Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Chatting With The Scouting Director

Under the Ownership of Major League Baseball, no one person involved with The Franchise, first known as The Montreal Expos and ultimately, Our Washington Nationals proved as valuable as Scouting Director, Dana Brown. Despite no budget, no resources, and, just about, NO HELP, Brown, virtually single handedly drafted and signed, Chad Cordero, Colin Balester, Bill Bray, and of course Ryan Zimmerman. He may well be the most creative and talented evaluator of young prospects in the game today. Respected throughout baseball.

After hanging on, and pushing forward, through a tremendous amount of crap, Dana Brown is finally being rewarded. With the gaining of a real Scouting Department, the ability to pursue players internationally--and, to go young in the yearly draft. Most importantly, Dana has been given the money necessary by The Lerner Group to teach those wet behind the ears teenagers the game correctly. The Nationals very first accelerated Spring Training, currently underway in Viera, Florida, is giving Washington an additional three weeks jump on most every other team in the game.

Last week, I had the fine opportunity to chat with Dana Brown about his new found fortunes and the ability to compete on an even level with every other team in the game in finding young talent. Pleased I was, that he remembered meeting me last January, on the day I first interviewed Team President, Stan Kasten for the Nats 320 Blog. Brown was kind enough to give me 15 minutes of his time, as he worked his way around the four practice fields, Our Nationals were training on that day.

I got the chat rolling by asking Dana how he pursued his job this past off season, his very first under foot of solid Ownership?

"During this off season, we prepared for a lot. The main thing was obviously adding to our Scouting Staff. We tried to strengthen the staff. We also have prepared diligently for this upcoming draft (June 2007), because we have five of the first 70 picks. So, we have had a very busy off season in preparation for that. Because we need to get to know the players (potential draftees) more. We have taken the time to look at everyone we are seriously considering, reading up on them, getting to know their makeup. How good they are; Monitoring their work, watching a tremendous amount of video. Now, I am getting excited to get out there and see them play."

How have your new resources changed the way you find talent, as compared to under Major League Baseball Ownership? The hiring of a new scouting department is the difference between night and day, correct?

"Correct, not only in numbers, but in quality. We now have a veteran scouting department--veteran scouts. We started this thing with nine area scouts, two cross checkers and myself. It was a very difficult time to keep up (with the other teams). Now, we are in a position where we've added numbers, to that, guys with years of experience. We are going to be in more ballparks each day this year. That's going to allow us to get more depth in our ranks."

Do you now have the ability to go anywhere in the world to find talent, if you want to?

"Well, yeah, we are going to become players on the international scene. I think we are putting our stuff together. We've signed some latin players. We are going to begin to expand. And, make no mistake about it, we are going to be aggressive in finding the best talent that can make an impact at the Major League Level."

Everyone's heard of the Latin American Talent. Latinos are dominant in the game today. Yet, General Manager Jim Bowden told me he wishes to pursue players in areas, not necessarily on the map, right now?

"Well, we do have The Pacific Rim. We now have the resources to go out and pursue those players. In a matter of time, as an organization, we are just going to be aggressive at just adding talent into the system, where ever we may find it. Hopefully, leading to that impact at the Major League Level. And, help us WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP."

When you were with The Expos, did you ever think you would get this far?

"It was really, really tough. When we first started, that first season (under MLB Ownership) in 2002, there was talk of contraction. We were really unstable. Now, the stability is beginning to set in. Its an exciting time, for all the guys who have been here from 2002, when we first started this thing. We've been through a lot. We preserved. Now, hopefully, we can reap the benefits."

I have to say, when you were with The Expos, you did a pretty good job of finding talent under some incredibly tight purse strings?

