A First Round Experience


guerrierit-headpd11.jpgThis past fall Taylor Guerrieri landed at Spring Valley High School and a scouting frenzy followed. When a prospect of this caliber is on campus and is in uniform, quite a bit of pressure can befall teammates but especially the coaching staff. Charlie Wentzky is now the AD at AC Flora, but in the spring of 2011, he was in charge of managing the circus that became "Guerrieri-palooza". Wentzky took time for DP for a Q&A to take us into their implemented program and his job of juggling this new responsibility. This article will serve as a blueprint for future coaches of high-rounder’s, for the rest of us it is simply a very interesting read.

Q. Did you know how good he was when he transferred, or when did you realize what you had?

A: Did I know? Yes. Did I completely grasp how good he was? No. I knew he was a highly projectable pitcher and had been in the mid-90’s at the Palmetto Games. I had heard that he was in the mid to high-90’s over the summer in a game, so I knew that he was pretty good. I didn’t understand how good he was as a position player and/or athlete until our first day of fall practice. For me, the realization of how good he really was as a pitcher came in late December when he threw his first bullpen for us. That’s when I saw how much movement he had and was able to see how easy his mechanics were. Our first scrimmage was when it all came full circle for me when he was 94-97 MPH for two innings. That night I knew that everything around him could get real crazy this year.

Q. Were there any worries on your end about him coming?

A: Absolutely. I had two main concerns and was put at ease with both of them fairly quickly. I never had the concern if he would help us. I knew that we had just gotten better on the mound and knew that we added a quality player to our team. My first worry would be how well he would fit in with our guys and how they would receive him. That was put at ease when on his first day to conditioning (first day enrolled in the school). I was walking to the field and saw him talking to a few guys that he had played with previously. Next thing I know, there were 10 kids in the circle and they were all laughing and talking like they had known each other for years.

The next day he walked into conditioning with three kids that he had just met the day before and they were carrying on like they had been friends for years. My second concern was how he was going to be from an ego standpoint. You hear a lot about high school kids who are projected high in the draft being all about themselves, so I was concerned that he would be that way and use us to enhance himself.

However, I couldn’t have dreamed of him handling the situation any better. He embraced our program, the goals of team, and emotionally put as much into it as our kids that had been there for 5 or 6 years. He never made the season about him or the draft. He just wanted to win like everyone else did. He fit in well and I am not sure that I could have scripted the situation any better.

Q. At what point did professional scouts start contacting you about Taylor?

A: Late November once word was out that he had transferred to Spring Valley. 

Q: How frequent was that contact then and during the year?

A: Before the season started it was an occasional contact and mostly from guys that I have known for a few years. Once the season started, it became a weekly thing and it varied from team to team. Some scouts would call weekly to check in, some would come over and say hey at games, and others did neither.

Q: How did you get your info out to the professional scouts?

A: Gary Randall, who is the area scout for the Major League Scouting Bureau, set up an email distribution list and sent it out every Sunday. This included me and every professional scout who covered the area. I replied to this email so that everyone who covered our area would get it all at once. I had to relay when he would start, how long he would throw and how he was feeling after the last start. What I tried to do was map out three weeks for them, so that they could plan ahead as well. I knew that if I did it week to week, that I would get 25 plus individual calls or emails wanting to know when his next start was and I didn’t want to deal with that. I still reminded them every Sunday of the upcoming week just so they could feel at ease that the schedule hadn’t changed. 

Q: Along the same lines, did you learn anything about a scout’s job that you didn’t know before?

A: Without hesitation, yes. A lot of people think a professional scout just goes and watches players and reports back to their team what they saw. They do that but, they are also assisting their supervisors, scouting department, cross checkers, and even general managers with getting info to watch certain guys play. So in doing this, they have to be 100% sure that a pitcher is going to throw on a certain night. I would imagine that it is easier with a position player because they will play unless it rains. Once I understood this, I was able to understand why they wanted to know so much in advance, and why they would often call the day before just to double check my info. You are talking about guys flying in from across the country, so they have flight arrangements, hotels, rental cars and all those details to work out. IF the kid doesn’t pitch, then those guys are really upset, and it’s all on the area scout. So it’s easy to understand why they often keep asking questions even though they have the info.  

Q: Often rain in the forecast can keep you pinned to the radar for most of the day. On days Taylor was scheduled to pitch and rain was in the forecast did you get more calls?

A: Early in the year, yes. Once they knew that I would get them the info in a timely manner and some trust was established, they would wait with me. Still you have to consider that some scouts don’t live in my area and have to drive 5+ hours to get to the field. They don’t want to miss him pitch, but they also don’t want to waste gas, time and miss out on another player they could see that night. One scout called from Atlanta to say it was raining there and was it going to rain on us. I wasn’t sure, but I told him I would let him know as soon as knew. I had one guy driving 6 hours to get to a game and rain was a possibility. He called me every thirty minutes to make sure that we were still on. Luckily we only had one rain out and it was in the playoffs and we were able to make the call early in the afternoon.

Q: How did Taylor handle the large number of scouts at every game?

A: He was really good with it. That was a concern that I had for him before the year started. I didn’t want him trying to do too much that he actually didn’t help himself or us. We had to remind him before every start to just be who he is and leave it at that. We also talked about how, while they are there to watch him throw, they will take everything that he does. How he handles himself after an at bat, after walking a guy, after giving up a homerun, when he doesn’t get pitches called that he should, etc.

