Let’s Talk Scouting with John Kazanas Part 1
Welcome to The Baseball Awakening Podcast, where we dive into the raw, unfiltered, unsexy side of player development.
John Kazanas is a scout of over 25 years for the Chicago White Sox, finding players like Brian Anderson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon McCarthy and many more. He served as a coach for the Greek Olympic team from 20023-2004. John is also the author of the ebook, How and Where will a Professional Scout find me?
Website: What Scouts Look For
In Part 1 of this Conversation John talks about:
- About his path to becoming a scout.
- How is college experience helped him in making the transition into scouting.
- About team having different philosophy and what they are looking for.
- What it is like seeing a guy developing into what they envision.
- Explains what projecting means.
- How his job is to compare players from all over the country to find a big leaguer.
- Ideal frame and style of player for the scout to evaluate.
- The analytics influence in pitching.
- Whether numbers influence swing and throwing mechanics are a turn off.
- Whether they are turned away from a guy who has no plan and no approach.
- The saying behind the, ‘if you are good they will find you.’
- Why is the guy hitting .500 in high school not getting the attention.
- How scouts want to see you fail and how they want to see how your responds.
- and much more.
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Geoff: On today’s show, we interviewed John Kazanas, then as a professional, Scott with the Chicago White Sox, and he shared with us how to become a scout as well as what scouts are looking for in players.
Intro: Welcome to another episode of The Baseball Awakening Podcast where we dive into the raw, unfiltered, usexy side of player development. Get ready for some knowledge bombs with your host, Geoff Rottmayer.
Geoff: And Welcome to The Baseball Awakening Podcast, I am Geoff Rottmayer. Today we have here Mr John Kazanas, a professional scout 25 years, finding guys like Brian Anderson, Mark Burley, Brandon McCarthy, just the name of you. Y’all have to coat the Greek Olympic basketball team from 2002 to 2004. He also wrote a book called how and where will al, a professional scout find me. Mr. john Kazanas, how are you, sir?
John: I’m doing fine. It’s good weather in Arizona and a lot better. A lot of big parts of the country.
Geoff: Yeah, Kinda like us here in Tulsa. We’ve already had some snow, so not now. Not a fun time for us out here.
John: No, that wouldn’t sit well with anybody from Arizona.
Geoff: Yeah, yeah, I know it. So, so John, you, I appreciate you coming on the show. Um, you are a guy who’d been in the game for a long time and currently you serve at a professional scout though. Can you share with the listeners of your journey and how you became a professional scout?
John: Well, it was a college coach at the University of Missouri. St Louis and the St Louis University came out to Arizona to coach at Scottsdale community college and while I was there the Oakland a’s ran their system and with minor leaguers and kids on the same campus. So I got an opportunity to learn from different coaches, um, that were part of their staff. Their player development head Honcho was a car appeal and after three years of coaching that’s got. So he asked me if I had any interest in professional baseball, which I answered yes, before you finished the question. So you told me that there was a possibility of an opening and that he would get together with the supervisor of the West Coast for the Oakland a’s and given my name and the process came about a couple months later, a gentleman named Mike Scoble, who’s a lifer in the game of baseball and a college coach, a did they interview me the first time I was clueless. I had no idea what to say, basically, or what they were looking for. I felt that very good after leaving, but he says the united still have to talk to seven, eight guys and if I have some interests, I’ll give you a call back. And approximately another month and a half went by and he calls me up and asked the meeting for lunch. And Scottsdale, we talked for about 10 minutes and he says, the job’s yours. Which shocked me. And I’m excited as heck. Um, first thing I asked them where they didn’t even ask them what the salary was. I just asked her ms dot, okay, do we have a manual to follow and what to do? And he goes, what the heck? Far and I said, well, isn’t any procedures and things to take in account? And he goes, no, you’re a coach. Go find a player, which is very similar. College coaches are looking for good players to play in her program and in basically professional scouts are looking for good players to play professional baseball.
