While we wait for the baseball season to get underway and for scouts to get back out on the road for their respective organizations, MLB Pipeline will shine a spotlight on these hard-working evaluators who are typically behind the scenes. We’ll talk to scouts across the game about their best Draft picks, biggest misses, best stories, go-to road food and more.
In the fall of 2009, Jamie Lehman became a Minor League free agent after finishing up his season at Class A Auburn. The right-handed reliever got into 19 games in the Blue Jays organization, after spending his first five-and-a-half professional seasons with the Expos and Nationals organizations.
A few days after his free agency became official, Toronto’s then-scouting director Andrew Tinnish -- now the VP of international scouting -- came calling to offer the right-hander an opportunity in the Blue Jays’ scouting department.
“Andrew tells this story all the time,” Lehman said. “Because I told him, ‘I’d love to scout, but when my playing career’s done,’ and he just said, ‘OK,’ and hung up. I went back to my forklift and thought about it for a second and thought, that was stupid. I had a 6.67 ERA in A ball at 24 years old. So I went back to the phone and said, ‘Yeah, I would love to scout.’”
Though the offer was a surprise to Lehman, the idea didn’t come to Tinnish completely out of nowhere. A native of Brampton, Ont., a suburb of Toronto, Lehman would return home after his Minor League seasons and head to Rogers Centre to reunite with Tinnish and the man who originally drafted him in the 29th round in 2003, Alex Anthopoulos, currently the general manager of the Braves.
“At the time Alex and Andrew were charting velos and I would go sit behind home with them,” the 35-year-old said. “Carlos Delgado would look up to see what the velo was, and if you put three fingers pointing up it was 93, and if you put two down, it was 88. So I sat there for those games and we talked baseball. I don’t remember having any knowledge of any kind, but evidently they thought I had some.”
Lehman originally joined the Blue Jays as an area scout covering Canada and upstate New York, and has since moved into a regional crosschecker role based in southern California.
Best Draft pick
“I’m pretty proud of Dalton Pompey and Tim Locastro,” Lehman said. “Dalton’s up-and-down journey has been well-documented but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that he was a kid from Mississauga, a later Draft pick, who got to the Major Leagues at 21 years old. That was a huge challenge and I’m really proud of him for accomplishing that.”
When Lehman first encountered Locastro, he was a Division-III shortstop at what he jokingly referred to as the “baseball powerhouse that is Ithaca College.” His father-in-law was involved with the Auburn Doubledays and mentioned there was an infielder Lehman should check out.
“Typically when you get those tips ... 99.9 percent of the time they’re dead leads,” he said. “But I had to see a pitcher there, and I saw him and thought he was all right. I went back and saw him the next year when he was a Draft-eligible junior and he was pretty good. We drafted him in the 13th round and he got to the Major Leagues, and now he seems to be a part of the Arizona Diamondbacks' everyday roster, so that’s pretty cool.”
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“I believe I was one of the first scouts to talk to this kid, just out of happenstance,” Lehman said. “I was doing a camp in Calgary and ran into a 14-year-old Mike Soroka, and it’s all in hindsight, but you could tell right then that he was special. It was a maturity and a passion and intelligence for the game, along with being a big, physical kid. And as you scouted him more, the more you knew how special he was.
“I wrote multiple reports on him, and the last line of every report was, ‘We need to get this kid, he’s super special.’ You’re seeing that now. None of us who know him are surprised because of how special a human he is and a pitcher. I use him as my bar now, when we’re going to meet with kids and evaluate makeup. Mike is an 80. People always say, ‘top-of-the-charts’ makeup and that gets diluted a little bit, but for me there’s only one at the top of the chart and that’s Mike.”
“How much time have you got?” Lehman joked. “I’ve missed on a ton of players to varying degrees, but the one from Canada that’s always bothered me was Nick Pivetta. He was early in my scouting career and I remember as a junior he had a really good year. He was a strong prospect, and then came out as a senior and there was an injury and he just wasn’t great, and we all walked away.
“It’s something I hope we wouldn’t do now, because he went to junior college, got healthy and became the Nick Pivetta we see now. It was a lesson. We had great information, we had seen him really good, he just had a rough senior spring and we all ran for the hills and we missed on a guy with a lot of upside.”
“When I got the job, there was this name, he was a horse -- it was Wayne Norton. He was the bar and you had to live up to it. He was a veteran, had signed a ton of good players, he knew everything somehow, you just didn’t know how he knew it. He was on top of all the information. He was the best. The legacy he’s left on us all is pretty strong.”
In-car entertainment of choice
“I’ve always been a podcast guy. I rotate the types, so I’ll do a Spanish podcast to up the practice of my Spanish, and I love true crime. I’ll do some about cognitive bias and educational stuff too. I love podcasts.”
“My favorite, period, is Sunken Diamond, Stanford’s baseball field. There’s something really special about it. ... In Canada there are a lot, but as a kid who grew up playing there, getting to scout there, it’s Connorvale Park -- that’s where Joey Votto came from -- and it’s a historical baseball field in southern Ontario.”
Advice to industry hopefuls
“I’m not ignorant to the fact that I was incredibly lucky,” Lehman said. “I was offered a job straight out of playing and I’ve been lucky enough to keep it somehow, but for people trying to get in, what I notice and what I look for is just a relentless passion and a willingness to learn. You don’t have to have some greater skillset.”