I thought he was great with it. He never seemed consumed with how many scouts were there or how hard he was throwing. He just wanted to win and help his teammates win. It was pretty simple to him I thought. I know that he handled it a lot better than I would have at his age. Honestly I was very impressed with his mental and emotional ability to handle the pressure that he was under the whole year. There were a lot of scouts , scouting directors, assistant GM’s or GM’s there, and there were a lot of people who just wanted to see him pitch. 

Q: How did your team handle the large number of professional scouts at every game?

A: Our guys were great with it. It became normal for them after a few times. We were fortunate that it worked out that Taylor could throw in three of our four scrimmages. It gave our guys a chance to get used to playing in front of 15+ scouts a game before the season actually counted.

Q: How did you handle the large number of scouts with your team?

A:We talked before the first scrimmage about the new "crowd " that would be attending our games when Taylor threw. I told our guys that they were only coming to watch one thing, and no offense, but it wasn’t them. It sounds harsh I know, but I wanted them to understand that they didn’t need to change how they approached what they did just because new faces were there. I did explain that even though they were not coming to watch them, that all could leave having seen them play. Meaning that they could benefit from these scouts coming to watch Taylor.

Q: What was one of the craziest moments, or strangest moments of the year for you?

A: There were a few. One of them was at the Forest Acres Classic. We played Flora and Taylor was heading to the pen to get loose. Every pre-game pen was watched closely by the scouts in attendance. As we were walking to the pen, the crowd kept getting bigger and bigger. It seemed like the entire crowd in attendance was hanging on the fence around the bullpen to watch. There must have been 150 people within 10 feet of the bullpen that night. It was something that I had never seen as a high school coach. A second one was after a game during the handshake a kid from the other team asked for an autograph. 

guerrieritaylor-autographs11.jpgQ: Do you feel like the other kids on your team felt isolated because of all the attention that Taylor got?

A: I don’t. We talked two times all year about his situation as a team. One was during fall practice and the other was prior to our first scrimmage. I didn’t want what one person was doing to overshadow our team. We always put emphasis on being a team and I wasn’t going to let that change. I think all the attention surrounding him and our team this year became normal. Big crowds were normal, new faces were normal, teams giving you their best shot became normal. Our guys went about their business all year and that is a reflection on them as people in my opinion.

Q: Switching gears, who all are you communicating with when you have a high first round draft pick, and how often?

A: There is a long list. 1) Area Scouts. Once a week I would communicate through email with them all, and then they would call or text on an individual basis throughout the week. You get to be pretty close with some of them and one would call after games just to see how if we won. 2) Advisor. I got to be pretty good friends with his advisor during the year and we would talk a few times a week. We would always talk after he threw and then other times it would be him or I checking in with each other to make sure that we were on the same page with everything that was going on. 3) Press. Not so much for interviews, but for getting out stats, and other information. I am used to sending stuff to Diamond Prospects, or local papers, but it turned into Baseball America, the Sporting News, ESPN. That got overwhelming at times. 4) Scouting Directors or Assistant GM’s. These guys, when they came in, would always want to ask you a few questions. It was always before a game started, but it was always done with respect to what I had to do. 5) Random people. People would call me at school, or email wanting to know when he was pitching because they wanted to come see him. Many times it was people who I had never met, or had never seen a Spring Valley game before. That was real fun to deal with on top of everything else.

Q. Did you feel any pressure on how much he pitched, how often he pitched,  because he was such a projected high pick?

A: Not really, no. I knew that he would start one day a week and we would keep him on a plan in between starts. He DH’d most of the year and that allowed us to protect his arm between starts and actually prevented us from having to move someone off the field for him to fit in. I never worried about what others would say. I just looked out for the best interest of my team and my player. That was my main concern. We had never put winning over or above someone’s health, and we weren’t going to start with Taylor. 

Q. At one point national media had Taylor projected as high as the 5th overall pick. Did you guys ever talk about that, or did draft slots ever really come up?

A: He and I didn’t really talk draft slots, or any of that. I let his advisor handle that, and my job was to make sure that he was doing what he was supposed to baseball-wise. That made it easy for me.

Q. What was draft day like?

A: Actually the morning of draft day he came to work our little kids camp for about an hour. That night my assistants and I went to where he and his family were watching the draft. It was a big relief for everyone one involved. You go through a lot of extra stuff when you have a kid that may get picked that high. All of us did, and I think we all were just excited and relieved that that part of the journey was over.

guerrireitaylor-finish11.jpgQ: For the next coach that may have a high first round pick, describe the extra time that goes into your season with all of this surrounding one of your players.

A:  There is a ton of extra time that goes into it. I tried to keep it away from practice and my normal duties as a coach for my team. I didn’t want what I had to do for one to take away from the group. I am sure at times it seemed that I was just concerned about one player, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. All of a sudden one player required more time than anyone ever had, but I still had to make sure that all of the others got what they needed as well. I spent many late nights on the phone, many lunch breaks on the phone, many rides to and from work on the phone and many rides home on the bus on the phone. Any down time outside of practice I was on the phone taking or returning a call. There were constant emails to send and return and in general it was busy. My wife was great and very patient with me during those late nights. My assistants were great with understanding that a whole lot more just got added to my plate.  I think the attention it brought to our school and program was good for all involved and I do believe a large number of our kids benefited from the experience in some capacity.

Q: Any advice that you could pass along to another high school coach who may have a high first round pick?

A: Communicate well. If you communicate well it will make everyone’s job easier and that includes you.