Geoff: Nice. Thanks for sharing that story. Would you say that the college experience and the recruiting that you have done has helped you with making the transition into becoming a scout
John: when you work with players trying to improve their baseball skills to be more of an impact on offensive player and give them a chance to fulfill their dream and get drafted. And I was fortunate to have a good set of players from different parts of the country. The play for the, the artichokes at Scottsdale Community College, even players that we had in St Louis that were giving me the honor of being drafted and going out and play. So you had an idea of um, evaluating an employer at the start and where they may end up after a year or two of improving their skillset.
Geoff: It was an easy transition or was there an adjustment period into understanding what the organization was looking for? What there like a certain philosophy?
John: Uh, back in the late eighties was just to find good players. The style of scouting today compared to 30 years ago has changed. And when my first draft in 1989, we did not have a first round pick because we had a signed Mike Moore pitcher from the mariners and we lost our first round pick in our first pick of the draft. And 89 was a young man that came from South Mountain junior college here in Arizona. And it happened to be a player I turned in, which first thing on my mind was either. It was excited that we had to play, have taken in my first year, but I was thinking there wasn’t anybody in California or Texas or Florida. And we took a kid from south mountain. Junior college in my scouting director told me to go get it done. And I asked him about another player named Tim Salmon. It was playing the Grand Canyon University and he says, well, he’s on our board to be taken in the third round. Well, he got taken to the third round by the California or the, the angels of Anaheim and at that time, which most people are not aware of. Joe Madden was the Scout Tim Cinnamon. So, um, I was hoping that we would have gotten two players in the first two rounds from my area, but I’m Scott made it to the big leagues. He played a good period of time and produced and he’s given back to the community as a coach and the instructor himself in the state of Arizona.
Geoff: What’s it like as a scout when you got a guy that you saw and turned in and he ended up rejecting what you thought?
John: Well, some cases what you project ended up being the case. When we have to look at a player and we have to sit and evaluate what skills we feel will get better in why they would get better. Not everybody can improve their skillset on some kids exceed what you think they would be in your mind because you’re projecting I’m the ideal is you’re looking at a player and you have to in your own mind, feel he fits into your organization and he should contribute in some manner on the big league team to win games. If you don’t feel that that player has anything to contribute in that, then you’re not doing yourself the right thing of turning them in. You want to be successful and the ads aren’t very great kid. All kids that are drafted out of colleges and high schools make it, but those that do, um, sometimes we were way off and they’re taking later in the draft and they make it. And sometimes we take players that are taking higher and the draft at a peak out and can’t get over the hump to get there.
Geoff: For the people that are listening in. Can you talk a little bit about what projecting means?
John: You’re evaluating a player at the present day and let’s say he’s a skinny lean body type kid and really has a pretty good stroke and maybe the balls just don’t carry great distance, but you feel once he’s in a strength program and he ends up having some mature strength development, that same type of swing that he is a the present day proved with his string balls were carry further so you may project is power to be better than what it is present day or even if I’m. Yeah, some pitcher and you feel like you could correct some mechanics on the mound, that his ability to pound the zone better will occur and if he stays online better maybe the breaking ball, we’ll have better depth and be a pitch that could be counted on as a a wipe out pitch. But at the present time he does things in his mechanics to take them away from the plate and the pitch doesn’t have any success. But we’re looking at given professional instruction and hopefully in the mindset of the player. He’s able to take that instruction, find a way to develop those things that we’re putting into play and he’s reached from the benefits because he sees himself improve and eventually gets rewarded to be in the big leagues
Geoff: for the young kid out there that are frustrated with their genetic now working in their favor, but they can play a little bit and then they’re able to repeat their swing versus the guy that they’re looking at and they’re trying to compare themselves to, you know, maybe this guy had a much more mature frame. What’s the conversation like with these guys saying, look, you got room to grow and that guy probably doesn’t. So in reality you are more favorable. So quit trying to compare yourself because there’s a lot of comparing going on and we’re all guilty of it.
John: Well, it is what you do for a living because you’re comparing players throughout the whole country and on a staff. The amateur scout has an area we’ll evaluate x number of players and put together a prep list in an order in which the draft itself today, this is the first guy he wants and this is the second guy and so on. Then you have people in your staff who will see the higher echelon players, but they will see him from different sections of the country, so now they can compare the top 10 outfielders that we’ve turned in and then they will have a preference of either those. Our pick which one of the 10 will we pick first, second, third, and so on and so my players going to be compared with the good player out of Texas as a good player in North Carolina, but we’ll have somebody sit there and figure out who would he selected. The good players first and you know your, your, your experience over time a comes into play because you see players that resemble players that you saw in the past and you’re hoping that they. The peak of the. The kid that got better than it is now in the big leagues. Because we do body comparisons, comparisons of amateurs to professionals.
