RC Interview with Deric Ladnier

RC's Kevin Agee on Tuesday conducted an in-depth interview with Royals Scouting Director Deric Ladnier. They covered a wide range of topics in their discussion, such as the changes that have been made to the scouting department since Dayton Moore took over as GM, as well as the outlook on recent Royals additions such as Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, and Joakim Soria.

Royals Corner: First and foremost, let's talk about Brian Bannister. From a scouting perspective, what does he bring to the organization, and what did scouts such as yourself see in him that you liked so much, that you'd be willing to trade a very talented arm in Ambiorix Burgos to get him?

Deric Ladnier: Well, I think the biggest thing for us is we needed consistency in our starting rotation. In the years past, our starting rotation has changed significantly from lack of performance, from injuries, you know, different variations. What we're trying to do is create a talent pool of those top five guys to where we feel we've got someone who every five days can go out, consistently pitch for us, and can consistently take us deep into games. Brian is still an up-and-coming pitcher. Maybe not a front-end of the rotation guy, but a guy that's going to give us consistently the innings that we need. He has very good pitchability and has outstanding makeup.

We understood that Ambiorix Burgos has a great arm, was inconsistent, and may in the future have greater upside than Bannister does. But where we are right now and where we're headed, we just felt like it was necessary to create depth in our starting ranks, and Ambiorix obviously wasn't going to be able to work into that. We felt confident we were gonna be able to get [Octavio Dotel] done, that we were going to have a closer, so we felt like we could make that exchange that would give us a little more depth in the starting rotation. Bannister has very good pitchability. We watched him live, we watched him on video, we've known him from the past, and we just feel like he's a guy that's going to be in our rotation for many years to come. As for comparisons, maybe a guy like Jeff Suppan, just at a much younger age.

RC: What is the upside of Joakim Soria? Royals fans are really excited about him after the perfect game he threw last week. What can he bring to the team in 2007?

DL: You know, he's 22 years old, and obviously he's going to have to make the team in a certain role, whether it's as a fifth starter, as a middle man, or a swing man; he's got the stuff to be a setup guy. Our scouts, Luis Medina and Gene Watson did a great job scouting this young man when they went down there these last three or four weeks. They saw a guy who had very good command of three above-average pitches: a fastball, slider, and changeup. He's super competitive, athletic, and has a tremendous upside.

Any time you have a 22-year-old young man that's being put into the big leagues because of the conditions of Rule 5, there are always things that can happen, we've seen it happen, but I'll tell you one thing, he's super talented, and the one thing he's got in his favor is that he's got very good command of these pitches, so it's not like he's out there with great stuff and no command that he'll have to harness at the major league level. He's just going to have to learn to compete at the major league level, because he's got the stuff to pitch in the big leagues now.

RC: So branching off from that, do you think it would be fair to say that he's a nice mix between past Rule 5 guys like D.J. Carrasco and Miguel Asencio?

DL: Yeah, and I think he's got greater upside because we're talking about a kid that pitches 90 to 93 mph with a well above average slider and outstanding changeup, and when you look at his stats, he's got way above average command. It's difficult, nearly impossible to throw a perfect game, but when you do it in nine innings and 101 pitches, you realize there's a tremendous amount of efficiency in his pitches.

RC: The Royals made a lot of waves when you picked up Gil Meche.

DL: I go way back with him, and he probably wouldn't even remember me, but I scouted him when he was 16 years old. I saw him in a tournament of stars – I can't remember where it was, it may have been in Joplin – and he had tremendous stuff then and was very competitive. The thing that was intriguing with him for us is that he was the youngest of the free agent market, and we felt that with what we're trying to do with the younger players that we do have in the organization – specifically the position players who're either in the big leagues now or are about to play in the big leagues – we felt that with his experience, with the stuff that he brings – I mean, he's got an above average fastball, curveball and changeup – that this is a guy who's truly getting into the prime of his career.

We felt Gil, because his stuff is still what it is, is just now getting into being a front-end of the rotation type pitcher. There's always risk with any pitcher, but we felt like we needed someone to anchor our staff, and Gil is that type of a guy. He has the stuff to anchor a staff, and now he's just gotta go out and work and be consistent like he has, and help us continue to improve, which we know that we will.

RC: What does Gil need to do to translate his #1 quality stuff into #1 quality results on the field?

DL: I think it's just being more consistent with his pitches, you know, not making as many mistakes. That's a natural maturing process of any pitcher at the major league level, and he's shown signs of that. I watched him pitch against us last year, and you just sit there and marvel at what he throws across the plate. I think he's going to be in an environment now in which he is one of the guys we've signed who can help us get to the point to where we're a contending ballclub. It's just him going out there and competing every fifth day that he gets the ball and keeping us in the ballgame. I don't think anybody's looking to Gil Meche to be a savior for the organization, but a key piece of the puzzle for us to help us be a contending club.

