All Logan White could do was laugh when I shared my story.
The 2008 Cubs – the winningest team in the National League that season at 97-64 – were taking on the 84-78 Dodgers in the Division Series. At the time, I was a member of the Cubs’ Baseball Operations department.
It was expected to be a quick series, and it was – for Los Angeles. Sure, Manny Ramirez had a thing or two to do with the Dodgers’ three-game sweep, but the big blow in Game 1 was a James Loney grand slam. For good measure, Russell Martin also went deep later in the contest. In Game 2, Chad Billingsley stifled Cubs bats, allowing one run in 6.2 innings while fanning seven. In Game 3, Jonathan Broxton had his third scoreless appearance of the NLDS in picking up the save and completing the sweep.
“That was a lot of fun,” said White, who is now in his third year with the Padres after spending 13 years up the coast in Los Angeles. In his first two Dodgers drafts in 2002 and 2003, White’s combined haul included Loney, Martin, Billingsley, Broxton, Matt Kemp and A.J. Ellis, along with nine others who spent time in the Majors. “What wasn’t fun is we could never get to the big dance. And you know how hard that is, obviously. It’s tough to get to the big game, and that was my only regret when I was in L.A. – never getting to the World Series.
“That’s what keeps us going. That’s what we’re trying to do in San Diego now. We’re trying to rebuild the farm and everything. Hopefully, at some point, we’ll have some young players like you saw in those Dodgers days.”
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Going back to the early years of the draft – heck, you can really go back to their Brooklyn days and Branch Rickey – the Dodgers have had a reputation for player development and scouting.
Baseball America still calls the Dodgers’ class of 1968 “the best in draft annals,” as the team selected Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Buckner, Doyle Alexander, Geoff Zahn, Joe Ferguson, Tom Paciorek and Bobby Valentine.
But after years of draft success, Los Angeles then had a dry spell. While the 1993 draft brought a couple solid longtime Dodgers in Darren Dreifort and Paul Lo Duca, there was very little cause to pat themselves on the back from 1994-2001. Granted, there were a few solid hits – Paul Konerko (1994), Ted Lilly (1996) and Shane Victorino (1999) – but those three made their biggest impact with other organizations.
In November 2001, the Dodgers turned to Logan White to return their scouting department to its glory days.
A former relief pitcher in Seattle’s farm system, White began his scouting career in 1988 as an associate scout with the Mariners. He had stints as the West Coast supervisor for San Diego (1993-1995) and Baltimore (1996-2001) en route to Los Angeles.
Upon joining the Dodgers’ organization, White brought with him a very high school-centric draft philosophy.
“I think my approach developed from watching others,” he said. “Having been around Don Welke – who was a mentor of mine and worked for Toronto for a long time, and being around Pat Gillick, and in watching the Atlanta Braves during that period of time … when you look at them, they drafted a lot of high-ceiling players and high school players. What I found out was … if you’re picking in the top 10 of the draft, there’s a lot of good scouts and evaluators out there, so teams generally will take the good college player up there.
“We were picking 19th in 2002 and 24th in 2003. My research showed that you’d better know the high school player there because the quality college players that everyone knows have already been taken. Now, there are exceptions to that rule, of course. Mike Mussina went 20th for the Orioles when I was there (in 1990), that type of thing. But there was some philosophy behind it; I didn’t look at it as analytics at the time, but I did research on it.
“The other thing … there was a dynamic that happened in 2002 and 2003. That was the beginning of the ‘Moneyball’ years where teams – it wasn’t just Oakland – were drafting heavily from college. That was their philosophy and a lot of teams did well at it. So maybe 10 or 15 of them weren’t drafting from the high school pool. It just left a bigger pool of talent for us at the high school level in those years. So it was kind of by design and by circumstance, if that makes sense.
“At the same time, we were just trying to draft the best available player who we thought had the highest ceiling. For example, let’s say there would be a college player we liked. We mixed our high school and college players together on the draft board. The college player would be pushed down a little further. Well, now you take another team and they’re only ranking college players. The college player gets ranked higher on their board. Say there’s a college player we would have liked to take in round three. But shoot, he went in round two or at the end of the first round to one of the teams selecting only from the college pool.
