SHANKS: Tell us first Johnny how you joined the Braves' organization.
ALMARAZ: Basically Paul Snyder is one individual that I've admired my entire career. He kind of set my work ethic and the way I approach things based on Paul Snyder. I consider him a type of a mentor and really an example for a lot of scouts. Paul is basically the individual that I talked to and we talked and there was an opportunity and I took it.
SHANKS: You spent seventeen years with the Reds. That's the only organization you've ever worked for. So this is very different for you, isn't it?
ALMARAZ: Paul knows an individual that got me into this game by the name of Tony Robello. There was an old style-way of doing things. Certainly he remembers the way a lot of the old timers used to go about their business. Paul is just an example. The one thing that I wanted to experience during my career was working for somebody that I really admired, and I really hadn't had the opportunity to accomplish that. It became available and I took it.
SHANKS: In your seventeen years, have you had just about every job as a scout?
ALMARAZ: Basically yeah. Actually I was an area scout in Texas for a number of years. That's basically where I got the start. I had Texas from 92 up until 1999. I scouted that area.
SHANKS: Are contacts the key when you are scouting internationally?
ALMARAZ: Absolutely. It doesn't matter where you are scouting, whether it's domestically or internationally. You've just got to have plenty of contacts. You have to get up every single day with the intention of going to the ballpark and looking for major league prospects. I think the more days, and I call them quality days because you want to do your homework and go to the right places, the more quality days you spend out on the road the more chances you have of coming up on a pretty good major league prospect that nobody else knows about.
SHANKS: Your experience as the Farm Director last year… what did that do for your career and your developmental process as a baseball executive?
ALMARAZ: Well you know I had been involved in development since 2001. It helps you understand when you haven't been on that side the process that a player has to go through to accomplish that major league status. With the development of that position player or pitcher there's a certain process that exists. You have to be patient. You have to be positive. It really teaches an individual to be patient and positive and not so much the ‘now' stuff, which when you're scouting you are looking at the present ability. You want the careers to be accelerated through a minor league system so they can get to the big leagues as soon as possible. But as we all know that all depends on aptitude and how quick they learn and how quick they implement. But for me it just teaches you patient more than anything. Without patience and being positive, those two factors, it's pretty tough to develop kids.
SHANKS: And I know you know a lot of the Braves' developmental staff now, but when you are out on the road is it important to know how these guys develop the players?
ALMARAZ: Absolutely. I'm in awe since the moment I stepped in the office in Atlanta. The ambiance that exists here just radiates with positive energy, winning energy. I still can't believe the natural feeling that radiates through the entire organization that ‘we're winners.' That most of all has really taken hold of me because it's special.
SHANKS: You probably know that the synergy between scouting and player development with the Braves is excellent. How important is that to a scout to be on the same page as player development?
ALMARAZ: It's very important. It's very important that the departments support one another. It's not always like that. It's important that the departments understand each other and are completely comprehensive of what goes on in each other's world. Right here you've got people that have been involved on both sides in a multitude of years. You've got Roy Clark and Kurt Kemp, who are two quality individuals. They are basically all the same, and I think that's why this synergy is so strong. They are Atlanta Braves and all of them are winners.
SHANKS: How strong is the Braves' Latin American operations right now?
ALMARAZ: It's a very strong operation. It's a very aggressive operation. There is really no stone that is left unturned. Since I got here I've been to Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. Our scouts do a tremendous job. We were talking about contacts everybody has contacts and has a plan, they work hard, and they are good people.
SHANKS: It's hard to find the Elvis Andrus's of the world, isn't it?
ALMARAZ: Well there's a good group of kids out there who are eligible on July 2nd, which is kind of like the International Draft, where all these fifteen year olds become eligible to sign when they get sixteen or if they've turned sixteen already and they are eligible to sign on the 2nd. It's exciting.
SHANKS: With the money getting so wild, with the Pena kid getting so much last year, does that make the relationships that scouts have with their contacts even more important?
ALMARAZ: There are several cases that I have encountered already where we have signed kids because they are big fans of the Atlanta Braves. The people who set that base for them are our own scouts in the individual countries. They do a fabulous job representing the organization. It makes it easier. Sometimes you do get that player that says, ‘you know what rather than taking $100,000 I'm going to take 80. I want to sign with this organization.'
SHANKS: So you can tell the reputation is helping you already?
ALMARAZ: Absolutely. It does exist out there. There are cases where kids, not often but you do run across it, they want to play with their dream team who they grew up cheering for.
SHANKS: Are you also in charge of the Dominican complex?
SHANKS: That will start right when the Gulf Coast League starts, correct?
ALMARAZ: Yes we're right in the middle of transitioning between two complexes. We used to be in San Francisco de Macoris and now we're moving to San Pedro de Macoris. There's a brand new complex there.
SHANKS: And the Braves now only have one team down there instead of two. Was that a financial decision?
ALMARAZ: No. We've got a great group of kids. We've got quality kids. We've got a good number of prospects down in the Dominican at our operation. It's a really good number to have. It's a 35-man roster, so that's a lot of young prospects to have at one place and we'll do our best to develop them. We're going to go out and sign the best prospects. If we sign seven of the top prospects internationally, that's what we're going to get. We're going to make sure we go after quality prospects. I think that makes it good for one team to fill quality prospects.
SHANKS: With more attention about international prospects, whether it's on Baseball America or on the Internet, does that make it more difficult for you to try to find those diamonds in the rough?
ALMARAZ: It's evolving into more of how the work is done in the states to be honest with you. There are a lot of people involved in baseball, and a lot of times people in the press will make sure that names get out. There are so many rural areas in these countries that are untapped, and some scouts do not go in there because there are dirt roads and stuff. You've got to stumble across some. It does still exist, but not as many as there were ten years ago.
SHANKS: Have you signed any so far you can tell us about?
ALMARAZ: We signed Danilo Alvarez, a right-handed pitcher out of Nicaragua. He's a young, power arm type prospect. He's in the 90-92 range. We signed a kid named DeMaster Delgado, a left-handed pitcher from Panama. Then we signed a shortstop from Columbia named Martinez. He's five-ten, very compact kid who can really, really run and can throw. He can swing the bat. He's seventeen years old. All three will probably be in the Gulf Coast League again this year. But we've targeted some others for July 2nd.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, 105.5 the Fan in Macon, and the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at email@example.com.
Almaraz thrilled to be with the Braves
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