Here's a quiz for this week's entry: How many Orioles fans know who David Jennings is? How about Lamar North? Does the name Ed Sprague Sr. or Mark Ralston ring a bell?
If not, its understandable but O's fans should get to know them or at least be aware of who they are and what they do.
They work in obscurity and their success is directly related to any future success for the Orioles. They are baseball scouts, and they beat the bushes looking for talented players. They are in large part responsible for the nucleus of the Orioles rebuilding plan that is now taking over the Orioles major league roster because they found the players.
Joe Jordan, the Orioles Director of Amateur Scouting oversees the process that continues for 12 months of the year. Speaking from Los Angeles where he was scouting an amateur game, Jordan discussed how a player goes from a sandlot to a potential draft pick.
"It's all about what we're putting into the organization every June," Jordan said. "Our scouts have bought into the idea of scouting for the entire draft, not just for the early, high-profile picks." The early round picks get the attention, but the draft is 50 rounds and you never know when a low round pick will emerge as an impact major league player.
By the time a player makes it to the majors he is well known as a prospect, but the journey begins on a high school or college field anywhere in the United States. An area scout identifies a player that he believes is worthy of being selected. The area scout then recommends the player to one of the Orioles' four regional supervisors, and if the players get approved at that level, it's passed on to the O's national crosschecker, Matt Ruebel, and then on to Jordan himself.
A look at the current Orioles roster shows the success of the Orioles scout's labor. Following the 1998 season, Roberto Alomar left as a free agent and signed with Cleveland. The Orioles received a supplemental draft pick in 1999 as compensation, and between the first and second rounds they selected Brian Roberts, who was scouted by Lamar North. Roberts is the only player from that draft who is still with the Orioles.
Two players recommended by scout Dave Jennings became first round picks and are crucial to the Orioles rebuilding plan. In 2003 Jennings was behind Nick Markakis coming to the Orioles. And then in 2007, another Jennings player, Matt Wieters, was the O's top pick.
When Brian Matusz made his major league debut and won in Detroit, the Orioles' organization received well deserved praise for his quick rise to the big leagues. It was scout Mark Ralston who found Matusz.
Jim Howard, who now scouts professional players for Andy MacPhail, but who formally worked on the amateur side, recommended Jim Johnson who became the O's 5th round pick in 2001. Howard also discovered Erik Bedard at a junior college in Connecticut. After developing Bedard, the Orioles traded him to Seattle in one of the biggest player trades in franchise history. Scout Dominic Viola found Jason Berken at Clemson and Berken came to the Orioles in the sixth round in the 2006 draft.
Former Orioles scout Ed Sprague found Brad Bergesen at a high school in California. Marc Tramuta discovered Chris Ray at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. And Marc Ziegler recommended an outfielder at Bowling Green University named Nolan Reimold.
Of all the Orioles' selections since Jordan took over as scouting director in 2005, the one he gets the most satisfaction from is David Hernandez. Orioles scout James Keller had Jordan fly to Sacramento, California to get a look at a high school pitcher. While Jordan was there, Keller asked him to see a junior college pitcher. Jordan saw Hernandez pitch and made him the Orioles 16th round pick in his first draft. Hernandez is the lowest round draft pick by the Orioles on the current roster, proving what Jordan believes about the success of a particular draft being made with the lower round picks working their way on to big league rosters.
Scouts see as many players as they can. It's not only their job, it's their life. They see things most of us never see. The good scouts find the player with the rare skills. They find the player with raw talent that can be developed or the player who might lack some talent but gets by with desire.
Orioles Director of Player Development David Stockstill has prospects lined up at every level of the Orioles minor league system, even with the flurry of promotions to the big league club this season. That talent is the result of the hard work and keen eyes of the Orioles scouts--the backbone of the Orioles organization is thriving. And the major league club is benefiting from their recommendations.