“It left us more high school players. It’s really how the draft fell because we liked a number of college guys. Heck, we liked Nick Swisher, but Swisher went before we picked.”
Swisher, who had attended Ohio State, was taken at No. 16 in the 2002 draft by Oakland.
“That’s kind of how those drafts unfolded,” White said. “But we did focus on the high school player. That was definitely by design.”
The 2002 and 2003 drafts were very different for the Dodgers in terms of volume of picks – in ’02, the team gained two additional selections as compensation for the loss of free agent Chan Ho Park to Texas; in ’03, the club only had one pick in the top 60 – but not in terms of a common theme. In his first year as a scouting director, White didn’t select a four-year college player until his ninth pick. In his second year, his first eight picks – and 13 of his first 15 – were high school players.
2002 … the famous “Moneyball” draft.
While Oakland’s draft was covered in-depth in Michael Lewis’ book, White was in the process of telling a story of his own, focusing on a bunch of high school kids.
“It was my first year, and I went to a college baseball tournament at Minute Maid Park,” White recalled. “While I was in Houston, there was a high school game going on and my area scout, Chris Smith, said, ‘There’s a good matchup. You can see two pitchers and a first baseman named James Loney play.’ I went out to the high school and you had Scott Kazmir and Clint Everts pitch. And they all ended up being first-round picks.”
Loney played for Lawrence E. Elkins High School in the Houston suburb of Missouri City. His high school team was facing Cypress Falls High School, which featured Everts (who was selected fifth overall by the Expos) and Kazmir (selected 15th by the Mets).
“James faced them both that day,” White said, “and he hit a home run to left-center off Everts. And he also pitched that day. James was actually touted as a pitcher. He was supposed to be a high draft pick as a pitcher but he swung the bat extremely well. I talked to Chris Smith about him. I’m like, ‘Man, this guy can really swing the bat. I love his swing.’ And I told him to keep an eye on him. Don’t forget him as a hitter even though he was better known as a left-handed pitcher. As the year went on, he was always in the back of my head. We kept checking on him.
“Gib Bodet, our national cross-checker, later went in to see him. He called me and said, ‘Hey Logan, this Loney kid has a chance to be a Gold Glove defender.’ He loved his defense. So we just kept doing our work. Chris and I remember being at a game later in the year and James wasn’t pitching; he was only hitting, and there were no other scouts there. When James was pitching there’d be 30 scouts or whatever. We knew we were probably one of the few teams on him as a hitter.
“There were players we had high on our board. We loved Zack Greinke. We loved Prince Fielder. Like I mentioned, we loved Swisher. But we knew as the draft was going to unfold, those guys were going to get taken ahead of us.
“The one player we were hoping would get to us was Cole Hamels.”
Hamels, a high school left-hander out of San Diego, had fractured his humerus – the bone between the shoulder and the elbow – after his sophomore season. There were medical concerns about him, so White asked for and obtained clearance from Dr. Frank Jobe and from club ownership.
The hope was that there were enough concerns industry-wide to allow Hamels to drop all the way to Dodgers.
“We were hoping Hamels would get to us at 19, and then we could take James at 31 because we had that sandwich pick. That was our strategy, but of course, the Phillies took Hamels at 17,” White said. “So we went with our next plan, moving James up to 19. And then we took Greg Miller, who was a left-handed pitcher who had really good years before he, unfortunately, got hurt. He could have been as good as any of them at 31.”
In taking Loney with their first pick, the Dodgers took him ahead of Denard Span (No. 20 to Minnesota), Jeremy Guthrie (No. 22 to Cleveland), Joe Blanton (No. 24 to Oakland) and Matt Cain (No. 25 to San Francisco).
“That range actually was pretty good from about 15 to 25,” White said. “I remember being asked by writers on the conference call when we took James, ‘You know, Logan, you took James Loney with your first pick at 19. He’s ranked by Baseball America on their list at like, number 56 as a left-handed pitcher.’ I said, ‘No disrespect to anybody, but I only paid attention to our list.’ I was so naïve my first year, and I didn’t even think much about the question. Fortunately, James has had a good career. I would have loved for him to have hit 30 homers and been an All-Star every year, but I’m still proud of him.”
