Some of the posters on the BravesCenter.com Message Board had some questions for Bill Shanks. Here…
Phil Dale Interview
DALE: Takumi came into a tryout we held. We always hold a tryout in December in the Osaka area. He came in as a fourteen year old about three or four years ago as a pitcher. He threw pretty hard and showed some great tools. From that point, we just followed his progress through high school until the point when he graduated. We talked to him throughout that period of time and he really wanted the challenge of U.S. baseball rather than go the Japanese route. So he was first identified in a tryout and then we just followed his progress through high school.
SHANKS: So were other teams interested in him as well?
DALE: Oh for sure. Not American teams. They wouldn't know about him unless you had a scout on the ground there. Yea the Japanese teams knew about him. He was one of the better players in the Osaka area in high school. He had a pretty good career at one of the bigger high schools there. People are aware of him in Japan, but American teams wouldn't know him at all.
SHANKS: How does he project? He's a lefty hitter with a nice swing, right?
DALE: He's got a real nice, quiet swing with the bat. He's at about 185 pounds now. He's going to put on, with some American food and strength and conditioning, another fifteen pounds or so. He's getting adjusted to the American style of pitching. He's seeing curve balls here he's never seen before like any young high school hitter his first time out. So like any young player, it's hard to judge what they're going to do the next twelve months. It's what they do after that. But I can see him playing in the (major league) outfield (one day). He has a really good arm.
SHANKS: And he'll go back overseas with you this season, correct?
DALE: Yea well this season we've got him staying in Extended Spring Training just getting accustomed to everything. Then he'll go to Australia, where it will be similar to a Gulf Coast League situation. We'll get him some English and get him stronger. Then he'll probably come back to the Instructional League (in the fall), and then he'll be on his way next spring (to a full-season minor league club). With him being an offensive player, it'll be good having that extra year under his belt so he can really show what he can do next year.
SHANKS: Now those Japanese kids have to make a choice between playing here or staying home, don't they?
DALE: They do have to make a decision. But there is a lot of peer pressure coming from their high school or college or Industrial League to stay in the Japanese professional system to play in their country first. Then in nine years they can come over here. There is real peer pressure from all the coaches to stay over in Japan.
SHANKS: So if they make the decision to stay in Japan they have to stay there for nine years?
DALE: Yes. If they sign professionally, they have to stay there nine years.
SHANKS: I would imagine it is intimidating for kids to come over here if for nothing but the cultural differences they face here in the U.S.
DALE: The cultural differences are huge. Obviously there is the language barrier. On the baseball field it's really not an issue. But mainly that difference that they have to almost divorce themselves from that Japanese lifestyle.
SHANKS: Ok, tell me about how you found the pitcher, Jang Ji Cho?
DALE: We were holding a tryout in December. I remember we had 120 people in. It was a rainy day. We were trying to beat the rain. Toward the end, we had a pitcher come and throw on the side and our scout, Neil Burke, was running the pitchers. Anyone that threw over 80 miles an hour we gave a shot on the mound. I remember him yelling, "Hey I think we've got a live one here." We put him on the mound and he was pretty much 91-93 mph. He throws easy with a good breaking ball. Control was an issue at the time, but we sat him down and asked him when was the last time he pitched. He said he hadn't picked up a ball in six months. So he came out of a college. He was from a single-parent family and the parent passed away. So he had to quit college to look out for his younger brother and sister. Due to his circumstances he couldn't stay in the college program anymore, which made him available to us to sign. If he was still in college, the Japanese could draft him. But he became a free agent for us to sign. He's an arm. It'll be interesting to see what he can do. He's only 21, but he hasn't pitched a whole lot so it's a fresh arm, a baby arm. But he's got some power in there, just not a lot of innings in that arm. Anyone that can not pick up a ball for six months and then come to a tryout camp and throw 93 is pretty impressive. I saw him in two subsequent workouts in January, right before we signed him, and I didn't see him below 90 once. That was indoors - in the winter. Hopefully he'll show that here.
SHANKS: So could he compete for a job in Rome this season?
DALE: You know what? There is a chance he can compete for a job in Rome as a reliever. We'll see where he goes from there. He's got to get a feel for a changeup. He's got split at the moment. He's got good breaking stuff, but he's got to work on his control. The fastball is the thing, though. It's explosive. It's easy. So you don't get too many guys from a tryout to come in and throw 93.
SHANKS: How rare is that?
DALE: That's rare. Very rare for someone who is not on the radar screen to come in and do that.
SHANKS: What do you hope to accomplish overseas in the course of a year? What are your goals for finding talent?
DALE: International baseball is something. One day your job is to sell a player from your AAA club to get some money back in the system so we can purchase another player. Then the next week you can be in the outback in Australia checking out a teenage player. Then come free agent time we could be looking around for 6-year free agents or in Korea looking for journeyman like a Julio Franco. He was playing in Korea and Mexico. Then there are the Japanese professionals like Ichiro and Matsui and more guys that are coming out of there, and not just the stars but the role players as well. That becomes an issue. You've got journeyman in Taiwan, young kids in Europe, it just varies. Every week is something different. That's the beauty of international baseball. It just keeps you excited. There's just so much variation in your job. It's not just going out to see high school kids.
SHANKS: And you've got to have contacts, right?
