MLBTR’s list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’ve been bringing you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with A.J. Preller, the Rangers' senior director of player personnel.
A.J. Preller grew up a Yankees fan in Huntington Station. He met a fellow New York baseball fanatic named Jon Daniels while pledging Delta Chi at Cornell, but it was Preller who broke into Major League Baseball first, snagging an internship with the Phillies during college. After graduating Preller worked under Frank Robinson for the Arizona Fall League. Preller went on to work for MLB and then the Dodgers before landing with the Rangers seven years ago. He advises Daniels on all player acquisitions, and works in international, amateur, and professional scouting.
I caught up with the well-traveled Preller last Tuesday, before his Rangers suffered a Game 3 ALCS loss to Detroit. Preller had a lot of interesting stories about the Rangers, though we didn't focus much on him.
On the Colby Lewis signing:
Colby is definitely an interesting story. We had two scouts, Joe Furukawa and Josh Boyd, who were big proponents of Colby. They felt like he had gone over Japan and made a few adjustments and his stuff would play back here in the States. Joe worked for the Hiroshima Carp in the past, so he got a chance to see a lot of Colby's starts in Japan. Joe did the first bullpen Colby threw, and Colby didn't need a huge adjustment. What you see right now from Colby is kind of what it looked like first bullpen on day one with the Carp. The 2 big separators are legitimate fastball command and the out pitch slider that we thought would play over here.
On the Nelson Cruz trade:
He was an interesting guy, a toolsy guy. You always want to take a chance on a guy that's got huge raw power, a big arm, and he's a tremendous person. You want to give those guys every opportunity in the world to try to figure it out. One of the last times Nellie went to Triple-A, [current senior director of player development] Scott Servais asked if he'd want to make an adjustment and go to an open stance. Nellie opened up the stance. Last year in Tampa after winning the first round of the playoffs, Nellie comes up to Servais in the middle of the celebration and hugs him and says, "Hey, thank you for making my career." That shows what kind of person Nellie is.
On C.J. Wilson's move to the rotation:
There was a lot of debate within our group whether he could make that adjustment, and J.D. [Jon Daniels] encourages everybody to speak their mind. Mike Anderson, Nolan Ryan, and Thad Levine felt like he could make that adjustment. The biggest reason was that C.J. was pushing it to us, he wanted to be a starter. He really cares about his profession and making himself as good as he can be. He has three or four pitches that are gonna play and he had the demeanor for it. He was adamant he could do it.
Do the Rangers do something differently than other teams?
We really focus on getting good people, creative people that are passionate about the game. It burns them to be the best in their field. We give them a lot of room to grow in their field and trust what they're saying. Keith Boeck, one of our pro scouts, has been in our organization the last seven or eight years and he went out during the Mark Teixeira trade discussions and was one person that identified the Braves as an organization that might be a match. He was one of the first guys to see Neftali Feliz at 17-18 years old, he saw and really believed in Matt Harrison, and Elvis Andrus. Those are three key pieces of what we've done the last few years. J.D. finds some matches and gives our scouts the ability to go out and make good evaluations and be creative. Those were not guys that were knocking on the door necessarily - an A ball shortstop hitting .230 at the time, a power arm reliever, and Harrison was on the DL at the time. That's the atmosphere J.D. fosters- if you're good, you work hard, and you're passionate what you do, you have a chance to get players.
On the difficulty of pulling off the Teixeira trade:
The most fun we've had as a group was during that process. It was challenge - trading a great player like Mark Teixeira, you need to get value back. The challenge is to identify the teams that have interest in acquiring the player and then identifying the players in those systems who can be impact players to set you up for a long time down the road. It was a total group effort - from the front office to our pro scouts. It was all hands on board - amateur scouts, pro scouts, coaches. We identified three or four clubs that had a chance to acquire Teixeira and we wanted to acquire their players.
On Don Welke:
Don is one of the best scouts in the game. He was Pat Gillick's right-hand man for about 20 years with the Blue Jays and Orioles. He's been with us for the last six years and has a lot to do with setting the philosophy on the scouting side and the player acquisition side. He was a huge proponent of Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Neftali Feliz. He goes after big-time impact players with plus makeup. A guy like Don Welke is a separator.
Other unsung members of the front office:
Guys like Mike Daly, Kip Fagg and Josh Boyd help to set the direction and philosophy for all our scouting operations. Mike Daly oversees our international scouting. Mike started with the Indians as an area scout. He's put together a very good group of international scouts and has developed a thorough process. That market is a true free agent market and he's been able to recruit, develop relationships, and sign some of the better players. His developed a tremendous relationship Jurickson Profar and his family, and Profar wanted to be a Ranger.