Scout's Honor Preview: Dean Taylor Interview

For nine years, Dean Taylor was John Schuerholz's chief assistant in Atlanta. He then went on to become the General Manager in Milwaukee for three years, and is now the Assistant GM in Cincinnati. Bill Shanks continues his previews for his new book "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team" with an interview with Dean Taylor, originally hired by Schuerholz in Kansas City in 1980.

SHANKS: Can you first talk about the Kansas City blueprint and how it matched up with what Atlanta was already doing when you and John arrived.
TAYLOR: It is definitely a similar blueprint, but it's a different market environment. There were significantly more dollars available at the major league level in terms of payroll. The philosophy we had in Kansas City, and the one we had in Atlanta, and for that matter the one I took to Milwaukee as well and the one we happen to be following in Cincinnati as well is that for any organization, regardless of market size, to be successful on a sustained basis and to be competitive over a long period of time the only way to do that is to sign and develop your own players. We're now, and even back in that era, if you want to talk about 1991, in an era of change where players go from club to club in the free agency era or maybe they're traded because you can't afford their contract any longer or for whatever reason there is, as we all know, a higher rate of turnover in player personnel that there use to be 20, 25, 30 years ago. And the most difficult thing, the most difficult task, I believe for any general manager is to successfully manage change. That's what you got to do. The best way to do that is to have a continual flow of quality young players coming through your organizational pipeline who are ready to become major league players and allow you to successfully turn over the other players that go free agent or you have to trade. Kevin Millwood comes to mind. Those situations – you have to have quality players in the system to replace them regardless of whether you're a large market or small market club. You can fill some of your holes via free agency, but for the most part you've got to be able to have that quality talent coming through the organization.

SHANKS: What was some of the other philosophies in Kansas City?
TAYLOR: Well young pitching – we weren't afraid to draft a high school pitcher. We weren't afraid to draft a high school pitcher in Atlanta either. Obviously high school pitchers have been a crapshoot in terms of the draft and we were fortunate in being able to develop them and nurture them and protect them early in their professional careers in terms of pitch counts and things of that nature. We had a lot of success in both Kansas City and Atlanta and the Braves did prior to our arrival in terms of drafting cold weather pitchers who had not pitched a lot and therefore had fresh arms. Avery comes to mind. Mercker comes to mind. Glavine came out of the northeast. We had Mark Gubicza in Kansas City. Wohlers was from the northeast with the Braves. And again a lot of these guys were drafted before we got there. Philosophically, I would say we put a lot of importance on the individual area scouts and really felt like they were as important – if not more important – than any other person in the organization. They're out there at the grass roots level. They're the ones that are really in the trenches, finding players, recommending them for the draft, going through the pre-draft process, putting the pre-draft list together. We always had the philosophy that draft day, in early June, is the single most important day for the organization because it's the day that you have the opportunity with some quality draft picks to replenish your organizational pipeline every year. And then again, if you don't do it, you're not going to be successful over the long term. So we really saw that as a watershed date every year. Our scouts would spend 364 days a year preparing for that one day, and the day after the draft was over they'd start preparing for the next one. So we had a tremendous focus on scouting and tremendous organization for scouting as far as how everything was set up. Really told the area scouts that they were a critical link as far as the future success for the organization.

SHANKS: Tell me about John Schuerholz.
TAYLOR: I think he certainly has a plan in place. I think he will tell you one of the most successful traits of being a good GM is to be a good listener. He is that without question. Somebody ultimately has to pull the trigger on the deal or any personnel decision. The guy sitting in that chair has to make the decision. John's philosophy has always been yea he's the guy sitting in the chair, but the decision he makes is based on the input he gets from other people inside the organization. It may well be completely in conflict with his own personal feeling about it. But he hires scouts that he trusts. He hires player development people he trusts, puts a system in place and let the people work, and listens to what they have to say. I think that's philosophically what happened in Kansas City and what is now happening in Atlanta. I think that everybody feels like they're part of the process – part of the decision-making process. And it's not that way in every organization. Trust me. There are a lot of organizations where it is, but there are many where it's not as well.

