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Marlins Vice President/Director of Player Personnel - Dan Jennings
Published: Thursday, March 17, 2005
Florida Marlins Vice President Dan Jennings specializes in player personnel at the big league level. With a proven eye for talent given his extensive background as a scout, cross-checker and scouting director, he is a very important part of the young and dangerous Florida Marlins, particularly after the big offseason signing of first baseman Carlos Delgado. Jennings previously was the scouting director for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 1995 to the year 2002, and was in a position to draft extremely talented and athletic ballplayers such as Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and B.J. Upton. He started his professional career playing in the Yankees system before serving as associate scout and before landing his first full-time scouting gig with the Seattle Mariners in 1988. I talked to Jennings about some of the finer aspects of scouting, including some of the philosophies he embraces, what it takes to make a good scout, and the qualities he looks for in a young player.
Patrick Ebert (PE): Who gave you your first chance to break into scouting?
Dan Jennings (DJ): My first chance came from Julian Mock, who later on became the scouting director with the Cincinnati Reds. Starting back in 1986 I helped him in and around the Southeast as an associate scout while also conducting tryout camps. The guy that gave me my first chance as an actual full-time hire was Roger Jongewaard with the Seattle Mariners in 1988.
PE: What were some of the things that led you to become involved in scouting?
Dan Jennings (DJ): It's just something I've always been intrigued by, even when I was playing in high school and in college. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that my father was a high school coach, so he was constantly judging and evaluating talent of guys that you played with and played against. I've always been interested in why some guys were better than other guys, and why some people made things look easier than other people.
PE: Since so many scouts and other people involved with player evaluation in professional baseball are former players, do you feel that experience leads to certain attributes that would give such a person a natural advantage over someone that may not have as deep of a background playing the game?
Dan Jennings (DJ): I don't think it's necessary. In my own case, my minor league time was a short season and one spring training. I certainly had more heart than I had ability, and there are a lot of other guys that fit that description. Some of the best scouts I know never played more than high school and college ball. The more you can play and the better level of players you're around it certainly helps your frame of reference, but I think you can also acquire that through experience and being out there on the job scouting.
PE: What are some of the things that you feel separates a good scout from a bad scout? Is it just the ability to identify and judge talent?
Dan Jennings (DJ): First and foremost, and it's the easiest one to start with because really it's the only thing you can control in scouting, and that's work ethic. You can't control the weather, you can't control if the coach changes his mind and says, "Johnny's going to pitch," or, "Joey's going to play a certain position." But you can control how hard you work. The other thing for me is how scouts handle fear, which lies within each of us. We all have fear of failure, no one wants to be wrong and you want to make the right decisions. How you handle that and the risks you're willing to take to have a strong opinion on a certain player determines your success.
PE: So to be a successful scout is like being a successful cornerback in the NFL, where you have to have a short memory and the utmost confidence in your ability?
Dan Jennings (DJ): Without a doubt. I like that analogy.
PE: While your title is Vice President of Player Personnel for the Florida Marlins, could you please explain some of your specific duties with the ballclub?
Dan Jennings (DJ): My main responsibilities include player acquisitions, whether that be through callups in our own system, looking to make trades with other teams and identify players in other organization's minor leagues that we may be able to trade for one day. I scour the waiver wire, keep an eye on players with injuries, getting moved up or sent out, and I answer to our general manager and to our owner. I have a lot of hands-on responsibilities with the building of our team at the Major League level.
PE: Would pro scouting be your expertise with the Marlins?
Dan Jennings (DJ): It's a large part of what I do, yes.
PE: What are some of your job responsibilities that particularly excite you?
Dan Jennings (DJ): By far the most exciting part of my job is going to a ballpark and getting to evaluate the game and the players in it. Hands down, it's what I enjoy doing the most. I have to pinch myself at time when I think that I get paid to sit and watch ballgames and give an opinion on players. I like to find a young player before he becomes "the guy" in an organization. Perhaps you can make a deal for someone like Dontrelle Willis coming out of rookie ball before he become that "guy." I guess you would say it's the thrill of kill, having the opportunity to uncover someone that has a chance to be an everyday regular, or that can at least be a part of your Major League team.
PE: Since you brought up Dontrelle Willis, is that an example of a deal in which you know you're getting a tremendously talented player in return that may be under-valued by their previous organization?
Dan Jennings (DJ): I was the scouting director with Tampa at the time, but I did see Dontrelle in high school and I felt like the Marlins had obtained a very good player at the time that deal went down. It turned out that they got the Rookie of the Year and a guy that jump-started their 2003 season towards the World Series.
