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Atlanta Braves Scouting Director Interview
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Roy Clark Interview
By Patrick Ebert
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the Braves enthusiastic scouting director Roy Clark. Clark, who joined the Atlanta Braves in 1989, has had the distinct pleasure of being involved with the Braves amazing run since 1991 in which they have had six seasons with 100 or more wins, and 13 straight divisional crowns, including five National League Championships and one World Series victory. We discussed Clark's background and how he has been involved in that run over the years, a few of the key philosophies that have kept the Braves successful for so long, and the Braves continued quest to add the right players to their system.
Patrick Ebert (Staff Writer): How did you start your career in baseball and how did it lead you to where you are today?
Roy Clark (Atlanta Braves Scouting Director): I was always a baseball rat. I grew up in Martinsville, Virginia. I grew up and played with a guy named Lou Whitaker, who played for 18 years in the big leagues. He signed out of high school, which is something that I wanted to do but didn't get the chance. When I was drafted out of college at North Carolina he was named Rookie of the Year in the American League (1979), so it was neat knowing someone like that early on. But I signed out of North Carolina, played middle infield with the Seattle organization and played about four years, a couple at AA and a couple at AAA. The way I ended up in scouting was we had a hotshot kid behind me who was a high draft named Harold Reynolds, and after my second year in AAA they asked me if I would come back and be the utility guy because Harold was going to be the everyday second baseman. Well, at that time I felt like if I didn't have the ability to compete for a starting position I wanted to do something else. I ended up graduating from North Carolina, got out in the real world and I realized real quickly that baseball was what I wanted to be in. I lasted probably one year in the real world. I wrote a letter to my old farm director and he immediately called me and I started by coaching infielders and outfielders with Seattle for a couple of years. The second year one of our scouts got sick during spring training, so I came back and helped him scout until the draft and went back to coach (the rest of that summer). Once I was out there, once I started scouting, it really got in my blood stream, and I knew it was something I needed to do. So I started scouting with Seattle for a couple of years, a couple of years with Cleveland, and then in October of 1989 I came to work for the Braves as an area scout in the Carolinas, Virginia (that region). I've been with them ever since. I started cross-checking in 1995, first as a regional cross-checker and then as the national guy. In August of 1999 when Paul Snyder, arguably the greatest scouting director in the history of baseball, decided to step down I took over for him.
Patrick Ebert: It sounds like your hard work and perseverance paid off several times by being in the right place at the right time.
Roy Clark: I've always been a firm believer that the harder you work the luckier you get. I am fortunate to work with, and have worked with since the early 90s, John Schuerholz, one of the best GMs in our era and a Hall of Famer in my mind, Bobby Cox, again, a Hall of Famer who is just a tremendous person, and Paul Snyder, again, the best scouting director of all time. So it's been a good run, it's been fun.
Patrick Ebert: What are some of the things you can point to for the Braves' lasting success?
Roy Clark: One of the things that make us successful is continuity. We've had the same game plan that was originally started by Stan Kasten, Bobby Cox and Paul Snyder and implemented by John Schuerholz, Dayton Moore and our staff. We like to raise our own kids. We draft mostly high school kids and we have one of the finest, if not the finest, player development programs and coaching staffs and we teach our players the right way to play. We also have a game plan in scouting, and there are certain types of players that we look for. We're looking for high ceiling guys with championship type makeup, on and off the field. So there are standards we set in our organization and we try not to lower those standards. As a scouting department, with the confidence we have in our player development, if a guy has the potential that we think they have and the makeup and they stay healthy, we think they will be a productive Major Leaguer. We take a lot of pride in that.
Patrick Ebert: I've seen you refer to the championship caliber makeup several times before. Is it a matter of finding those guys that want the ball, they want to win and they're not embarrassing themselves off the field?
Roy Clark: No question about it. You know when you're in a gym playing basketball, and you're playing with the same group of guys for a week or two, you know who the go-to guys are. You know who wants the ball when it's crunch time. You know the guys that want it on the mound. People talk about makeup, and that's what it is: The players that refuse to lose. Whether it's that at-bat, that game, that confrontation. We believe in seeing kids playing multiple sports. I want to see a player on the football field. I want to see what kind of teammate they are, what kind of leadership qualities they have. I want to see how aggressive they are, how much fun they have playing the game. There are just so many variables that go into that. There are things that separate winners from losers, more than just raw tools.
Patrick Ebert: So much is being made about the high school versus college debate these days. Given your preference for high school players, do you believe it's not about drafting high school versus college players but drafting the right player?
Roy Clark: There's no question about it. When we go into that draft room we don't sit there and line up one board and say, "Okay, here's all the college guys that we're not going to take and here are the high school guys that we are." We try to take the best players. In 2001 we took a guy named Richard Lewis from Georgia Tech. Absolutely loved him, his ability, his makeup, and we slotted him accordingly and we took him in the sandwich round. The next year we took Dan Meyer, the guy we just traded to Oakland for Tim Hudson. We've taken a lot of college guys over the years, a lot more than people think. However, with so many teams concentrating solely on college players, there's very few of those guys left for us. We like that because more and more of the better high school guys are slipping to us, and deeper. So, we're getting what we feel like are second and third round high school guys in the fourth and fifth round. I know Logan White, Jack Zduriencik and other scouting directors that are known to take high school guys are loving that too.