"Right, and we feel there are a few more players coming ( those Expos Drafts) from 2002. We feel that draft will yield some players. If guys like (Larry) Broadway can step in this year. (Darrell) Rasner pitched last year in the Big Leagues. And, of course Jason Bergmann came out of that 2002 draft. And, we are hoping Clint Everts can come back (from injury). A first rounder who is coming back from Tommy John Surgery. So, yeah, you are right. We started off we a very limited amount of scouts. A limited budget. But, we've had the chance to get some guys to the Big Leagues and on the 40 Man Roster. Hopefully, each year (since 2002) we have gotten better and now we can add even more impact players."

Other than Broadway, is there anyone from those drafts that you feel are ready to step up and make the jump to The Majors?

Broadway and Bergmann. Both from the 2002 Draft when we were limited with the budget. Of course, we lost Rasner in a waiver claim last year. Then, hopefully Everts will come back and show us what he is capable of doing. He was our first round draft pick that (2002) year. Tommy John surgery has set him back some. But, those are our main four guys really have the chance of making it in the Big Leagues for us."

Down in The Dominican Republic, you have Jose Rijo's Academy. You've signed Esmailyan Gonzalez. Now. Manny Acta has a nice presence down there. Are The Washington Nationals a hot commodity in the D.R.?

"We have scouts on the ground there. We have Jose Baez who is overseeing our operation down there right now. But, we have added some scouts there, Those guys are going to do the ground work, on the front lines. Something we have never been able to do until ownership took over this franchise. No big name guys. They are blue collar type workers. That are going to get out there (among the various baseball fields) to hustle, and find us talent. When they do come across someone or a group that interests them, Mike Rizzo and I will go down to evaluate the talent. Hopefully, we can keep adding."

It really is amazing how busy you have been this off season?

(Both of us laughing) "Yes, I usually get more time. But, I didn't get much time off this year. We are trying to build something special. Its worth the time I am putting into our efforts. I did get some time off. I have already made probably five international trips, during this off season. From December, all the way up to and through January. So, I had little time for rest."

The guys you signed from Venenzuela, are they top prospects?

"They are all really good talents. The catcher, Sandy Leon, has a chance to be really good. He's a switch hitting catcher with some pop from both sides of the plate. He can really catch and throw. The shortstop (Adrian Sanchez) is a solid guy. He's only sixteen years old, imagine that. Its like me going out to look at a High School Sophomore. We were able to sign him. I am really excited about him. He can run and throw and field really well. His bat is going to take some time, because physically, he is weak. He's not strong right now. His body is a few years away from filling out. But, he's got a good path to the ball. The outfielder (Jesus Morales) is a big projectable guy. The first baseman (Juan Urdaneta) is a big projectable guy."

" WE ARE EXCITED ABOUT THIS TIME!! This (Nationals Organization) is going to be special and nice, with The Lerners coming in. Stan Kasten's vision from his past from his days with The Atlanta Braves. We are pretty stable now. Its so unlike 2002, when we were so unsure about what direction we were headed. And, we've got (Jim) Bowden, who has over 10 years of experience as a General Manager. So, this Franchise has a good chance of being special."

Personally, for you, its got to be satisfying to see everything change from when you struggled each and every day, just to do your job?

"I lived through the growing pains. Now, this is so refreshing and a great opportunity to do the right thing. I've learned to appreciate how it is in the valley (we are chuckling a little). Hopefully, we will reach the mountaintop!!"

Randy Almonte and Gonzalez (from The D.R.) What kind of talents are they?

"Both are really good. Gonzalez is an everyday, starting shortstop in The Majors one day. And, he is only going to get better. Almonte is the big left handed pitcher with BIG TIME arm strength. He is going to be a low 90's guy (MPH speed on his fastball). He also has a really good feel of a breaking ball. And, he's 6'5", a lefty, throws in the 90's. That's pretty good, in anybody's league. He is a good piece to have when you are looking for young talent."

How about some of last years draft picks, the first for The Nationals under new ownership. How are they progressing?

