In three decades of scouting, Louie Eljaua has helped sign 21 big leaguers, including World Series MVPs Liván Hernández and Jorge Soler. The headliner in that group is Miguel Cabrera, and Eljaua never will forget when he first saw the future first-ballot Hall of Famer as a 15-year-old in Venezuela.
"To say the least, he was very impressive," Eljaua said. "Definitely a guy you come across only every once in a while as a kid who's a teenager and really blows your socks off. Miggy was one of the more memorable first looks, just the way he went about hitting a baseball at that age was very advanced."
Eljaua, now with the Cubs, was honored as the 2021 international Scout of the Year at a reception Saturday in Las Vegas, part of the 37th annual awards event. Other recipients included Jeff Brookens (Reds, East Coast), Ralph Garr (Braves, Midwest) and Jesse Flores (recently retired from the Pirates, West Coast). Former Giants director of Dominican operations Pablo Peguero was honored posthumously as the international Scout of the Year for 2020, when no ceremony was held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Eljaua, 52, played and coached under now-Tigers GM Al Avila at St. Thomas (Fla.) before following him into pro ball with the Marlins as an associate scout in 1992. Currently the Cubs' vice president of international scouting, he has run the team's international efforts since 2012, previously did the same for the Marlins (1999-2001) and Red Sox (2002-03) and also has worked for the Tigers and Pirates. With Chicago, he has overseen the signings of Willson Contreras, Eloy Jiménez, Gleyber Torres and Soler.
There also was a humorous side to the courtship of Cabrera, who signed for $1.8 million (then a record for a straight international bonus deal) in July 1999. Not only did the Marlins scout the slugger and build a relationship with him and his family, but they also traded souvenir uniforms and bobbleheads to his neighbor for insight.
"Miguel Garcia, our scout and the guy who ran our operations in Venezuela, became friendly with a guy who lived across the street and had all the dope on what was going on and who'd show up at the house," Eljaua said. "So he'd bring some gear by for the guy and kept it friendly with him, and he kept giving us information. It's the little things that go into trying to gain an edge in our market and that's one instance where that type of thing was valuable."
Brookens, 69, was an inspector for the Pennsylvania department of transportation and a college umpire when Royals scout Bob Carter recommended that he pursue a part-time scouting position with the Cubs. Brookens hooked up with Chicago in 1986 and became a full-time area scout in 1992 before moving on to the same job with the Brewers in 1993 and the Reds after the 2004 Draft. He covers the mid-Atlantic and his six Major League signees run the gamut from first-rounder and All-Star Devin Mesoraco to 17th-rounder Chris Heisey out of tiny Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
"I always like to go to small-school tournaments and I saw Chris play when I went to see a pitcher for Messiah at a tournament in Boyertown," Brookens said. "I always ran a tryout camp in Lancaster and he came and showed well there. He was strong and athletic and I was one of the few guys on him. I called him before the Draft and asked if any other guys had been in touch with him, and he said no."
Flores, 66, pitched four seasons in the Blue Jays system before coaching at Sacramento (Calif.) CC and Sacramento State (his alma mater) before getting into scouting. He worked as an area scout for the Angels (1985-89) and Pirates (1990-92), a West Coast crosschecker for the Indians (1993-2001) and Pirates (2008-21) and also as a special assistant in Pittsburgh (2001-08). He signed six future big leaguers -- most notably future Phillies GM Ruben Amaro -- and was involved with Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, C.C. Sabathia and Richie Sexson as a crosschecker.
"If you get lucky enough to be around good people, you can learn a lot by listening," Flores said. "This is very overwhelming because this is the highest honor you can get as a scout. To get selected by your peers, there is no greater honor."
Garr, 77, played 13 seasons in the Majors, winning the National League batting title (.353) and earning All-Star honors in 1974. He spent three years out of the game after retiring in 1981 before former teammate Henry Aaron, then the Braves' vice president of player development, hired him as a part-scout, part-coach. Garr became a full-time area scout in Texas in 1987 and signed big leaguers Micah Bowie and Chris Seelbach before sliding into a special-assignment role in 2019.
"Henry was a wonderful friend," Garr said. "I looked up to him in every way, the way he played the game, the way he carried himself and represented the game of baseball. He influenced me in everything."
Peguero caught for eight years in the Dodgers system and began scouting for them in 1984, eventually running their facility in the Dominican Republic before moving to the Giants in 2004. He helped sign 26 big leaguers, including Adrián Beltré, Raul Mondesi and Jose Vizcaino. He died last July 7 at age 66.
Thanks to the SABR Scouts Committee for research assistance.