Geoff: Yeah. When I was talking about the comparing, I was talking from the point of view. So for gas, for a kid that is maybe a late bloomer type versus a kid who, who more mature, the more mature frame got them facial hair, uh, which it better than your guy does die, you know, for the listeners not understand,
John: well, the best scenario would be a young man who has great upside where you use that term a lot and whatever those variables are that we feel are going to be better to prove or you would like to tap the younger athletic, lean, non developed player and throwing all the different ingredients to make him blossom with the better ability, better strength and better knowledge. And all of a sudden you’ve got an impact player. Um, if you were to see a player that you feel the ceiling’s not as high and that a little bit of improvement can take place, he may already be close to what he is present day in that uh, you know, not be that great impact player because he’s, his chances of making greater strides are not as great. Um, it, it, the older you get, the less that you feel a kid can really make better progress.
Geoff: Yeah. So what does, um, you know, for, for today’s game there is a lot of emphasis on the analytics and the numbers and showcase and different stuff like that. Had that impact. Scouting it all. Is there a relationship that’s good or bad in the eyes of a scout?
John: Well, every organization is going to have their own model of what they’re looking for and what they will implement in their analytics has a part of this process. They’re taking the data of what the young men produces and have some type of a formula that over time or verse certain types of, you know, it’s bigly yours. If you faced a left handed pitcher, you’re going to have a higher batting average, so maybe the kid ends up being a d h from the right side. Uh, that came out in today’s, uh, this past year’s world series because pierce for the red sox and hit some balls hard against left handed pitching. So he was in the lineup, then became an impact player with a couple of games. Well, the analytics comes into play the analytics of where a majority of balls are hit by certain players. So whether they do, they now have modern day shifts and they’re gonna play to the person’s strength and to try to get the out and leave the, his weaknesses open for him to see if he’s going to change his style to try to hit a ball someplace he doesn’t normally do in your pitchers, if they hit their spots to where his weaknesses are headed to a different shift and they’re going to record out and it’s a picture makes mistakes, will then in Pierce’s case, the pitcher paid dearly for, uh, it comes into play. Uh, some of the old school people may not be always 100 percent bought in analytics and some of the new modern type kids that it’s been part of their game over time, um, in the short period of time and have accepted that and we’ll run with it as well as they can, but every, every piece of information from analytics to old school scouting is going to be thrown into a package and you hope that what you put together turns out to be an impact player in your system
Geoff: for hitting and then velocity for pitching. For listeners, are there certain numbers that you guys are saying, okay, yeah, this guy checks this box and maybe we’ll spend a little more time on him and, and obviously, uh, it helped in that part of the formula, but are their guide that may be not quite there behalf the upside. And you said, you know, so how does all that come together?
John: Well, in today’s game organizations using track man, right? And the information from trackman deals with spin rate, the pitches know the depth of the pitch. Um, how hard to spin rate is on a breaking ball or slider, the rotations of movement of the pitch, of the angle over pitch on those things come into play because they is come up with a chart saying that if pitcher has certain types of spin rates in certain touches in his chances of being successful, getting hitters out is greater. And um, as an amateur we don’t have track man everywhere. So when the amateur kids do participate in one of these showcases or if some of the colleges have trackman and that information is available when they play against their opponent, again, analytics and put it into play for that player. I’m beck taken into account and wants the kids drafted using his skills that he has that are better to his advantage of where he fits into the system. He may play a small part on a pit, on a rotation or he may be a specialist or me. He may be a type of picture. They will have success against certain types of hitters. Today’s games changed because now we’re using the term launch angle. I don’t think we had launch angle 20 years ago. At least we didn’t think that, hey, this guy’s launch angles, this, this, so this right now the style of hitting has changed that people are having slight uppercuts, so pitchers today that can elevate a pitch. They’re going to get the swing below the ball where some young men who had great sync and had some angle to some pitches there, fault maybe going right into the path of the swing is taking place because some hitters now don’t have level swings. They have changed their arc in their swing. People love it. There’s a phrase, you know, everybody loves the long ball and that brings out fans and excitement. You know, they may hit 30 home runs but they’re bad in average suffers, right? Alright, so you’re going to have to pay the price on certain things of positivity, but you’re going to also have to deal with the negativity of another area. Maybe they’re on base. Percentage is not as high scoring runs or are lessened.
