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Twins scout Manuel on 'serendipitous' journey

June 24, 2020

While we wait for the baseball season to get underway, MLB Pipeline is shining a spotlight on the hard-working scouts 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.

While we wait for the baseball season to get underway, MLB Pipeline is shining a spotlight on the hard-working scouts 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.

John Manuel is a professional scout for the Minnesota Twins.

But you might remember him from such roles as the editor-in-chief of Baseball America magazine, or the man who ranked your favorite organization’s prospects too low or too high, or as the guy always making plugs on Twitter for the Greek national baseball team, or maybe from your favorite rant on a podcast he hosted.

For 20 years, Manuel worked his way up the ranks of Baseball America as a prominent voice among industry journalists. He made multiple attempts to work at the magazine -- including one where MLB Pipeline’s own Jim Callis asked him to apply and then did not hire him -- but in September 1996 the third time was the charm for the recent college graduate.

Two decades after Manuel got his start there, BA had been sold twice in its last five years with no shortage of changes at its North Carolina headquarters. At the same time, after seeing several former BA interns and staffers find success with the Cleveland Indians, Derek Falvey was looking to tap that well again as he moved into his role as executive vice president, chief baseball officer with the Twins.

“Derek told me they needed a pro scout in the Carolinas and he said, ‘You’ve suggested great people to me in the past and I’m wondering if you had anybody else in that BA pipeline to suggest,’” Manuel recalled. “And I just texted him back, ‘What about me?’ That’s literally how I got the job.

“And honestly I can’t think of too many organizations I respected more or would have considered working for. The Twins were a perfect storm for me of where I was in my life, being 45 years old, and it was a serendipitous series of relationships and timing. That’s how I got into scouting.”

Best story
“My favorite story is Hunter Renfroe, because I loved reporting on the Draft at BA,” Manuel said. “In 2010, Hunter Renfroe was tearing up high school baseball in Mississippi. I was fascinated by high school baseball in Mississippi at that time because Billy Hamilton had been drafted the year before and because of him, I was realizing how long it had been since anybody good had been drafted out of high school in Mississippi. There are a lot of college Draft picks out of Mississippi, but from high school to pro ball and then the Major Leagues, there were very few success stories and a lot of high-profile busts. The success stories literally were Charlie Hayes, 1983 Draft, and then Bill Hall in 1998. That was it at the time.

“Somehow I connected with Hunter and interviewed him and wrote a column on him, and later did a column on high school baseball in Mississippi. It was not well received. … Following Hunter’s career was really interesting. He was committed to a junior college at the time, and not to Mississippi State yet. Butch Thompson, who’s now the head coach at Auburn, was the Mississippi State recruiting coordinator and Hunter had asked me to call him and tell him what a huge Mississippi State fan he was. I did, and Butch knew about him but at the time he thought he might be too raw. But they wound up taking him and predictably, Hunter did not play much his freshman year at all because he was really raw.”

Manuel kept an eye on Renfroe’s progress, pushing to rank him among the Clark Griffith summer collegiate league’s Top 10 prospects after a first decent summer, and then trying to get him to the very top of that list after a monster 2012 that saw Renfroe hit 19 homers, 11 doubles, four triples, drive in 58 runs and steal seven bags in 41 games.

“I followed Hunter a lot, so when Hunter had a breakout junior season, I was along for the ride,” Manuel said. “I’ve followed his career … and I enjoyed telling the story on MLB Network for the Top 100 Prospects list about how Hunter caught a deer, chasing it down, just running. He set a deer trap and the deer trap startled the deer but didn’t trap the deer, and it was trying to get away and he ran it down, tripped it, jumped on it and killed it with his knife. Getting to know these stories about his life and seeing him become a successful big league player after knowing him for 10 years now, it’s really satisfying.”

Biggest miss
“I ranked Eric Duncan ahead of Robinson Canó on the Yankees Top 10 Prospects list in 2004, that’s got to be my biggest miss,” Manuel said. “With regards to the Twins, it’s always funny that I ranked Nick Blackburn as their top prospect one year. As soon as that came out, Mike Radcliff [current VP of player personnel] called me and said, ‘I see the list came out and you put Blackburn No. 1. That’s certainly your prerogative, it’s your list, I’m not trying to say anything else. I just want to let you know that literally no one in our organization has him No. 1.”

In-car entertainment of choice
“I’m definitely a podcast guy. It’s funny because my mom gave me a 20-CD-version audio book of The Odyssey, so that was my goal last year was to listen to The Odyssey. That did not work. I listen to a lot of baseball pods … and this year exercising I’ve listened to a lot of audio books -- The Culture Code, Grit, Superforecasting. I listen to Buster Olney’s podcast [and] I listen to a lot of politics podcasts because of the moment that we’re in and the time we’re in, it’s important.”

Favorite towns or ballparks
“I like Kinston’s Grainger Stadium. It’s old, and you have to go there because last year they didn’t even have MiLB.TV, so I couldn’t even supplement my reports with video. … I am biased, I love the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. It’s a great place to watch a game and I think highly of Durham Bulls fans. … And nostalgically, my first job was covering the Hickory Crawdads and I met my wife in Hickory.”

Advice for industry hopefuls
“The only reason I have been successful to the extent that I’ve been successful in baseball is my passion for the game and my passion for my coworkers,” Manuel said. “The success of the people I’ve worked with is so important to me. And that’s the only thing that has made it work for me, because I’m disorganized and not analytically inclined and I’m not a math whiz, but the thing that has gotten me through is people who have helped me because I try to help them. My passion for the game and genuine human connections is what has sustained me, and that’s the only advice I can give to people.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a Canada-based Baseball Development and Special Projects reporter for Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.