SHANKS: The type of player that you guys go after. Can you talk about that, especially makeup?
TAYLOR: The best way to conceptualize it is there is a concept of the whole ballplayer, and this goes back to the Royals days. There are certain skills that can be seen rather easily with the eye by the scout: arm strength, running speed, fielding ability, hitting ability, if you're a pitcher arm strength, quality of breaking pitch, etc. The things that on a scouting report form you fill out a little boxes and grade them out. Then there are things that cannot as easily be seen with the eye, that have to do with what we call makeup. It ranges from aptitude, to competitiveness, coachability, drive, desire, self-confidence, temperment, personal habits. Those are the things that really in many cases determine the quality of the player that you end up having at the major league level. There is certainly a school of thought out there that makeup can be just as important if not more important than the physical tools. However, they are more difficult to determine until you put a player in many cases in a high level professional environment. So a lot of kids succeed in high school, but when you put them in a different environment they can react differently. We tried to do the best job possible in terms of evaluating a player's makeup before the draft through whatever means we could and tried to emphasize that the makeup is a very important part of the equation. In fact, there's a number on every scouting report that's in the upper right-hand corner that's called the OFP – which is what most organizations use – it stands for Overall Future Potential. That is a number that is typically between 40 and 80, 40 being a very fringe major league player and anything below that being a non-prospect. You get up to the 50's those are the average major league players or at least projected to be, and then the 60's and 70's are all stars and your 80's are hall-of-famers. What we have always believed is the OFP that you assign to a player is your overall evaluation of his future tools and makeup. It is that important to the equation. You can't just evaluate the tools without evaluating makeup.

SHANKS: When you got the job in Milwaukee did you try to follow the same blueprint?
TAYLOR: Yes. I tried to follow the same blueprint and we did follow the same blueprint. What was different was the resources as far as depth from a player standpoint just were not there. That was the biggest adjustment for me. I was always used to operating in an environment where you had a number of young players available to talk about in potential deals. So that made it a much more difficult challenge.

SHANKS: Now were you able to have the preference on high school talent when you were there?
TAYLOR: Well we had a best player available philosophy, and we're going to take the best player available on the board in the first round, second round, or third round. Whether it's a high school or a college player, it really didn't make any difference to us. It just so happened that in the three years I was there they were all three high school players: David Krynzel, Mike Jones, and Fielder. But we took a number of college players high as well. We've always that philosophy, and that was John's philosophy, you're going to take the best player available.

SHANKS: Did you know that it was going to be difficult to get what you wanted to accomplish done in three years?
TAYLOR: Certainly I knew that. I knew it was going to be a huge challenge. But the new ballpark made it an attractive option. Obviously a lot of people were excited about the new ballpark at the time. They had that crane accident two months before I got there. I was hired in September of 99. That set back the timetable for the new stadium a full year. It was supposed to open in the 2000 season and ended up not opening until 01. So in terms of the franchise: it had been there a long time, stable ownership group, the opportunity of the new stadium, those kinds of things, made it a very attractive option.

SHANKS: Can you tell me about Paul Snyder.
TAYLOR: Paul is another individual that the most important people in the organization are the area scouts. It gets back to that philosophy. That takes nothing away from anybody else in the organization. I know Paul was always one that – you get in that draft room and you have some difficult decisions to make and the philosophy that John and I always had was this is the scouting director's draft. Some organizations where the GM sits there and says we're going to take this guy. We never did that. The scouting director is the one that has been working throughout the process the whole year, he's closest to it, he knows every player on the board. He's the one when the name "Atlanta Braves" is called and it's your time to pick, it's the scouting director who is accountable so he's got to make the selection. Paul was always one to say that the area scouts are the most important people in the organization. They know the player better than anybody. As you know the scouting hierarchy, you've got area scouts, and then on top of them regional supervisors, typically a west coast, central, and east coast supervisors that oversee the area scouts in their respective territories, and then you probably have a national crosschecker that sits up above the regional guys. So you may get in a room and talk about a player in the draft, and you may have differing opinions. The National Supervisor may have seen one thing, the regional supervisor may have seen something else, and the area scout may have seen something else. Paul was always of the opinion that the area scouts know these guys better than anybody else. They've been living with them. If they're doing they're job right, they know the player, they know his family, they've been watching this guy play not just for one year probably for two or three years whether he's a high school or college player they're going to know the guy. They're going to know him better than anybody else. The regional supervisor may get off a plane and come in and see a guy pitch for one game and write a report and never see him again. He may have had an off day. So what do you do? Paul always said, "I'm living and dying with the area scouts." More often than not, he would rely on the judgment of the area scout. I think because of that his scouts really respected him. They knew he had a lot of trust in them and really believed in what he did. You've got to give a gut check. Who knows these guys better than anybody else? The area scout. Paul is a guy that just has a tremendous work ethic. Scouts respected him. He had good judgment himself. He had the ability to break down a player, which is a very important part of the process obviously. It's easy to fill out all the little boxes on the scouting report form, but the good scouts can really intuitively look at a player and then tell you what kind of major league player this guy is going to be. That's what the whole process is all about: what kind of player are you going to have five years from now when this guy is ready to play in the big leagues? What are we going to have? Forget what we've got right now. Anybody can hold a stopwatch and a radar gun. Our grandmothers can do that job. And he also listened to other people and then put a complete picture together. Part of scouting is scouting the scouts. You have some scouts who are more liberal in their judgments and some that are more conservative.

Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team is at your local Barnes and Noble and other local bookstores. Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com


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