Miller might have softened the blow of missing out on the opportunity to pick Hamels, had Miller been able to stay healthy. As an 18-year-old in 2003, the graduate of Esperanza High School in Anaheim was on the fast track, combining to go 12-5 with a 2.21 ERA at High-A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville. The following year, he missed the entire campaign with shoulder issues, and was never the same.
“He was throwing 95 with a great breaking ball and he was a 6-foot-6 lefty,” White said. “He certainly had as high of a ceiling as any of them. It’s just a shame he got hurt. His stuff was electric, it really was.”
In the second round, White had a pair of selections, choosing Iowa City High School right-hander Zach Hammes at No. 51 and Jonathan Broxton, a right-hander out of Burke County High School in Waynesboro, Ga., at No. 60.
One of those two worked out, as Broxton has pitched in nearly 700 major league games. Hammes pitched until 2013, but only saw brief Triple-A action.
“If I was so smart … McCann, I should’ve taken him right there,” White said. “Obviously, we took Hammes. He was a tall projection pitcher out of Iowa. Our scouts liked him and we thought we were going to get a good one there, but we just didn’t.
“I will tell you with Lester … I learned a lesson. I saw Lester match up against Adam Loewen [who went fourth overall to the Orioles] in the fall of their senior years, and it was a great matchup. Lester threw outstanding. Well, then I went and saw Lester in the spring and his fastball was down. He was 87-89 and did not have the same stuff he showed in the fall. I learned my lesson — I should have gone with what I first saw and with my instincts, and instead, I didn’t do that. I obviously regret missing a big player, a big pitcher, right there.
“Lester and McCann … those bother me because we certainly liked both of those players – but obviously, we didn’t like them as well as the teams that got them.”
Broxton, who is now in his 13th big league season, has appeared in more games than any other pitcher selected in the ’02 draft. Before departing the Dodgers as a free agent after the 2011 season, he went to two All-Star games and made 13 playoff appearances.
“Lon Joyce, our area scout in Georgia, did a really good job on him,” White said. “Broxton was a big, thick guy throwing 90-93. Good slider, good breaking ball and just had a really good delivery for a big guy. And he was athletic. I remember him having to cover first and make a play and he moved well for his size. I just loved the arm and everything.
“Right before the draft there was a Georgia All-Star game, and Lon called me and said, ‘Hey, Logan, I’m at this game and Broxton is throwing 95-96.’ And back then, 95-96 was probably like 97-98 nowadays because the guns were not as sophisticated. But that definitely helped that he saw him right before the draft. We loved the delivery and loved his size. It fit everything we were looking for in him.”
White hit on several other players who had some decent big-league time – fourth-rounder Delwyn Young out of Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College, 11th-rounder James McDonald out of Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, Calif., and 15th-rounder Eric Stults out of Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind.
But the player who would go on to have the biggest impact – Russell Martin – was a second baseman selected in the 17th round out of Chipola College in Marianna, Fla.
“When I went to L.A., I did have a philosophy of, ‘We’re going to look for guys that we can convert to catch,’ because I’ve always felt catching is hard to find,” White said. “It all goes back to being an area scout in Arizona. I remember going in to watch Arizona Western Junior College play.
“They had this shortstop and I liked him. I’m going, ‘Man, this guy can hit a little bit. He can throw, but he’s kind of heavy.’ He was a chunky guy and he didn’t run that well, and he was playing shortstop in junior college. I was a first-year scout, and I started comparing him to the Derek Jeters, the Alex Rodriguezes; I knew this guy couldn’t play short in the big leagues. I didn’t know where he was going to play, but I knew I liked something about him. Well, I didn’t write him up. I didn’t do anything with him. Nobody drafts him.
“Fast forward three or four years later, and I hear this guy’s name again. Somebody signed him after the fact; they worked him out and made him a catcher. And you know who it was? It was Bengie Molina. At the time, I didn’t have the mindset to take a player like that and put him behind the plate. I hadn’t acquired that skill of scouting yet.