PE: How about the job duties that aren't so much fun?
Dan Jennings (DJ): The hardest thing is the airport travel. Now for 18 years essentially I live out of a suitcase. People ask me where I live and I tell them I'm on the road for maybe 200 or as many as 250 days a year, when I was a scouting director. You learn how to make things as comfortable as possible and make relationships with the same hotels or car rental places that make your life easier.
PE: What are some of the specific things you look for in a player, at both the amateur and professional levels?
Dan Jennings (DJ): It used to be that everyone looked for tools. Now I don't know if that's always the case anymore, but I'm still old-school and I like to see tools first and foremost. From an old scout who was basically my main mentor, I'm a real big believer in rhythm. Good players have a certain baseball rhythm. It's hard to put that in descriptive terms, but you know it when you see it. Through that rhythm good players are able to translate those tools into how they use them on the field. When you have that you have a chance to be very serviceable and a potential big-time player.
PE: Since rhythm is hard to describe, is there one or two players that jump out when talking about this intangible aspect of talent?
Dan Jennings (DJ): For everyday guys, Garrett Anderson is a very rhythm-oriented player. In regards to a pitcher with great rhythm I would have to say a guy like Josh Beckett.
PE: How important is character when scouting a player?
Dan Jennings (DJ): It's very important. Especially when the tools and skills aren't as great, the more important the character has to be. I think when you talk about winning players, players that are difference-makers, the character becomes that much greater of a factor. There are definitely players that are winners and players with great ability that aren't.
PE: Are there any ways you can quantify character?
Dan Jennings (DJ): I believe there's character off the field and character on the field. While we all want to meet someone who is a great guy that makes you think, "You know, I want my daughter to marry this guy," I am more concerned with the character on the field and the way a player goes about his business with his competitive drive, winning skills and desire. The one player in our organization that jumps out that has these qualities is Juan Pierre.
PE: So the type of player that simply exudes that winning attitude and makes their entire team better just by being on the roster?
Dan Jennings (DJ): They pick people up around them and they make them all better. It doesn't matter if it's April or September, you get the same effort every day.
PE: I think the Marlins have more than proven that you don't have to embrace the so-called "Moneyball" philosophy to be successful with an extremely limited budget. What are some of the philosophies you have embraced not only with the Marlins, but during your time with the Devil Rays as well?
Dan Jennings (DJ): In Tampa and with the Marlins my philosophy is to draft the best available player. I know I used to read things all of the time when I was the scouting director with Tampa that said we would just take athletic guys that had limited baseball ability. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. If we had two guys on our board with similar ability, then we definitely took the more athletic guy. If someone has the chance to surprise you, or overachieve from the original expectations, our opinion is that it would be the athlete.
PE: That approach is often mentioned in regards to the draft, but does that approach have anything to do with the way you scout at the professional level, whether you're scanning the waiver wire or evaluating free agents?
Dan Jennings (DJ): The farther they are from the big leagues I would say yes, we use that same approach. The closer they are to the big leagues we put more emphasis on production.
PE: Despite being a "small-market" team, the Marlins have been quite active the past several years, signing big-name players such as Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado, while also making several bigger moves at the trade deadline, particularly in 2003, to help solidify a run at the playoffs. How flexible of a payroll do you have when winning is a realistic possibility, and how much does it differ from your time with the Devil Rays when you likely had a much larger budget, especially relative to your big-league payroll, to spend on your draftees?
Dan Jennings (DJ): The budget at the Major League level is going to be predicated from ownership, and within those parameters you try to plug every hole you can with the guys you can get your hands on. We didn't have a left-handed bat that was ready to help us this year. We loved Jeff Conine and what he did for us at first base, but to have the chance to get (Carlos) Delgado, and use Conine to spell people at first, left (field), right (field), and to do the same thing with (Juan) Encarnacion, we felt that gave us the balance with the left-handed bat while strengthening our ninth player in Conine. As far as the draft goes, our philosophy was to try and hit a home run in every round. You're going to have enough guys that you miss on that you're sure are going to be everyday regular players, and for whatever reason they don't make it as expected and they become a utility player. So why draft "Joe Smith" out of college in the third round, who I feel has a strong chance to be a Major Leaguer, but when he gets there his best case is to be a utility player? In my estimation that's settling for less than what you have to when other guys are going to serve the same role even if they were expected to do much more. Draft for impact.
PE: Does the signing of Carlos Delgado or your big-league payroll in general affect what you may do with the draft or how much you may spend on the international free agent market?
