor league contract with a signing bonus of $1000.

Hostetler knows he might have hit lightning in a bottle – and for a cheap price.

"I made a comment to Roy about Nate that if we tweak with this kid's mechanics a little bit, just stand him up a little bit taller and let him throw downhill, this kid might throw 100 mph," Hostetler says. "This kid has a big arm. He's a big kid. I just found out when I signed him that his brother was also a late bloomer. His brother grew like five inches and put on like 100 pounds from the time he was 22 until he was 24. So the whole family is kind of that way. Nate's got such a great arm."

But the Toronto Blue Jays, one of the Moneyball teams that focus on statistical information as their main factor in signing players, passed on a 23-year-old six-foot-seven kid with a fastball in the mid-90s.

"I didn't really think about it, but it was kind of surprising," Pudewell says. "It was surprising because Brandon was so excited about me. He was like, ‘oh man this kid is throwing gas. He's got a great live arm.' Then he couldn't do anything, so I just wondered, ‘why not?'"

"They passed on him because they told their area scout that he wasn't their type of guy because they didn't have stats on him," Hostetler says. "That's what makes the Atlanta Braves so great. We'll give those guys a chance. I told Nate that Kerry Ligtenburg was an independent league guy. I told his dad that if he's going to make it, he's going to make it with our organization. With our track record, and the way we develop arms, he's got a chance. That's why I was so excited about it."

"As excited as I am about the other two picks from my area (2nd rounder Jeff Lyman and 12th rounder Rudy Quinonez), and I love those guys, I'm so intrigued with what Nate Pudewell can do, just because of the fact that he's so raw and there are a whole lot of innings left in that arm," Hostetler believes. "I talked with his pitching coach in the independent league, and in his last start Nate broke four bats in one inning. That league has got some pretty good players. I asked his pitching coach, Jon Warden, ‘Do you think he's got a chance?' He said, ‘well let me put it this way: He's a diamond that's real rough, but he's a diamond in the rough that you've really got to watch.'"

Now Nate Pudewell is down at the Braves' mini-camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports. If all goes well, he'll be sent to Danville, Virginia next week to pitch in the Appalachian League. It's really the first time he's had any serious pitching instruction.

"I haven't had any instruction," Pudewell admits. "I think I went to a velocity coach when I was like 13 or something. But that's about it. So it is really exciting. I'm just starting off from step one. All you're going to throw here is a four-seamer and changeup. And basically I don't throw much of a four-seamer anymore. I'm kind of a slinger, sidearmer, and I roll over the top of the ball when I release it. I didn't think I had a changeup cause I really don't throw a changeup, but apparently I've got one. So they're stressing the four-seamer and the changeup."

"I've worked with Derek Bothelo and Derrick Lewis (the two rookie league pitching coaches). Bo had me raise my arm up because I'm more of a slinger. Derrick told me to land on my toe. These are things I haven't heard before really. They've been pretty nice to me. It's really helped me a great deal. It's pretty exciting. I think they're going to give me some things to do, and I'll feel that I'm not performing well, but I think once I do it for a month it will pay off hugely. They told all of us today in a meeting, ‘we don't care about stats. The main thing for the Gulf Coast League is to throw the ball down the middle and work on your mechanics.'"

The Braves are glad the Blue Jays do care about stats a little more than they do. They passed on a raw, 6'7" right-hander who throws in the mid-90s and has had little pitching instruction. Atlanta GM John Schuerholz frequently talks about taking a prospect and molding it, just like it was a piece of clay. And now, the coaches in the minor league system have a very interesting prospect to mold over the next couple of seasons.

Nate Pudewell may never make it to Atlanta, and for that matter he may never make it out of Danville, Virginia. But for a measly investment of $4000 ($1000 to Pudewell and $3000 to the GBL), the Braves have a projectable arm that they can work with. Any team could have taken the same gamble, but it was the Braves' trust in their area scout that superseded the need for statistical information.

This story shows the tremendous differences in the two philosophies today in baseball. The Moneyball teams focus too much on statistical information, while the traditionalists take many different factors into consideration when scouting potential talent. The Braves not only believed in their area scout, but also have the faith in their farm system to do their job.

The Braves have some of the best pitching instructors in the entire minor leagues. If anyone can develop this kid into a pitcher, it'll be the Braves. And Nate Pudewell believes that even though he's 23-years-old, there's still time for him to become a great pitcher. He's thrown 93-95 mph as really a thrower. What will this kid do when he really learns how to pitch and works out a bit?

"I figure if I can work out and put on another 20 pounds of muscle, I definitely can get into the high-90s," Pudewell predicts. "I think I can get a lot stronger. I've got a big frame to work with, so being 220 is nothing for 6'7". I don't have any fat on me. When I lifted weight and when I'm strong, like when I had been lifting for a month and a half, that's when I hit 95. I felt really strong. My goal I set for myself is to throw 100 mph. It's a high goal, but I'm going for it."

And that's just the kind of prospect the Atlanta Braves love – with or without the great stats.


Bill Shanks has a new book out that is the answer to Moneyball. Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team discusses many philisophical differences in the game like the one demonstrated in this story. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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