“Now, when I get to L.A., I have a little more experience under my belt, and I wanted the scouts to look for guys we could convert to catch. I asked one of my big questions, ‘Is there anybody that’s playing second or short, third, good feet, good hands, we can convert?’ The area scout was Clarence Johns and the East Coast supervisor was John Barr, who’s now with the Giants as their scouting director. They both were at a game and Russ was messing around in the outfield or the bullpen, catching somebody. Just playing, not really in gear or anything. And they said, ‘Hey, you know what? We think this guy would be perfect.’
“So we intentionally drafted him to convert him. The rest is history.”
Martin, a four-time All-Star, is closing in on 1,400 games behind the plate for his big-league career.
“It was by design; we were trying to get guys like that,” White said. “Now we could say we were lucky we got him in the 17th round, of course. But there was a lot of work that had to go into it because I know our catching people had to do a lot of work that helped Russ become the catcher he became.”
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Fast forward 12 months to June of 2003.
Thanks to a 92-70 record during the 2002 campaign, the Dodgers found themselves selecting in the 24th slot of the draft.
Throughout the spring scouting season, though, White had his eye on Chad Billingsley, a high school right-hander out of Defiance, Ohio.
“Well, that year … it wasn’t like the year before when there were a lot of guys you’d have been happy with it,” White said. “We saw Chad really early. And you know the thing about Chad … he was the ace of the Junior Olympic team. Those are things that were always important to me, kids that have played and had success wherever they’d been.
“Chad had such a good arm and a good delivery. He was throwing 94-95 with a plus breaking ball, plus changeup. He had a feel for pitching. He was a pretty good athlete for a high school kid. And we honestly were on Chad right away from the get-go. I’m trying to remember if we had anybody else that we liked better than Chad. I don’t remember off the top of my head; it was not like the way we hoped Hamels would get to us. Chad was pretty much a guy we were going to take at 24; I penciled him in and he was going to be our guy. I had all our people see him. As a matter of fact, I even had Dave Wallace – at the time he was our roving pitching coordinator – go see him for us because I just knew I liked him so much.
“And I think the thing that helped us, too, was he’s a high school right-handed pitcher. The industry gets a little afraid of high school right-handed pitchers, rightly so. A lot don’t make it.”
Billingsley was the first of eight consecutive high school players White selected in 2003. Of those eight, five reached the majors, including fourth-rounder Xavier Paul out of Slidell, La., seventh-rounder Wesley Wright out of Goshen, Ala., and eighth-rounder Lucas May out of Parkway West High School in Ballwin, Mo.
And then there was the sixth-round pick – outfielder Matt Kemp, better known as a basketball player than for his baseball exploits at Midwest City (Okla.) High School. Kemp was the shooting guard on two state championship teams, where he was teammates with Shelden Williams, the fifth pick in the 2006 NBA draft.
“We loved Matt,” White said. “Matt was getting recruited to play basketball by big schools and didn’t play baseball on the circuit. He wasn’t seen in the summers a lot. Honestly, we were really lucky on Matt in that regard.
“My area scout, Mike Leuzinger, took me to see a pitcher on Matt’s team that got drafted [Brent Weaver, the Brewers’ second-round pick]. Matt’s playing right field, and I asked Mike about him. He said, ‘That’s Matt Kemp. He’s a basketball player.’ And he went 0-for-3.
“A bunch of people were in to see the pitcher. They leave, and then I say, ‘We’re going to stick around for the second game.’ I wanted to see Matt play again. He went 1-for-3, then Mike and I asked the coach if he’d let Matt hit some more. So we went and saw Matt hit at the high school.
“And what’s funny, I told Matt, ‘Now do not tell anybody that I’ve been in here. Don’t tell them you met me. Don’t tell them you’ve seen me. Don’t mention my name to anybody, please.’ This is how literally he took that; he didn’t even tell his Mom or Dad. They always kid me about that, ‘We didn’t even know the Dodgers were on him because he didn’t tell us.’ We knew strategy-wise we needed to try to be smart. Mike did a great job; he told me, ‘Logan, nobody’s going to take him until the eighth, ninth, 10th round. Nobody sees him as that kind of guy.’ We had him on our board in about the third or fourth round.
