We’re two days before Opening Day on the 2012 season, the first for the Chicago Cubs since Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod took over. So, as you might expect, preparations are feverish.
Preparations for the June Draft, that is.
Epstein recently explained just how much goes into his crew’s drafting process, and it’s herculean. From Patrick Mooney at CSN:
The Cubs want to know who hangs out with the wrong crowd, and what makes them tick. They want to see how they compete in other sports. Their 25 amateur scouts have been given cameras and must shoot at every game they attend, to create a video library.
“Information as a whole is the currency of the draft,” Epstein said. “So there are different buckets of information – scouting information, makeup information, medical information, statistical information, and our goal is to drill deeper than any other team.
“The goal is to get to know the kids better than they know themselves, because you’re looking at a 17-year-old. You’re projecting how he’s going to be at 27. It’s very difficult. You need to drill very deep to try to gain that kind of insight.”
Everyone talks to the coach and the kid’s parents, right? Where can you make a difference?
“Do you talk to the equipment manager?” Epstein said. “Do you talk to the guidance counselor? Do you dig deep enough to find out when the kid has struggled and (faced) adversity? What (has been) his biggest failure? How (has) he bounced back from that failure?
“There’s a lot of different ways to do it. Do you have a psychologist interview the kid? Do you have him take an objective test? Do you log your entire relationship with the kid, every bit of information that you get, so everyone in the draft room can share it and gain the insight?
“You can’t just wake up and do it in April and hope to have a good decision. It’s like a 15-month process, minimum.
“We know this approach gives us a better chance of being less wrong. (That’s) what scouting’s about, degrees of being less wrong, when you draft 50 guys and you get two or three right. This isn’t just something we’re doing for like window dressing. It evolved over 10 years in Boston. We feel pretty confident in the system.”
The entire article is excellent, and worth a read. The depth into which the Cubs dig into these kids’ makeup, past, and production, is impressive. And, even with that level of evaluation and work, the Cubs are still going to be “wrong” more than they’re “right” about these kids. I like Epstein’s candor and perceptiveness: it isn’t about being right all the time, it’s about being wrong slightly less often than your opponents.
As for maintaining a competitive advantage in the Draft, despite the restrictions imposed by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (which dramatically limits spending unless you’re willing to lose some future draft picks and pay a steep tax), the Cubs recognize that it all starts with the scouts.
The Cubs are equipping their scouts with the best equipment, video cameras, and company cars. In some cases, better pay comes into the equation, too.
The Cubs also want to create a support system to make scouts feel connected, despite the many hours on the road. As McLeod put it: “[It’s] creating an environment where they know that people care about what they’re doing. They’re not just 2,000 miles away driving down a lonely highway and no one knows what the hell they’re doing out there. Because it can be a lonely frickin’ gig.”
In other words, if you can’t “buy” the best prospects in the Draft, at least you can “buy” the best scouts. That doesn’t just mean with money; it means also creating the kind of place where, all things equal, a guy is going to prefer to be with the Cubs over any other franchise.
Once again, the new regime is taking a long view of competitiveness, and I’m reminded why I swoon and squeal.