The dust has settled with the passing of the MLB trade deadline. Thanks to a handful of trades, Rangers general manager Chris Young was able to improve the roster for the stretch run in what should be a fascinating battle with the rival and reigning World Series champion Astros. Granted, Texas parted with its third-ranked prospect, infielder Luisangel Acuna in the trade for Mets righthander Max Scherzer. However, top prospects Evan Carter, Sebastian Walcott, and Owen White stayed put and can continue their path to Arlington. And the Rangers held on to versatile big-leaguer Ezequiel Duran and recent call-up Jonathan Ornelas, who will see playing time in the coming weeks as Josh Jung recovers from his fractured left thumb.
Post-deadline, the club still has a top-10 ranked farm system. Young and his predecessor, Jon Daniels, get plenty of credit for building it. But those who helped fortify the system over the past few years and deserve the lion’s share of the credit (but will go unrecognized) are the worker bees who keep at it year-round: the scouting department staff.
Teams have two main branches in their scouting departments. Pro scouts collect data and intel on players in other organizations throughout the season. They usually have some downtime in the offseason. Meanwhile, the staff in the amateur scouting department (approximately 25 people) grinds throughout the year, getting eyes on high school, college, and international talent.
That’s not to suggest the schedule of a pro scout is a day at the beach. I spoke to Adam Lewkowicz, the Rangers’ director of amateur scouting operations, who helps organize the annual draft while working under scouting director Kip Fagg. Lewkowicz has been in that role for years, but for a decade before that he ran the advanced scouting department.
“Integrated with the big-league staff day in and day out,” he says, “and that was like 7 a.m. until 11:30 every night. At least when it stopped, it stopped. This tends to go more year-round, which is fun in its own way.”
Over the past couple of decades, draft coverage in every sport has gone from a small slice of a publication to traffic-driving, click-harvesting, and page-filling fodder for the information-hungry fan. The NFL and NBA dwarf their competitors when it comes to drafts the masses care about. Sure, MLB and NHL fans have interest in what player their club selects in the first round. But don’t expect anyone but the most fervent baseball or hockey follower to tell you much of anything of substance past Round 1. The amateur side of those sports are largely irrelevant for most fans–unless their school is making a run at a national championship. Even then, most alums are day-trippers who latch on only when the postseason gets underway.
Last month the Rangers selected 18 players over the 20 rounds of the 2023 draft. (Texas didn’t have a second- or third-round pick after signing qualifying free agents over the winter.) Roughly 50 people in the organization contribute to the draft process.
Fagg wasn’t a fan when Major League Baseball recently pushed the draft back a month from its June dates. “Our guys are working on stuff for the next draft before the current one takes place,” he says. “That part is hard and an adjustment. My biological clock was June for nearly 30 years, and now it’s all changed to July. My wife is still pissed off. July fourth used to be a family day. Now I’m not thinking about picnics, I’m worried about who we are going to take.”
Rangers fans were fired up when their team landed Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford with the fourth overall pick. Many expected the 21-year-old to go off the board in the first three picks. Texas has a potential all-star-level slugger who has already been promoted to High-A Hickory.
“We go through every scenario multiple times, so there wasn’t some great surprise that Wyatt was there at Pick 4,” Fagg says. “It was a really good top of the draft this year. What people aren’t talking about with picking at four, we were moved up four spots thanks to the new lottery. We would have no chance at Langford if that didn’t happen.”
The Rangers won’t be in the lottery next year, and if things go according to plan, they’ll be picking somewhere around 30. “Hopefully we are spending less time on our first-rounder next year,” Fagg says. “The past few years we’ve been picking near the top of the draft, so we have more people in the front office and cross-checkers see that player. This year we had a bonus pool of around $9 million. Our first selection gets somewhere around eight, so that’s the one you better not miss on.”
The players selected in the draft are teenagers or young men in their early 20s. So the scouts do an exhaustive amount of due diligence to understand the true character of the players. Signability is a factor. “There’s a point where we might talk about money right before the draft,” Fagg says. “That’s where the relationship matters. You do all the background work. You feel comfortable with you, and you with them–and that’s when you bring up money.”
The amount of time a scout spends away from his or her family can be significant, and Rangers brass are cognizant of not wanting their scouts to experience burnout. “The amateur scouting field is a little bit more to create your own schedule,” Lewkowicz says. “The area scout is on the road a lot but manages to get home most nights. The regional cross-checkers are on the road a ton, and the national cross-checkers are on the road an insane amount of time. We are concerned about everyone’s well-being. The sacrifices these guys and their families make are incredible, but the positive is if they need a day off for a graduation, a family event, or just need a day off, we trust those guys to make that call on their own.”
Most scouts hide in plain sight at a high school, college, minor league, or spring training field. They don’t seek attention. They simply want to find the next great talent for the organization. The hours and miles can be long, the nights lonely, and the results not always fruitful. But when you read your next mid-season prospect ranking, or hear an idiot on the radio (me, probably) gushing about the depth in the Texas farm system, know that dozens of people are out there putting in the work and analyzing the data to give you the best possible product when you plop down on the sofa at 7:05 or fork over hundreds of dollars to take your kids to the ballgame. You don’t know their names. But from the draft through the deadline, you saw their work in full force.