Dan Jennings (DJ): No. When you look at talent that is so far away from the Major-League level you need to focus on getting the best players. If you can make a system that is rich and deep with talent then you end up with a great situation, and you load your general manager with bullets that he can trade off if he needs to for pieces of the puzzle. Which is what we did in 2003 to get Conine when Lowell broke his hand when he was hit by a pitch. We moved (Danny) Bautista and (Don) Levinski to get Conine and the rest is history. You need to stockpile the talent as best as you can, and I think if you look at the best teams in baseball over the last 10 years you will find that there is no secret: You have to grow your own, especially pitching.
PE: How valuable are Perfect Game's showcases and tournaments to you?
Dan Jennings (DJ): I can take you back to when Jerry (Ford) started PG, and if you have ever been to any of Perfect Game's events you will see that they run them like a big-league camp. Hands down they have the best showcases and tournaments, period. Kids from all over the world get tremendous exposure, and they have every opportunity to showcase their tools and all of their skills. We put a lot of value in those events and Perfect Game is like a partner to Major League Scouting Departments and College programs. They have the experience and know how to evaluate talent. They are real baseball people who do everything they can to help young players.
PE: Much is made of Carl Crawford's emergence during Perfect Game events, and how the Devil Rays plucked him away from a very tough commitment to Nebraska to play football. Can you further explain how the Perfect Game experience helped make your decision to take Crawford so early?
Dan Jennings (DJ): The biggest thing was that they (PG) did was to get Carl to a showcase that they hosted in Ft. Myers (Florida) in the winter and a Pre-Draft Camp the next spring. His high school program was poor, and they played against poor competition. However, the fact that Carl Crawford showed up at these events and played against very good competition with a wood bat went a long way in answering questions about how much baseball meant to him and how he looked against the better players in the nation, which eliminated a lot of the guess work.
PE: Were there any other players whose attendance in Perfect Game events affected your decision in a similar fashion?
Dan Jennings (DJ): There have been a lot of them. Rocco Baldelli comes to mind. Some of the answers that Perfect Game was able to provide solidified in my mind that Rocco Baldelli was going to play baseball.
PE: I've seen your name mentioned as one of the better GM candidates available out there, including a year ago when the Mariners' position was open. While I know you don't want to compromise the position you're in with the Marlins, have you received much interest from other teams?
Dan Jennings (DJ): You hear things and you read things, but there is no way to truly know how close you were. I've always viewed it this way: If it's meant to be it will happen. I'm very happy here, as I work for a great organization. They're good to me and they allow all of us to share our opinions and they're good listeners. Certainly, I'd love that opportunity and that challenge, but if it doesn't work out, I'm thankful for where I am now. We've won it once (the World Series), and hopefully we'll win it again.
PE: Are the Marlins close to having a new stadium built, and are you involved with that process at all?
Dan Jennings (DJ): I am not involved. From all things that I've heard and read I understand that two of the three hurdles have been cleared and there is one remaining hurdle. We all have our fingers crossed, a baseball-only facility is needed down here.
PE: Seeing in that you used to work for the Devil Rays, can you see an in-state rivalry growing between the Devil Rays and the Marlins, and is the interest in Major-League Baseball in Florida hurt at all by the Yankees' strong presence in Tampa? Dan Jennings
Dan Jennings (DJ): If anything the rivalry part of it is from some personnel people, guys that were at one time in Tampa: Myself, Mike Hill and Stan Meek. We still have great friends in Tampa, and I have great respect for those guys; (General manager) Chuck (LaMar) and (CEO) Mr. Naimoli. They were all outstanding to us when we were there. So that part of it keeps it (the in-state rivalry) fun.
When I was with Tampa you definitely felt the presence of the Yankees there. During spring training you may as well have been in New York City, and when they (the Yankees) would come to Tropicana Field all you heard was, "Let's Go Yank-ees."
PE: Do you have any advice for our young readers as they try to pursue their dreams?
Dan Jennings (DJ): I would tell an aspiring scout to make yourself in and around your hometown. Go to high school games, go to college games, and carry on a rapport with the scouts. If it's something you want to do, find someone that works in that area who lives far away from that area. They need the help in that vicinity more than someone who lives close, and you can become the eyes and ears for that person, and through that you will get recognition and experience. You have to enjoy doing that knowing that you're not going to get the money, but it may open a door for you. As far a young player goes, my advice would be to improve your baseball strengths, from your elbows to your fingertips, and most importantly have fun.
PE: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Best of luck to you and the Marlins this season.
Dan Jennings (DJ): You got it. Thanks for your interest.
Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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