It is no coincidence that the top six prospects in the Dodgers organization are pitchers, and that five of them were drafted out of high school. Logan White is in charge of the team’s amateur scouting department, and he might be the best in the business when it comes to analyzing and projecting young hurlers. He is certainly more willing than most to take a prep pitcher in the first round — seven in the last 10 years — with Clayton Kershaw being the shining star of his efforts.
White, whose official title is Assistant GM, Amateur and International Scouting, talked about the decision to draft Kershaw instead of Tim Lincecum, and his more-recent selections of Chris Reed, Zach Lee, Nate Eovaldi, and Allen Webster.
White on 2010 first-round pick Zach Lee, biomechanical assessments, and signability: “Scouting and signing Zach was a fun time in my career, because we had the ability to go after a player above slot. The fact that he was a five-year payout guy and a dual-sport player certainly helped.
“We had what I call a video-scout draft, in January, that year. We do a lot of work on the biomechanics of the delivery and how the arm works. We match it with what our scouts have seen and come up with a list, as if the draft was that day. When we left that meeting, Zach was one of the top guys on it.
“We watched him that spring. I never really thought we’d be able to get him until I started seeing that the signability issue was going to be a big factor. I told our area scout, Calvin Jones, ‘Hey, just leave him alone; stay in the background.’ I wasn’t sure if teams in front of us were on him, so I didn’t want us to tip our hand about how much we liked him.
“Another factor that played into it was the draft changes, where if you didn’t sign your pick, you got a pick. I was comfortable taking that risk, as were Ned [Colletti] and ownership, so we were able to go for it. That said, I always felt we had a good chance to sign Zach. A lot of people thought we made the pick expecting not to sign him, but that was never the case.
“I tell our scouts that I don’t ever want them to determine if a player is signable. Their job isn’t to tell me if they’re going to sign or not sign. I just want them to get a feeling for what the likelihood is. Do they feel the player needs to be a high-round draft pick? If he does, what if he’s a lower-round pick? I try to get a feel for how much they want to play. We base a lot off of that. If my scouts say that it’s going to take top-three-rounds money to sign a player, and I take him in the fifth round, I don’t expect to sign him.
“I don’t assign a specific percentage to the likelihood — 100 percent, 90, 80, or anything like that — but we do a ton of work on signability prior to the draft. Two of the biggest factors are the family’s comfort level and the player’s comfort level for going out to play professional baseball. That’s important when you’re talking about a high school player.
“For me, the college players are easy. You can probably put a percentage on them, because 95 percent of college juniors are going to sign. That means your chances should be about 95 percent, no matter where you take them. Not always — maybe it’s a special guy who fell to the 10th or 12th round and isn’t going to be easy — but college juniors sign. High school guys are a different animal, and the lower they go the harder it is to sign them, especially if they thought they were going to be a higher pick.
“Getting back to Zach Lee, specifically, I would say that when we drafted him, my instincts were that he would sign. If I had to put a percentage number on it, I’d say it was 60/40. Going in, I already had the commitment from ownership that we would go to significant dollars, so that was never an issue. I knew that I would have the wherewithal financially. What I didn’t know was how strong Zach’s commitment was to play football [at LSU].
“The Biomechanical assessment was very important to our decision to draft Zach. We rank guys on athleticism, and he’s in the upper percentage in terms of that. Mechanically — how his delivery works — he was in the upper echelon. The only negative he had in his delivery was that he threw across his body a little bit, but we feel that is correctable. A lot of significant pitchers have thrown across their body, so you just have to fix their line a little bit. But in terms of arm action, Zach’s front side, his lead arm, how his legs work, his lower half and stride to the plate — all of that — was in the top percentages. I’d say he was in the upper 10 percent of the draft.
“We’ve talked to him about [throwing across his body] and he’s making strides to eliminate that. Where it really affects you is your breaking ball; it’s a little tougher to get as much late break on your breaking ball. It can also cause you to throw against your front side somewhat, so it’s a little harder on your elbow. Zach started to get a little soreness in his elbow, which is one of the reasons we addressed it.
“We’ve had him enact those changes, but it’s also a process as to how fast, and how far, you take something. When you’re changing something mechanical, you have to go step by step and a little bit at a time. I think you can throw too much at these guys and hurt their arms, hurt their deliveries, hurt their effectiveness.”
