Scout recalls young Steve Nash, Sidney Crosby

April 16th, 2020

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.

Walt Burrows wasn’t always sure he wanted to scout, but he was passionate about the game and he thought he knew what a player looked like.

So when the Major League Scouting Bureau expanded into Canada in 1991, he moved on from coaching youth teams in his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia to working part-time for the bureau. Fewer than four years later -- just three after attending scout school -- Burrows was named the supervisor of the bureau in Canada.

Burrows joined the Twins -- still scouting his home country -- in 2016, when Minnesota’s No. 4 prospect Jordan Balazovic became his first Draft pick with the team, and he’s been with the organization ever since.

With almost three decades of scouting under his belt, some of Burrows’ best stories are about the players he wanted, but couldn’t have. The biggest standout is one who hung up his cleats early on and has been a friend of the Burrows family since he was 10 years old -- Canadian basketball legend Steve Nash. Complete story »

'There’s got to be somebody'
A couple of decades ago, as Burrows made his way across Canada to host players for showcases, his plans came to a standstill as he prepared to head to Nova Scotia, when he was told by his then part-time assistant Ken Lenihan that there were no good players that year.

“I said, ‘There’s got to be somebody,’” Burrows recalled. “And he said, ‘No, it’s bad.’ I pushed him and he said, ‘Well there’s this one 14-year-old kid who’s really good.’ And I wish I hadn’t said it but I said, ‘That’s a little bit young for what we’re doing.’ Ken replied, ‘Yeah, he’s supposed to be a pretty good hockey player.’

“Every time I hear someone’s a good hockey player, I always ask how good? And he said, ‘Well, they say he might be the next Wayne Gretzky.’ My response to that, and I really wish I hadn’t said this, was, ‘We can forget about him, he’ll be playing in the OHL or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League or whatever, we’ll never see him again.’ And I said, ‘Oh by the way, what’s his name?’

“It was Sidney Crosby.”

Biggest standout
“Justin Morneau,” Burrows said. “Every time you watched him, he hit. It didn’t matter who he was facing, he just hit. He was on the first [Canadian Junior National] Team that Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] took to the Wide World of Sports at Disney in ’99, as well as Jeff Francis. I can remember -- I’m not 100 percent sure -- but back in those days, they used aluminum bats and I remember Justin’s very first at-bat on that trip. It was in the stadium and he hit the ball off the 385-foot sign out in right-center-field and I went, ‘Oh my goodness.’ That may have been his first wood bat at-bat ever and he hit it 385 feet. He was a catcher at the time, and he’ll tell you differently, but he wasn’t very good back there. But he loved to play and he did everything right and he could just flat-out hit.”

Biggest miss
“Jason Bay. I didn’t turn him in. I saw him a couple times, he was with the Junior National Team and I had him at a tryout camp way back when in Penticton. I can remember seeing Jason and I didn’t think he was going to hit. Obviously I was dead wrong. He went to a junior college, then to a four-year school and was drafted and the rest is history, but I thought, ‘No way,’ way back when. I didn’t see it at the time.”

Best story
“I got a call from somebody in Victoria, a coach I knew, who said, ‘You’ve got to come out and see this guy play.’ There are two premier teams in Victoria, the Mariners, where Mike Saunders and Rich Harden came out of, and the Eagles, who Nick Pivetta played for. So I said, ‘Which team is he on?’ He was playing for a house league midget triple-A team. I go, ‘If he’s any good, why isn’t he on one of the two better teams?’

“I was told that he didn’t have the time, he was playing Junior A hockey at that time in the BC junior league. He wanted to play hockey and couldn’t devote the time to baseball required to play on either of the premier teams. So I went to see him and he was playing center field, really athletic, moved well, could throw, he could run, he was left-left, and it was like, wow. Not only the best player in Victoria at the time, probably the best player in the country.

“That player was Jamie Benn, captain of the Dallas Stars.”

Best scout
“Without question, Mike Radcliff [now the VP of player personnel for the Twins]. He just sees it, he’s highly-respected by everybody in the game, he’s a great listener.”

Go-to road food
“My all-time favourite restaurant is called Pazzia Osteria on the Queensway near Connorvale Park in Etobicoke. Claude [Pelletier, a scout with the Mets] and I were hungry following a game watching Joey Votto and we came across it. I try to go there every time I’m in Toronto. Small place, but best Italian place ever.”

In-car entertainment of choice
“I listen to what’s on the radio. If I’m in Toronto, I’ll listen to the FAN, but soft rock or country.”

Favorite ballpark
“There are two of them, it’s a tie. Serauxmen Stadium in Nanaimo, BC, and the ballpark in Courtright, Ontario [that has no official name]. It’s incredible.”

Advice to industry hopefuls
“Just be out there,” Burrows said. “At 99 percent of games, there’s no Justin Morneau out there. You have to have a real desire to go out and watch and evaluate. Most of the people who get into it are going to games, love the game, and aren’t looking for an opportunity and one comes out and smacks them in the face. ... You grind through and the prize happens when you least expect it -- when you think nobody notices or nobody cares.”