Monday, April 14, 2008

Article on Brewers Scouting Director, Jack Zduriencik

Scouting a scout at the National Classic
Jim Seimas, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Jack Zduriencik, 57, rattles off names with excitement, like he's a youngster flipping through his collection of baseball cards: "Paul Snyder, Huey Alexander, Howard Haak, George Genovese, Larry Doughty ..."

All five men are a part of a predominantly unknown but important fraternity -- they are or were baseball scouts, the behind-the-scenes men who help assemble the talent fans see in Major League Baseball.

"A lot of those guys are past now, but they are legends in the scout world," said Zduriencik, the Milwaukee Brewers' special assistant to the general manager for player personnel. "There are a lot of good scouts in this industry. And there's a lot of good scouts who have passed away who left their mark on baseball."

Zduriencik, who has held a front office job with the Brewers the past eight years, is now in his 25th year of scouting. And he's one of the game's greats.

Last year, Baseball America magazine named him the Major League Executive of the Year, marking the first time the publication has given the award to a non-GM. Zduriencik is one of dozens of scouts in Los Angeles this week to scout talent at the 16-team National Classic, which features five of the nation's top-25 ranked teams by Baseball America, as well as local powerhouse Aptos High.

Zduriencik, his balding head cleanly shaven, looks like a regular fan at the National Classic. He's decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, blue jeans and running shoes. He chews tobacco as he exchanges tales with a swarm of coaches from Seminole Ridge High in Florida, a state he recently visited while on a scouting excursion. He doesn't carry a radar gun, but he's got a Blackberry, and it seemingly never stops ringing. Once it's his wife, other times its other Brewers area scouts giving him updates and clarifying their schedules.

Zduriencik will see dozens of games over a four-day span here. Zduriencik doesn't need to comb through a media guide to know which players he wants to see. When he watches Aptos play, he already knows about pitcher/infielder Kevin Eichhorn, speedy center fielder Bobby Crocker and several other stars on other teams -- he saw them at the Area Code Games in Southern California last summer. Or maybe at another showcase, like the AFLAC All-American Game.

Zduriencik was an international scout with the Los Angels Dodgers and now works as a national scout, flying all over the country.

"I was in Atlanta over the weekend, in Tennessee prior to that, Florida prior to that," he said.

One of his many duties is to coordinate schedules with his regional scouts. Regional scouts mostly drive and they rack up anywhere from 25,000-35,000 miles a year attending high school and college games.

He was once one of them, and is also a former minor league player and high school and college coach. Most scouts have a baseball background. Their pay is based off their experience level, and scouting salaries start around $35,000 and can reach six figures. Zduriencik is now a higher-level guy.

The National Classic is being staged at four ballparks, and Zduriencik will visit them all in one day and repeat this trend for the entire tournament. There are plenty of pro prospects to see. Orange Lutheran pitcher Garrit Cole, an AFLAC All-American pitcher who throws in the high 90-mph range, is among those competing in the event. He's projected to be a first-round pick.

"I started at 8:30 a.m. and I'll probably get back to the hotel at 10:30 p.m.," he said. This is a daily ritual, and after the tournament he'll head off to another and repeat the cycle.

And on the rare occurrence he makes it back home to Milwaukee to be with his family, he'll bring his work home with him. It's a job that keeps him busy nearly year-round. "I have a very understanding wife, Debbie," said Zduriencik, who has been married 25 years. "She's tremendous. She understands what the job is all about and when we got married she knew I was a baseball guy.

"But she's a baseball fan, When she sits in Miller Park [in Milwaukee] and the players run on the field, she realizes her husband had some responsibility for these guys. It's kind of exciting for her as well."

The Brewers are on the rise, and look to be contenders for the National League Central Division title. Zduriencik and his scouts are a key factor in the Brewers' rise. They helped single out the players who display big-league potential. Just look at the Brewers' youth-laden roster of stars: outfielder Corey Hart [11th round of 2000], shortstop J.J. Hardy [second round of 2001], first baseman Prince Fielder [first round of 2002], second baseman Rickie Weeks [first round of 2003], budding ace Yovani Gallardo [second round of 2004] and third baseman Ryan Braun [first round of 2005].

The goal is to single out and evaluate talent as much and often as possible. And the wear and tear it puts on the body is fierce, Zduriencik said. "When I get home I'm excited, but I'm also very tired," he said. Sometimes sleep is compromised. Other times, it's a healthy diet that falls by the wayside.

"You have to be careful, and quite honestly most of us aren't," he said. "We get absorbed in this thing and it's kind of addicting. You want to see and get to the next player and see as many players as you can. When the day is said and done, you have to be smart on how you do things."

Zduriencik comes and goes from his perch along the first base line while the Mariners play. Few scouts often stay for the duration of a game -- there's too many games and players to see.

They fill out charts on specific players and document their skills based on the positions they play.

"Players are what they are," he said. "Just because a guy is 6-foot-5, doesn't mean he's going to be better than a guy whose 5-11. Players are players and all you're asking them to do is go out and show what they can do. Whatever their skill sets are regarding the positions they play, it's our job to project how they're going to be major leaguers down the road somewhere."

Evaluating high school and college players is a different process, he said. "When you look at these kids, you have to realize they're an unfinished product. It's not like looking at a kid whose in his third or fourth year of college. When you look at a high school kid, there's more room to project because, chances are, three, four, five years from now he's going to be considerably larger than at this time."

Scouts usually band together at games. When looking at pitchers, most are perched behind home plate with radar guns in hand. But a pitcher's velocity is one of many things scouts are looking at.

"Size is important, arm action, velocity ..." Zduriencik said, trying to play down the velocity thing. "As youngsters, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were registering at 93 mph. They became great big league players because they had a breaking ball. They had great command, learned how to spot things, stayed healthy ... What is pitching? Pitching is upsetting hitting. If a pitcher has other things he can do to upset timing, that's very important."

On position players, scouts look at size, arm strength, fielding ability, and quickness he said. They're also looking for guys who can swing the bat. But they always don't get big results when checking out highly-rated prospects. "If a guy strikes out three times, what does that mean?" Zduriencik said. "He's a bad player? No, he had a bad day. So you go back to your area scout and he may tell you [later on] that he's going off like crazy."

A team will try and get as many looks at the same player as it can leading up to the June draft.

Often, scouts from rival organizations are at the same events. While they band together at games and socialize with each other, they never mention who they're looking at or what they think of a player.

It's like the movie "Fight Club." First rule of scouting -- never mention who you scouting.

"I'm not going to talk about players," Zduriencik said. "We all do what we can to get the edge and beat the other guy. That's what it is, a very friendly, competitive natured business, if you will."

And Zduriencik is one of the best at it in the game.



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