“We actually had him over Xavier Paul, who we took in the fourth round. Xavier was going to Tulane, but I knew I might be able to sign him if we took him in the fourth. But if I took Matt in the fourth and Xavier in the sixth, I probably would just be able to sign Matt. So that became part of our strategy in how we drafted them. That’s where Mike did a great job. And that’s an important part of scouting – to get a feel for where you have to take a player. It helps you maximize your draft.
“Mike did a good job of knowing we didn’t have to take Matt there, so it allowed us to take Matt in the sixth round. I didn’t want to let him fall too far because it’s dangerous trying that. When you look back you might even say it was stupid to wait that long; somebody could’ve taken him.”
Kemp, a two-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time Silver Slugger, looks like a player with his athletic build. Playing in front of a bunch of scouts because his high school team included a highly rated pitcher, it’s amazing that he fell to the 181st slot.
“I honestly don’t know the reason for that,” White said. “I do think the fact that people thought he would play basketball, and he wasn’t seen a lot, and it’s one of those … I don’t know. I wish I knew the answer to what other teams are thinking.”
Once the draft moved into the late teens, White again landed a catcher who would go on to see significant time in the majors with 18th-rounder A.J. Ellis, a backstop out of Austin Peay University. This time, White was actually looking for someone who had caught before.
While not a star in the same category as Russell Martin, Ellis is now in his 10th big league season and was a member of the Dodgers’ organization from draft day 2003 until an August 2016 trade to Philadelphia.
“If you look at my drafts historically, I’m kind of superstitious,” White said. “I don’t know why I got superstitious about that. I guess because of Martin. But I always try to target a catcher there.
“I have to give credit to Marty Lamb, the area scout. What we were targeting that year … we were honestly trying to get a catcher who was older, who had some leadership qualities, those kind of things – because we did have a young pitching corps that we had drafted in back-to-back years. We had just drafted Broxton and all those guys and then we had Billingsley and those guys. Russ was just learning to catch. So we had a need for a guy that was a little more polished to catch our young guys.
“I had a really good feel for A.J. based on how Marty felt about him, and the way he’s turned out is exactly what Marty described. Great person. Quality leader. Not going to wow you when you first see him. We were fortunate that we got him in the 18th round.”
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During his tenure in Los Angeles, more than 50 of White’s draft selections reached the major leagues. Some turned out to be better than others. (He did pick some guy named Clayton Kershaw, for instance.) Most came from the high school ranks.
His time in L.A. was reminiscent of the Dodger Way of scouting and developing players.
“That 2002 draft, and again in 2003, we felt really good when we left the draft room,” White said. “And sometimes when you feel good leaving the draft room, your instincts are usually right.
“Those two years, what I’m just as proud of – and this may sound stupid, but I’m really proud of it – I think our scouts did great work after the draft as well. There’s actually three players that don’t show up on those lists. We signed a fifth-year senior out of Maryland named Steve Schmoll, who got to the big leagues and contributed.
“After the 2002 draft, Hank Jones, our scout in the Northwest, signed a pitcher out of Portland named Eric Hull who got in a little big league time. And then the next year, we signed a player named Jamie Hoffman – who Jeff Schugel saw in the American Legion Tournament in Minnesota, I want to say. We signed Jamie towards the end of that summer, and he got in some time. We actually ended up with three more big leaguers than what actually showed up in the draft process.
“You try to get as many high-ceiling players as you can that are going to be quality big leaguers, and then you want to have depth. I was proud of the scouts; they kept working through the later rounds. They kept working after the draft. Those guys were out there working their tails off. It was one of our philosophies – to keep pressing before and after the draft and always be out there looking for talent.”
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Chuck Wasserstrom spent 25 years in the Chicago Cubs’ front office – 16 in Media Relations and nine in Baseball Operations. Now a freelance writer, his behind-the-scenes stories of his time in a big league front office can be found on www.chuckblogerstrom.com.