Geoff: So when you see a young kid or have that type of thing, does that turn you off or that just they kind of a. well that today game type of conversation or what the thought process on that.
John: If he has that speed and he has hand eye coordination. Okay. In the swing is a bit off. Okay. Then we, you know, we obviously feel if we adjust that swing, the other two variables, they’re going to play real very well if he’s got a launch angles, text swing, but the hand speed is not as great. Um, and maybe he pulls off or maybe he does some other negativity because he’s trying to hit balls in the air. Uh, trying to make a slight correction may not come into place as greatly as you wish. So you, you, you can’t teach. I don’t believe you can teach somebody hand quickness and I don’t believe you can teach. You can be refined some things, but that, um, eyeball to eyeball contact, that tracking is very because we’re asking a player to react act and less than five tenths of a second hit something very hard. Because if you only hit a little pieces of the ball, it doesn’t do much. If you hit the big part of the ball and if it’s slightly underneath, the bond causes backspin than the young man’s got a chance to hit some loft. So you gotta to look at the other variables that come into play that you feel are on the positive side. And hopefully if you acquire more of those types of players, um, somebody’s going to come out there on top and be a productive offensive play for you in your system.
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Geoff: Yeah. So let’s say you got a guy who let you stay. He got great numbers, he’s got great hands, he’s got speed and all that stuff that you guys like, but he doesn’t really understand what he doing at the plate there. He doesn’t know him. There’s no protein, no plan. The stuff like that come into play,
John: it doesn’t mind mind because you’re going to speak with those players. You can spend some time with them and you’re gonna. Ask the question, when you go to the plate, what kind of plan do you have? Well, what are you trying to do? What do you do in practice? What do you do with your ti work? What are you looking for? You know, certain pitchers, lot of young players don’t have much of a plan or what they want to do, nor can they make adjustments during the A, b, and if you make don’t make adjustments, well, why would a pitcher throw a pitch in an area for you to hurt? He might as well continue to feel things outside the zone. If you can adjust and you’re out, if you were lucky enough to hit a pitch outside that zone, sensors are, you’re not going to do much with it because it’s not in the heart of the plate. It’s not in his swing path is where he could do damage to the ball that is somewhat taught. We’re looking for the comprehension. We’re looking for the intelligence of a players who could break down what they’re doing and try to make corrections and not get bent out of shape. This is a game of failure and if you allow failure to continue to eat at too, you’re just going to play even a bit more poor. If you take the failure quickly, look at it and make an adjustment to it and get a positive result out of it, then you feel good inside and when you come to the plate, you’re next time up. You got some confidence that you can do something special so that you get. It’s a fine line, you know? Do you want the cerebral kid that maybe over analytical, which hurts him or do you want a young man who doesn’t bother him? If he makes it out, it doesn’t bother him. If he would hold for four, he’s just got a fresh approach. Every time he comes to the Blake and he sat there and he’s going to attack and both sides have worked. Both sides have also failed.
Geoff: What I love when you said that you guys had that conversation, but trying to figure out what their plan is because I think that’s something that I’m not a lot of that type of consultation going on with teaching a kid, so there are a lot of them. They’re just going out there and just plain without really understanding what they are doing. So I love that you brought that up.
John: I’m a firm believer of this phrase. You’re already gonna. Learn what the coach knows, what he knows he teaches right now. What he knows might be right, but what he knows might not be right because he was taught a certain way and there’s not a coach out there not trying to improve as player, but he’s only going to be able to work with the knowledge that he has. So when we sit there and look at a player from the program and in our minds we know with our professional instructors there’s a certain way. Because we. We work, we, we have meetings, we go over this. We have an idea of what our plan is in our, her style and what we’re trying to do and if we feel the player a can go into our system and benefit from it and he’s going to be better. But if player a goes into our systems and we don’t feel he’s the type of young man who can grasp things or a fight against change, um, that’s not gonna work.