RC: Let's switch gears to the minor leagues and, more specifically, scouting. How has the draft approach changed since Dayton Moore took over? Will there be an increased emphasis on high school talent, considering he came from the Braves?

DL: I don't think the draft strategy will change. Dayton and I have worked together for years over in the Braves organization. The biggest thing is just putting into place a system that will be patient with young players, high school players specifically. I do think there will be more of an emphasis put on drafting arms. Not that we didn't have that kind of emphasis, but we needed position players too, and we feel like (Chris) Lubanski, (Billy) Butler, (Mitch) Maier, and (Alex) Gordon, could be a nucleus for this organization once they got through the developmental process, and they're all on the cusp of that right now. The one thing that we've got to do is draft power arms, keep them healthy, be patient with them, and allow them to develop not only physically, but mentally.

When you're dealing with high school players, there is a learning curve, a level of maturity that you have to deal with that maybe you don't have to deal with as much with the college players. But as far as strategy, we're going to take the best players. We've done that, and we're going to continue to do that. In that aspect, Dayton and I think very much alike, so it's a very easy transition for both of us because we worked together and we both worked directly under (Braves scouting director) Paul Snyder, who we both admire immensely.

RC: How many more scouts have been added to the organization? Can you shed any light on some of the guys who have been added?

DL: I don't know specific numbers. I know that we've expanded our major league coverage and our professional coverage significantly. On the amateur side, I was able to hire an assistant scouting director in Steve Williams, who's spent 19 years with the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota and the Toronto Blue Jays. I've got three national cross-checkers now. I've never had national cross-checkers. I've had regional ones in Dennis Woody and Junior Vizcaino. I added Marty Maier, who was most recently a national cross-checker with the St. Louis Cardinals. He's been their scouting director and special assistant to the general manager, so he brings a world of experience. He's the type of guy who fits in personality wise, is very humble, and just has very good opinions on players. He's also got a very good track record of drafting good players, so I'll be weighing heavily on him also.

I was able to promote Spencer Graham to West Coast Regional Supervisor where he'll oversee all the scouts on the West Coast. We've added an inner-city program with Ty Brown, who was with the Florida Marlins. He's going to basically cover inner-city schools, looking at raw athletes. The new club in Burlington will give us the option of taking some of those (inner city) guys down in the draft and being able to be patient with them and develop their skills […] so that's a big plus for us. I've been able to add some part-time scouts. We hired Dan Drake in the L.A. area who has been scouting for 20-plus years. He'll help John Ramey, who does a great job for us in southern California. We hired Ricky Schroeder who has 28 years of experience. The biggest thing for me is that we've been able to add a lot of experience. They're guys who've seen players, who've had success in drafting and signing players, so it'll make the decision process a lot easier for us. I mean, any time you can surround yourself with very good baseball people, people who you respect, people who have very good scouting judgment, it allows us as a front office to make better judgments when we're selecting players.

RC: Looking ahead to the draft in June, do you have any preliminary ideas as to where you're going to go with the second overall pick?

DL: We had a meeting the other day with the supervisors, and we basically lined up the board with what we thought were the top 120 players in next year's draft. In all of my years of scouting, I have never seen a better assortment of power arms at the high school ranks. Now, does that mean we're taking a high school pitcher with the first pick? Absolutely not. I'm just saying that the depth of the draft is high school pitching, and there are some very, very good arms. I think it's well documented that (Matt) Wieters, (David) Price, and (Andrew) Brackman are probably the top of the class as far as college players go. (Joshua) Fields at the University of Georgia has a very good arm. Those guys are going to be on the top of a lot of people's boards, and they'll probably be in the mix on our board, so you narrow it down, and we've already narrowed it down significantly. It's easy to say that those three guys will be considerations for the number two pick.

RC: Finally, a lot of fans were very concerned with Luke Hochevar was shut down in the Arizona Fall League. How's he doing right now?

DL: Oh, good, outstanding. I talked to him two days ago. He feels great and he's getting married in January. The Arizona thing was more of a precautionary measure. We started looking at his number of innings pitched and combined those with the number of innings he pitched in simulated games. For everybody who knows Luke Hochevar knows that he does everything to an extreme. So, most people say, "Well, he's throwing side sessions." Luke was pitching games, trying to be as competitive as he could, and when we looked at his pitch count and number of innings pitched, we just felt like … there was fatigue in there which was understandable. You know, he went out and pitched in Burlington and Wichita, and was in the playoffs with them. Then there's a layoff, and then he gets into the Arizona Fall League, and he came up with some shoulder stiffness. We did MRIs, and there's no type of damage whatsoever. It's just simply fatigue, and he said he feels outstanding, so coming into spring training, we expect him to be probably better than 100 percent healthy.

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