Title: Scout’s Honor – The Bravest Way to Build a Winning Team
Author: Bill Shanks
But that book -- or at least the first few chapters, which was all I could stomach -- was bereft of intellect and replete with insupportable venom.
--Rob Neyer, ESPN
For nearly twenty years, the Atlanta Braves farm system has been producing quality major league players. That much is both obvious and indisputable. On the pitching side, it has drafted pitchers like Tom Glavine, traded for and groomed pitchers like John Smoltz, and produced pitchers like Jason Schmidt who were traded away for major league talent.
And that’s just the guys on the mound. Many good position players have come from the Braves minor league system, too. Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, and, more recently, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann. Plus, scouts love Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a catching prospect.
Need some more proof the Braves farm system is good? When the team won the World Series in 1995, the catcher (Javier Lopez), second baseman (Mark Lemke), third baseman (Chipper Jones), left fielder (Ryan Klesko), right fielder (David Justice), starting pitcher (Glavine), and closer (Mark Wohlers) were all drafted and groomed by the Braves.
Not satisfied? This year, the Atlanta Braves are within two and a half games of the big-spending New York Mets because of their farm system. Catchers McCann, Saltalamacchia, and Branyan Pena all came from the minor league system. The right side of the infield, composed of Scott Thorman and Kelly Johnson, were both Brave farmhands. Chipper Jones was drafted in 1990, while center fielder Andruw Jones came a few years later. Jeff Francoeur was drafted out of high school by the, you guessed it, Atlanta Braves. The only other starters came as a result of trades. Edgar Renteria was obtained for former Braves top prospect Andy Marte; Matt Diaz, the left fielder, came at the expense of right-handed pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez.
As you can see, the team has been successful at producing home grown talent. Scout’s Honor, a book by Bill Shanks, details the philosophy implemented by Braves management and the players it produces.
To build a successful farm system, it all must begin with a well-conceived plan of attack. The Atlanta Braves management targets certain players: those that scouts like, but also those that have good makeup. Suppose there are two players of identical talents, Prospect A and Prospect B. If one player has better makeup -- meaning he’s a harder worker, is coachable, won’t do detrimental things off the field -- than the other, the Braves will go for the guy who is a better person. (We can see how a player whose makeup wasn’t that great, for instance, Brien Taylor, a former number one pick taken by the New York Yankees, sometimes fails. Taylor injured his shoulder beyond repair in an off-field fight, destroying what could have been an astounding career.)
Shanks does an excellent job showing how the philosophy has impacted drafts done by the Braves. He tells the stories of how bigwigs like John Schuerholz, Stan Kasten, Roy Clark, and Dayton Moore have all bought into the theory. Several guys who have left the Braves front office have gone on to have successful careers in front offices of other teams. Mike Arbuckle took this concept and turned around the Philadelphia Phillies farm system, obtaining guys like Cole Hamels and Scott Rolen. Chuck LaMar gave the Tampa Bay Devil Rays some high ceiling guys in his tenure there.
Scout’s Honor also tells the tale of several Braves players. Chipper Jones came from Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, and was drafted because he showed the desire to protect teammates by throwing a punch that started a brawl. Jeff Francoeur was drafted because of his desire to play for the Braves. Guys like Charles Thomas, who was traded to acquire starter Tim Hudson, came out of nowhere, but was drafted because of potential a regional scout saw.
The story of starter Kevin Millwood may have summed up the philosophy perfectly. Millwood was a basketball player, as well as a baseball player, in his high school career. During his senior year, scouts followed Millwood, but because of basketball season, his legs were tired, and he had trouble generating velocity. This turned teams off, so much so that there were only two scouts -- Roy Clark of the Braves being one of them -- in Millwood’s final start of his high school career. Millwood threw in a tryout camp for the Braves and was immediately signed as an undrafted free agent. Why did they give him another chance, after so many scouts gave up on him during his senior year? Because the big guys in the front office know to trust their scouts and crosscheckers, another staple of the Braves philosophy. Why hire someone to do a job, if you aren’t going to take their advice? The Braves got an excellent starting pitcher for a few seasons, all because they stuck with him and listened to the advice of Roy Clark, who was covering the area then.
This book, as Neyer surmises, isn’t bereft of intellect. It’s the story of how the Braves farm system became as great as it is, due to the strict adhering of a philosophy put in place by the scouting department that forces them to consider the people side of business. This is a very good read, and comes recommended, 2.5 balls. For Braves fans, consider it a must read.
Four Balls: More than just what two men have when hanging out together, it means it is an exceptional book that truly earns a walk - straight to the local book store to get a copy.
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