Geoff: If you are good, they will find you. You know, I think a lot of players out there, they think they’re better than they really are. So what, what the stain behind that same
John: when you watch a game on tv, the best players a plane, sometimes it looks very easy, right? And so as an kid, you know, you’re gonna, you’re putting yourself into the position of big leaks, right? This is a grind, you know, player goes out and competes on a high school level. He may have better skills than everybody else on the team he was playing with and against. So he’s really not challenged to figure out where he does fall into play because he’s facing inferior competition. When the kid gets to a different level, the game speeds up. Then you find out where he fits in, when you put a good player versus a good player a and see that battle, how it takes place. Those are valuable days of scouting. Those matchups, you know when the Friday night started in the pack, 12 was a going against a very good hitting team. That’s what you want to see him compete. I love to see kids when they fail, what they do right after they fail because nobody goes to the plate and said, I’m going to strike out. All right, but if you did strike out there, what do you do the next half? Any? What do you do when you come to the plate the next time against this pitcher? Those are things that helped me figure out what the center is all about. The same thing if a pitcher who has great velocity and has had success throughout his college career and he’s facing a good hitting team in the first ending, he gives up to three runs because those locations off now, what does he do in any two, three and four? Does he make an adjustment? Still have some good stuff. Does he remember the weakness of the hitter and attack the weakness to get them out and vice versa? Um, I, anytime you see good players play against good players, there’s, that’s rules. Valuable time of the day. For you as a scout.
Geoff: Well, let’s say. Let’s say you got a kid and let’s say in high school for 80, in a small town in Iowa, he’s frustrated. He’s saying, look man, I’m hitting for 80 and high school. Why am I not getting the attention of some of these other guys? What are these conversations like? Because there’s a lot of these guys out there.
John: 29:14 Well, that was on me a lot during different baseball camps throughout the year where you would be a participant in a camp and speak to the players and the parents at that time. Then the question is, what does my kid have to do to get seen? He’s hitting 500, uh, what is he has to do to put into the big leagues? You can’t give an answer to this player or the parents within three minutes. And that’s the correct answer. If something, uh, there’s so many different variables that make that up. I use this in my own mind. A young man may hit 500, but that doesn’t mean he’s a very good player. A young man could hit 1:50, but he could be better than the kid is hit $500. Uh, and I had that experience this past draft. Um, we took a young man out of University of Arizona, Travis and Monet, who hit one 60. You only get eight college hits this year. And so two people write them off because he only got eight hits and he’s batting average is well below 200 and say he doesn’t have the skills to play on the professional level in many cases. Probably a lot of people will walk away from that. Um, you know, my organization that I worked for had a little trust in, in my sticking up for this young man. He ended up hitting two 89 this short season and he hit over 5:50 in the playoffs. He may never get to the big leagues, but he learned that when he failed, he learned what to do to get better and still maybe got a little humble pie. Maybe you got a second opportunity in this game. The prove himself maybe approached it a little bit different. But whatever he did to make adjustments against better competition, he did well. And I give him every credit because now his confidence is going to be better. Anybody sit in one system, you know the coach is going to take you out because he needs the WS. He can’t afford to have you hit one 60. But individuals, you know, if I had seen a player hit line drives with a really good swing but they’re caught, that’s not a bad day, but in the minds of majority of people, he went on for three and then some kid goes up to the plate and he’s got a slow swing and he hits to duck parts in the outfield and these two or three with a double and then, well you got two hits against Jimmy in that doesn’t mean he’s going to be the best player because he doesn’t have the right skills. But he did get some results from the backswing. So sometimes what you read is really not the correct fact. The numbers we’re caught into Spanish be baseball fantasy, this fantasy that because it’s all numbers driven.
Geoff: I have that conversation with parents all the time and they don’t like that answer. But that’s the truth. You don’t have the swing or you don’t have the bat speed. Okay, so you hit him 80. But the competition is not more week.