DALE: It's all about the contacts, particularly in these pro leagues. You've got know the medical background of all these kids. You've got to have a network. The number one thing, and I learned this from several top scouts that were in the International game, is to set up your network (of contacts). Once you've got your network, it becomes a whole lot easier. If you don't have a network, it's impossible. It's tough to do them all. to get some money back in the system so we can purchase another player. Then the next week you can be in the outback in Australia checking out a teenage player. Then come free agent time we could be looking around for 6-year free agents or in Korea looking for journeyman like a Julio Franco. He was playing in Korea and Mexico. Then there are the Japanese professionals like Ichiro and Matsui and more guys that are coming out of there, and not just the stars but the role players as well. That becomes an issue. You've got journeyman in Taiwan, young kids in Europe, it just varies. Every week is something different. That's the beauty of international baseball. It just keeps you excited. There's just so much variation in your job. It's not just going out to see high school kids.
SHANKS: And you've got to have contacts, right?
DALE: It's all about the contacts, particularly in these pro leagues. You've got know the medical background of all these kids. You've got to have a network. The number one thing, and I learned this from several top scouts that were in the International game, is to set up your network (of contacts). Once you've got your network, it becomes a whole lot easier. If you don't have a network, it's impossible. It's tough to do them all. You're not there. You've got to be there. You can't be in the wrong country when something is going on.
SHANKS: And would it be fair to say that you are almost like a cross-checker for your part-time scouts?
DALE: For sure. Yea. I've got part-time people in each country. I've got a full-timer in Japan, part-timer in Korea, part-timer in Taiwan and Australia, and I've got bird dogs in Europe. When you think of Australia, it's as big as the U.S., as far as miles go, so one guy can't cover it. You treat it like a state in the U.S. as far as baseball purposes, so you can't afford to put too many people in there. So you've got to have good baseball people who know when there is a good baseball player around and also to get to know that player. We've got to make sure that he is comfortable with the Atlanta Braves. Same thing they do here, just on a bigger scale with more miles. You know, you've got military issues in Taiwan and Korea. You've got agents to deal with. Sometimes you've got five agents in Korea for one player. If you pick the wrong one, who doesn't represent him, you're running in circles. So you've got to understand the culture and what they are trying to do and go from there.
SHANKS: How often do you call Roy Clark or Dayton Moore over there?
DALE: Well if it's a big money guy that needs to be cross-checked, for sure. We've got Chuck McMichael (Special Assistant to the GM, Major League Scout) who goes over once a year for the pro stuff in Japan. Some of it is the decisions you don't make along with the decisions you do make on a player. Some of the ones you have to stay away from that we may have information on that other teams don't. That's having that network and knowing their injury background and everything possible about them. We've had some teams that have made some mistakes, just because they didn't have someone on the ground over there. You can be tricked real easily. You can watch a player and he'll look great in the workout, but unless you have someone on the ground over there to know the history and the medical background, you can get in trouble. There's always a story behind every player - even this Cho kid that we signed. The first thing I thought of was, "Ok, so he throws 93, but where has he been? Why wasn't he playing in Japan?" So we did our due diligence because he had to have some story. Let's see if it all adds up to make sure everything is legit. The scary part was that he just walked up and threw 93. That's the beauty about International baseball. You wonder why the other teams haven't seen him. Why haven't the Japanese teams drafted him? Then you find out why he kind of fell off the face of the Earth for a while.
SHANKS: What can signing those two Japanese kids do for you in scouting additional players?
DALE: Well both of those guys got huge publicity when they signed. Every TV and every radio station covered the press conferences. They have a lot of print media over there, so there was a lot of interest, particularly in a top-level high school player signing with the Atlanta Braves and basically turning his back on Japanese baseball. He's the first legit high school player. There have been some others that have been passed up, who have come over here and been very mediocre. He's the first legit guy in Japan out of high school to come into a system like this. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the American system. Who knows in 12 months how good this kid might be? Just like any other high school player that can develop in a year's time. Who knows? He might be like a high level draft pick by then. Let's give him 12 months with our style of baseball and strength and conditioning and see what he can do. Then we can judge him and see where he fits in. But I'll tell you one thing he has good hand-eye coordination and a real nice swing. He makes good contact and has a little pop in there when he wants to. There are so many players over there, so for him to stand out does mean something. He's a bigger Japanese player. He's 6'1". He's a solid build. He'll be at 200 pounds. He's not a lean guy. He's that sort of profile. These guys develop. They've been on rice for so long, so when they come over here they eat some protein and develop.
SHANKS: What's the latest on Sung Jung (Korean pitcher who was with Rome in 2003)?
DALE: He has military duty and will be gone for two years. They were holding out with schooling, but unfortunately the Korean government has put him into the military.
SHANKS: So it'll be 2007 before he returns?
DALE: Two years as of last month. So he'll be back in Spring Training 2007. He'll pitch a bit. They've got leagues over there. He'll throw a little bit.
SHANKS: What's the latest on Matt Timms (Australian pitcher signed last year)?
DALE: He broke his kneecap a few months ago. He'll be coming in to Extended Spring Training on April 6th and then head back to Australia. Then he might come back to the Instructional League. He should be here in spring training next year fighting for a job. He's a big kid - about 6'7" and 240 pounds. He's only 18 years old, but he throws 90-91. He's a big boy.
Bill Shanks has a new book coming out next month on baseball scouting and player development philosophies called Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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