On drafting Clayton Kershaw 8th overall in 2006, two picks before Tim Lincecum and immediately after Andrew Miller and Brandon Morrow: “Of the three guys we didn’t take, I’d say we spent more time on Morrow. Part of it was that when you’re looking at players, and evaluating them, you’re also factoring in the industry. You’re asking yourself, ‘Who is going to get to us?’ We felt that Morrow had a better chance of getting to us, because Miller was projected to go before we picked. Because of that, we didn’t spend as much on Miller. I had also seen him in high school and there were things that needed work, like his front side, so my comfort level wasn’t as high with him.
“Looking at the [biomechanical] factors, I felt that Kershaw had the best delivery, the best mechanics, the best arm action, of the four. There are obviously other factors when you‘re looking at someone. A guy can have great mechanics and a terrible makeup, or he may simply not have the arm speed. There are different variables that come into play, but biomechanics are certainly a big factor for us and we liked Kershaw’s mechanics.
“The funny thing is, a lot of people think Lincecum’s mechanics are bad, but according to the way we do it — the studies I’ve done — they aren’t as advertised. They’re not bad. He’s just a big-time tilter who rears back. If you break him down, he’s pretty solid. People just look at the funky way he rears back, like the old-time guys used to do, and think, ‘Those are bad mechanics,’ but he has better mechanics than a ton of guys.
“Getting back to the original question, we didn’t have any of those guys ahead of Kershaw on our list. We took him based on the fact that he was the best player. From there, everything came together. I have a lot of faith in our player development people. All the way through our minor-league system, we have good coaches and coordinators. You put a lot of trust in those guys, but I also look at it this way: you don’t want to go out and buy something that needs a lot of work. You want to buy something of quality. You don’t go out and buy a TV knowing that it needs this, this and this. You want to buy one that already works pretty well. You still have to mount it in the wall and hook up the speaker system, but that’s part of the deal.
“What we try to find is the guys with the best biomechanics who need the least tweaking and adjustments. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect and won’t need anything, but the less the better. Kershaw fit that profile.”
On 2008 18th-round pick Allen Webster thus far outperforming 2008 first-round pick Ethan Martin: “Martin was a high school pitcher who hadn’t pitched much. Going into the draft, a lot of people actually saw him as a third baseman. I still think he’s going to be really good. If you look back at Roy Halladay’s career, or at Cliff Lee, you’ll see similar things; they struggled and got sent down. I think that sometimes we can be too quick to judge and end up thinking, ‘This guy’s not going to make it.’
“If Ethan was throwing 88 mph, or something like that, I might say that he doesn’t have a chance, but he has one of the best arms in our system. He’s strong, but he has to learn how to pitch. That’s part of his process. It’s not mechanical, because he runs it up there and his mechanics are good. I still think he’s going to be a good player.
“With Webster, it’s kind of like you’re shopping for paintings and you go to an art dealer and find one that costs you $150,000. Then you go to a garage sale and get lucky. You find something for a lot less and later discover that it’s really valuable. People simply didn’t realize what it was. To me, that’s kind of Webster’s story.
“Webster was a shortstop in high school. He pitched very sparingly — just seven innings in all. Our area scout, Lon Joyce, did a great job. He brought him to our workout in Atlanta — that’s another thing we do: I have workouts in three regions of the country, right before the draft. Those are huge for us. We’ve drafted a lot of good players out of these workouts.
“None of crosschecked Webster. Our area scout is the only one who saw him prior to the workout. He threw 88-91 off the mound and, surprisingly, had good mechanics. You can tell pretty quickly when a guy goes on the mound. Either they’re going to naturally do it pretty well, or they’re not, and he was very natural. He’s been a gem. We went to a garage sale and found a Mona Lisa of sorts.”
On Nathan Eovaldi, the team’s 11th-round pick in 2008: “Nathan is an example of how we try to look outside the box. Along with trying to get the things right we’re supposed to get right, we’re always looking for ways to maximize our drafts within the funds we have to work with.
“He’s a guy who’d had Tommy John surgery. He was tall, thin and rangy, and hadn’t pitched his senior year of high school. [Former scouting director] Tim Hallgren did a great job. He saw him in his one outing, down in Texas. Our area scout knew about him, of course.