John: I look at it, I look to a player. I mean, our job is to try to find the best players in the country. Would I walk away from you if you were one of the best players? No. If I felt that you could play this game and I don’t care what the average was, I’m going to go out there and evaluate you and, and do my best to tell him this organization that you are one of the guys that we should have because I believe that from what my experiences are, and then what’s inside me. Then the makeup, the, the intensity, the type of person you are, um, all these different intangibles. Dustin Pedroia didn’t have great tools in college, but he had consistency in that one and tangible. There’s not a box for. He’s going to beat you in some manner and you’re not going to be able to control it. His presence and how he handles himself on the field takes pressure away from other players because they lean on dustin to do this things. Dustin has had a great professional career. His numbers are better in professional baseball then they were at Arizona State,
John: Yup. Those are the types of players who were looking for
Geoff: barrier and I think people don’t really understand what that means. So can you talk a little bit about what would be a good example of handling failure and what would be in a bad example? I’m handling failure.
John: Well, I like to see from a player when they do make a mistake, litigious could. They ended up doing, let’s say a shortstop feels a ground ball and he throws it away and to run score and now the game’s tied. How is this young man going to take the next ground ball hit to him, that same entity. Does he eliminate the negativity and still aggressive gets the ball and makes the play or does he say to himself, I hope it’s not hit to me and if it is, I free and now I compounded even further. Um, you’d have to. You’d have to have no memory at all of the failure that just occurred. They say defensive backs have to have, okay, forget the past, have given up a bomb and a touchdown because you’ve got to go out and face the best receiver on the next play. And so short term memory is very important. Uh, I want to see failure because you have to learn how to fail before you become successful. There was a young man ago named Roy Holiday who had great seasons and pitching and professional baseball and he started out pretty well for a couple of years and then one year he had a very bad series of games that they send them back to the minor leagues. They even brought his height, the part time scout out of Colorado to work with his mechanics because he connected with him so well to get them back on track. So rory failed tremendously and he couldn’t do anything successfully in the big leagues. That particular time of year in the take the humble and go back down, they’re able to get better to get back to the big leagues. Those are special character, young men. Some kids, we’ve heard this phrase, can’t rush them. We rushed him and he fails, we may lose him. That’s the character we don’t know the character until we were around him and see what he does. Um, in other aspects of development in whether or not he can handle the pressure which people say you put your own pressure on. If we took a bunch of bats in some balls and went the park and we had, you know, 18 guys playing. There’s no pressure there having a good time fun and just playing the game. All of a sudden we’ve got 50,000 fans in the stands. It’s on national television. It’s a professional team. And uh, all the pressures put upon the player. If he took the same mindset of just going to the park and playing, you will do well. But if you can eliminate this 50,000 eyes looking at you and national television, it’s the bottom of the seventh in the world series or whatever it might be. And everybody says it’s a pressure situation. You’re gonna. If you start thinking that you’re not going to be successful,
Geoff: we want to see failure. We want to see how you handle it. And I talk about that with a lot with our guys and they get confused because they started asking them what they really want to see me play bad. No, they don’t want a few, probably bad. They want to see how you handle yourself and how you handle adversity.
John: Exactly. To me, it’s not one of the five tools, but it’s a tool.
Geoff: Sure, sure.
John: And the young men who play this game, majority of people don’t know how well they tick to what’s outside and off the field, the family life, the struggles in a certain situation. Um, maybe he’s a single parent. It has a single parent and they’re working several jobs support it. Maybe he’s the owner, he’s the oldest in the family. Um, maybe social economically is not very strong. Maybe some families have better social economics and provide things for their child. There’s so many other different variables that make up this player. And those also have to be incorporated into where we feel this young man can succeed at, with changes in those situations. Maybe he doesn’t eat well, they, they’re not, they don’t have enough finances to provide better food. So obviously knowing that we’re going to provide a better nutritional situation farm, well this should be a benefit of this player’s success in that, in that realm. So we’re thrown in 10, 15 different types of ingredients and trying to put together a really moist cake. If we messed up on a couple of things that kick good taste that well,
Outro: I am Geoff Rottmayer and Thank You for listenting to our conversation on The Baseball Awakening Podcast. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our conversation tomorrow with John Kazanas.