"Very well. Very Well. (Chris) Marrero stepped in and hit over .300. (Colton) Willems had a good earned run average. He is getting used to professional life. And, that's a big adjustment from High School. (Stephen) King was hurt and didn't play much. (Stephen) Englund really got off to a slow start. But, we are expecting good things out of him. And, (Glenn) Gipson, a high school left handed pitcher, we drafted, has a really good chance to be a front line starter. So, we are excited about the young talent, but we are also excited about some college guys we blended in there like (Corey) Van Allen, a left handed starter out of Baylor University. (Zech) Zinicola is a power arm reliever. He's moved through the system rapidly, finishing up in AA last year and was just drafted a few months previously. We thought we had as good of a (2006) draft as anyone. We picked up some guys that can make an impact."

I saw Zinicola play at Potomac last year. He was really impressive (SBF).

"Yeah, we got him in the sixth round. We are extremely excited about him. When you get an college arm like that you feel is so close to the Big Leagues, and he's got good stuff, a good bullpen guy, works hard, he goes at the hitters hard. He's exciting, and its exciting to get guys like that in the sixth round. (In the draft) You try to make an impact in every round. We get depth like that. ITS FUN!! Especially, when you have the extra picks."

I read where you recommended to Jim Bowden that he could trade Gary Majewski, because of Zinicola's rising stock?

"Yes, we talk shop all the time. We are always talking baseball. One of the things you must do when you trade players is realize who is going to fill those shoes (of the player traded). I was excited to say to Jim, Zinicola is on the fast track. He's got a really good fastball. A good slider. He's very competitive. And, he's a strike thrower. I felt we had an opportunity (in the Reds Trade last year) to close the gap, so to speak (on both the Major League and Minor League Level). And, you know what, that's what its all about, getting depth, adding strength, and just keep moving forward. That's is what it all about, when it comes to team building."

Is there anyone else I should be aware of?

(Laughing) "Oh, there are probably a lot of guys we could talk about. But, I would probably need their names in front of me (both of us laughing). I can't remember all these guys. Actually, I am trying to remember all the guys for this year for the (2007) draft, because those we have already signed, are old news now. Its time to move forward to 2007. Its always an ongoing process."

When fans bitch about the fact that the team didn't get high enough draft picks for Alfonso Soriano. How do you react to that. Was the team hurt by him signing with Chicago and their first pick being protected?

"The higher you pick, the better chance of a prospect, of course. But, when you get extra picks, that's exciting. You are playing with house money. You never know what you can do with an extra pick. You take a guy like David Wright (NY Mets All Star Third Baseman). He was drafted with an extra pick. Whether you get David Wright at (round) 33, or he's taken at 15. Think about it. At 15, he was passed by 14 other teams. At 33, after the entire leagues chose someone. So, my point is, there is quality all the way down the draft, especially in the top few rounds. Its our job, to evaluate the guys, and getting it right. Then, if you rightly develop them, you have the chance to do something special."

You have those resources to find them, develop them and bring them to The Major Leagues?

"Correct. Not only myself, but also the guys we've had around for a while. Now with our excellent scouting/player development department, we've added the depth to solidify. Its like the icing on the cake. We can now make GOOD QUALITY DECISIONS FOR THE ORGANIZATION."

With that answer, Dana had to head off to another field to continue his quests and update himself on those many young players that have joined Our Washington Nationals over the past year or two. Baseball talent that Dana Brown is responsible for putting on the field of play, in both the near term, and a few years down the line.

Dana Brown is thrilled with his new predicament. I could see it in his eyes, and in the tone of his voice. He struggled for years, just to keep the Expos/Nationals Franchise's head above water. Now, his hard work is paying off. Not a single person involved in baseball, that I have spoken with, has nothing less than the utmost respect for our Scouting Director. Dana Brown has earned his solid reputation. Unquestionably, one of the most talented and creative evaluators of baseball talent in this great game.

Our Washington Nationals are fortunate to have him. When Washington becomes the great franchise, I truly believe it will be, Dana Brown should get a tremendous amount of the deserved credit. He has earned it, for years to come.

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