Scouting a year-round job for former Phillie Schall
Following a 12-year pro career, Gene Schall returned to Villanova University to complete a B.S. degree in business with a minor in psychology. He needed an internship and there was only one opening -- in the IT department. "Not knowing anything about computers, I took it. Got assigned to the help desk. You can imagine how much help I was," he said with a laugh.
Phillies assistant general manager/scouting and player development Mike Arbuckle reached out to Schall to see if he was interested in getting back into the game. "I was, but told Mike I didn't want to be in uniform as I had enough of that and I didn't want an office job. Mike replied, 'That makes you a scout.'"
A new career was launched for Schall as an area scout for the Phillies in 2008, looking at amateur talent in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and South Jersey. The next year, Gene was promoted to regional supervisor. His territory was the eastern part of the country, from Florida to Canada. He assumed the title as Mid-Atlantic regional supervisor in 2014 and now oversees three area scouts.
Schall is one of four regional supervisors, two scouting coordinators and the director of amateur scouting administration under director of amateur scouting Johnny Almaraz. The staff includes 16 area scouts, 18 independent contractors (they receive a stipend and expenses) and a bushel-barrel of associate scouts who are also referred to as "bird dogs." That group consists of coaches, umpires and friends who will let the area scout know if there is a player who is a candidate to follow.
Yet another phase of the team's amateur scouting world is international scouting, headed by Sal Agostinelli. Scouts and independent contractors cover Venezuela, Panama, Dominican Republic, Antilles, Mexico, Aruba, Colombia, Korea, Italy and the Pacific Rim. The signing period in the Latin American countries begins in early summer. Players in these areas are not subject to the Draft.
The Major League Baseball season generally begins in April and ends in October. With the exception of a few weeks of down time, Schall's life, and that of a scout, is January through December.
He explains: "In the middle of January, Johnny [Almaraz] will have a three-day meeting at Citizens Bank Park with the coordinators, area supervisors and baseball-administration staff. It is the first step in preparing for the Draft. We zero in on the top 10-20 players, kids we will want to follow. Around the third week of January, junior colleges and high schools in Florida, the Southwest and far West begin playing. Division I college programs start in February. It cranks up even more as we get into March."
Airplanes, car rentals, hotels, games and players now consume Schall's schedule. Early April was another meeting with Almaraz, coordinators and area supervisors. In 2015 it took place in Dallas.
"We reviewed the top players that might be available when we select, 10th in the first round and 48th in the second round," Schall said. "Through the area scouts, we learn of players who have gone backwards or new players to consider."
That same group begins to double-check the top prospects no matter where they are located in the country. They'll double back again on these players in early May before they set up shop in the Draft room at Citizens Bank Park about 10 days before the Draft begins.
"Johnny believes the more eyes, reports, angles and information will help us in slotting the players," Schall said.
While the naked eye is still No.1 in judging a player, technology has provided additional tools in judging players. "The information that is available today is mind-boggling, 10 times more than was there 5-7 years ago. The radar gun helps, but Louisville Sluggers let you know how hard the kid is throwing. We have video of almost every player. Colleges and even high schools have multiple video cameras on the fields providing various views. Every high school league and college conference has all kinds of statistics. Through analytics, we can digest all this information and learn that a certain player may not play up to his stats. Analytics helps us paint a total picture."
Technology is a gigantic tool to help scouts and their schedules. "I don't know how scouts did it 20-30 years ago," Schall said. "One scout told me he'd be heading for a game, would pull off the road when he saw a pay phone, call his voicemail to see if the game for which he's heading is still on or canceled. Today, we have the Internet, smart phones, iPads and GPS. Communication is 24/7, real easy to stay in touch with each other. A text lets me know if the game is still on. My GPS takes me right to the field. No more paper maps."
The 2015 Draft began June 8. Commissioner Rob Manfred stepped to the microphone, "With the 10th selection in the Draft, the Phillies select Cornelius Randolph from Griffin High School, Griffin, Ga."
Randolph is from Schall's territory, specifically scout Aaron Jersild, whose area, in addition to Georgia, includes South Carolina, Northern Florida and Latin America.
Schall explains, "Cornelius had been on our radar for two years of high school baseball and summer leagues. Aaron pegged him as a high pick right from the beginning. All of us saw him play multiple times. I probably saw him 25-30 times. We all agreed he was the most comfortable high school hitter in the country. Many high school players are question marks when it comes to hitting, inconsistency. This guy hit everywhere we saw him.
"As Johnny said on Draft day, Cornelius is a ballplayer and he loves to play. We can see talent but we need to learn what makes a kid tick. Getting to know the parents and teammates is extremely important. Aaron spent a lot of time with the family. Some kids view being drafted as sort of a novelty. Others want to play. You need to learn if a kid is willing to spend time developing his skills in the Minor Leagues riding buses and failing. Baseball is a game of failure. Being a great athlete, Cornelius was a shortstop/pitcher. We're looking to change his position. Is it left field? Third base? It will take some time to learn but we believe his makeup will allow him to do this."
So the Draft is over. Golf, pool time, Cape Cod? Well, somewhat. But more baseball is on Schall's calendar. Throughout the summer, various high school showcase events are held across the country. There'll be tryouts for the USA Jr. Team (high schoolers) and Team USA (college players) in North Carolina. The Phillies scout all the college summer leagues. Schall will spend two weeks in Cape Cod ... scouting.
"Players eligible for 2016 and 2017 can be seen. It's the beginning for the next Draft."
Late August turns into a short down time for Gene and the amateur scouts before college programs reboot in September. Some high schools have fall ball. According to Schall, late October is the unofficial end of the scouting season. Pro scouting is a separate wing of Phillies baseball operations. Fifteen scouts cover the professional leagues strictly. Schall will dabble in pro scouting by spending some November and December time in the Venezuela and Dominican Winter Leagues.
Greatest joy of his job? "Finding future Major Leaguers, watching them go through the difficult development process and make it to the top."
All the travel doesn't get to him. "It's much easier than being a player riding buses and then having to play a game."
He does confess that his travel schedule can be a nightmare. "Sometimes I wake up in a hotel and don't know where I am. I've returned car rentals to the wrong company. Many times I arrive at an airport with tickets for three different destinations. It depends if a certain player is going to play, pitching rotations and weather conditions. The airline people think I'm crazy. There have been times when I'm seated, the airplane doors close and my destination needs to be changed. Something like 7-8 times the plane went back to the gate to let me off after I pleaded my case."
So next time you are buckled in and the plane returns to the gate to open the door again, just shout, "Enjoy your trip, Gene," ... or something like that.