“We took him in the draft and then worked him out that summer, when we went in to play the Astros. I had Nathan throw for Joe Torre and Rick Honeycutt. I introduced him to everybody, which I think helped us. He was going to go to Texas A&M — he was going to be a tough sign — but I left him alone with Chad Billingsley, James Loney, Matt Kemp, and all those guys. I said, ’talk to them’ and walked away. I had no idea what they’d say — whether they would tell him to sign or to not sign — and obviously they made a good impression on him.
“Signing a player like Nathan is a testament to good scouting. Scouts who have been around the block a little bit don’t believe everything they hear. It’s easy to believe, particularly as a young scout, that someone isn’t going to sign. They kind of let a guy fall by the wayside, because they don’t think they have a chance. Like I said earlier, I’ve always told our scours, ’Let me decide if they’re signable or not; you just report on the player.’ The worst thing that can that happen is for a scout to decide someone isn’t signable, so your crosschecker doesn’t see him, and you don’t see him, and three years later he’s pitching in the big leagues and beating you.
“We’re not perfect. The kid for Tampa Bay, Matt Moore, is the one that bothers me the most. He came from my home State, New Mexico. I know where Moriarty is, the Moriarty Pintos. We’re talking about a seventh-round pick who might be one of the best late picks in a long, long time. And we missed him.”
On taking Chris Reed in the first round of the 2011 draft, ahead of high-ceiling high school players like Blake Swihart, Joe Ross and Robert Stephenson: “Not to be disrespectful to the other teams, or to those players, but Chris Reed was absolutely who we considered the best guy. When we picked, there were a number of good players we passed on, and it was because we really liked Chris Reed. I think we found a diamond in the rough out of Stanford.
“He didn’t pitch a lot as a freshman or as a sophomore. He pitched really well after his sophomore year, in a summer league. We followed him and were really on him going into his junior year. I like to think that we were on his bandwagon long before most people realized he was on the map.
“We saw him pitch a lot. A lot of people had trouble seeing him, because he was a closer and might not have pitched when they were there. I saw him four times myself, which is tough when it’s a reliever. We felt pretty comfortable when we took him.
“He’s 6-foot-4 and athletic as can be. He’s in great physical shape. He throws 95 from the left side, with a hard slider and a good changeup. We’re also talking about a guy with good makeup who is bright. To me, if he would have gotten seen more, I don’t think there’s a chance he gets to the 16th pick. I think we got lucky. Time will bear that out. We might be wrong.
“I think he can start. That’s why we took him. There’s no question in my mind that he could come up to our major-league team this year and pitch out of the bullpen. I think he could do that easily, but any time you have a chance to create a starter, or keep a guy a starter, you need to do that. Frontline starters are tough to find.
“The easiest thing to do is convert a guy to a reliever. I can look back to when we signed Takashi Saito out of Japan. He was an All-Star closer after we signed him for almost nothing and brought him to camp. You can find those guys. But it’s not very often that you’re going to find a guy somewhere and he makes the All-Star team as a starting pitcher. You better develop those guys. At least that’s my philosophy.
“We’re looking for guys who can start and be frontline guys, although some of them will turn out to be relievers. When we took Scott Elbert, out of high school, we were hoping that he’d be a starter. Now he’s a lefthander out of the bullpen.
“There are probably some similarities [between Reed and White Sox lefthander Chris Sale], although Reed is a little more physical. I think Sale is a little more slender, a little more arms and legs, and throws a lot of stuff at you. He probably also throws from a little lower arm slot. [Reed] has a little higher slot, partially because he was lean-over kind of guy in his delivery and we have him more upright now. His angle is a little higher than it was.
“From a size standpoint — from a physical standpoint — the question is whether Chris will be able to handle the workload. I think he’s physical enough to handle a 200-plus-inning workload, down the road.”
“We’ll watch his innings this year. Once we get to the halfway point — we’ve done it with Kershaw, Billingsley, and all these guys — we take them out of the rotation for a time period, and put them in the bullpen, to slow their innings down. We’ll have to do that a little more with Chris, because he only pitched about 40 innings in college. I’m not sure what we’ll limit him to, but it will definitely stop by 150.
“That will probably slow down his track to the major leagues a little bit, but fortunately we’re in a situation where we have to push him too fast. I think we’re in a pretty good position with a lot of young pitchers coming.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.