Patrick Ebert: Is that a way you let the draft talk to you by letting the teams ahead of you do what they want to do and let the players that you like fall in your lap?
Roy Clark: You cannot force the issue. When you try to out-smart other clubs it will jump up and bite you. You cannot go against the strength of the draft.
Patrick Ebert: Speaking of some of the other scouting directors out there, do you ever watch what other scouting departments are doing and try to blend those ideas into what you're doing?
Roy Clark: Absolutely. I think there are a lot of good scouting departments out there and a lot of good organizations in general and we try to learn and get better by watching each and every one of them. You never have all of the answers. In this game, when you stop trying to improve, either the scouting department or the entire organization, then someone else is going to catch up to you and they're going to pass you.
Patrick Ebert: What are some of the improvements that you make from year to year?
Roy Clark: It's adjustments. Maybe covering an area better, tryout camps, better communication with the high school and college coaches. Maybe it's better communication between the scouting director and his individual scouts. I'm always looking for scouts that are more prepared and harder working than me. I want guys that are self-starters, self-motivators that are looking to be the best that they can be. And in return it's going to make me look good and it's going to help the organization to continue to improve. So it all comes down to people, and one of the things we're always trying to do to improve is communicate better.
Patrick Ebert: What are some of the things about your job that people may not know about?
Roy Clark: Absolutely the worst thing about this job is the travel and being away from family. I have a wife and three wonderful children, the kids are all active in sports and it's very difficult to up and leave and miss them growing up. We're no different than most working people. In this organization we work 12 months out of the year. We don't take time off whether it's going to Latin America or the Arizona Fall League. We just came back yesterday from the Perfect Game World Showcase down in Ft. Myers (Florida).
Patrick Ebert: Speaking of Perfect Game, what areas do they specifically help you and other scouting directors out there identify and evaluate players?
Roy Clark: Jerry (Ford) and his staff do an outstanding job. We feel that they put on, and it's not even close, the best showcases and tournaments of anybody. They're so well organized. Jerry has tremendous knowledge of scouting. They have a lot of former professional and college baseball people in their organization. Since they put on the best showcases and tournaments, naturally they're going to get the best players. We are pretty much a high school oriented organization, so where the best players go we will be there. We have sometimes up to 10 or 11 scouts covering Perfect Game events. It gives athletes the chance to compete at the highest level of their age group, in a team or showcase format, in some of the best facilities in front of both colleges and scouts. They're (Perfect Game) the best and the top colleges and the highest level scouts know it.
Patrick Ebert: That ties back to your comment before about makeup, where you have the best players in the nation playing against one another.
Roy Clark: Exactly. I'll give you an example. A couple of years ago I went to see Carl Crawford from Texas, now a star with Tampa. I did not see him in any of his showcases. I saw him one time against very, very disappointing competition. I didn't really get a good read on him. Obviously he went in the second round and has been a tremendous Major League player. Tampa Bay saw him over and over against the best competition, they did a tremendous job scouting him and then signing him. That's the fruits of the labor. So, what do you learn from this? What happens is that you have to see these kids over and over and over again against the best competition to make the best decisions and the best choices, and that's what we try to do. Instead of seeing a kid in four at-bats in one game early in the spring before the draft, we try to see him in as many at-bats as we can, as many innings as we can, and the more we see him the better chance we have of getting him right.
Patrick Ebert: Are there any players in the Braves organization that you may have not had the opportunity to see compete against the best competition without these kinds of events?
Roy Clark: In Georgia it's a little different because of the East Cobb program. It's such a strong program that we see a lot of kids that come through here on a lot of different teams from across the country that come here to play in tournaments. But when you talk to these kids and you ask them, as a matter of fact I asked this of a player this weekend, "What is the best competition that you faced all year?" He told me that it would be the Perfect Game tournament in Marietta (World Wood Bat Association National Championship tournament in July). He said you're facing the best competition and you're using a wood bat. That's compared to playing in the Connie Mack World Series where they're using metal (bats).
Patrick Ebert: The Braves have always scouted their own backyard so well, from Georgia to even Florida, the Carolinas, etc. Does that put you at a natural advantage being so close to so many talented players over other teams?
Roy Clark: It may be some of an advantage, but other teams have scouts in this area, so they have as much access to these players as we do. Personally it's nice for me because I'm here, and my son plays in the East Cobb program, so when he's playing I'm obviously seeing the talented teams he's playing against. But, there's 30 clubs out there and there are 30 teams that scout Georgia just like we do. And we scout all the other areas of the country, just like they do.
Patrick Ebert: Do you have any scouting preferences regionally? Do you spend more resources on the Southeast as opposed to somewhere like California?
Roy Clark: That's a year to year thing. I've got a lot of confidence in our scouting department from all over, and depending on how the draft falls, I have no problem taking the best player. What I try to do, and I'm sure other scouting directors would agree with this, when we put our draft board together, it doesn't matter to me where they're from. Not one of our scouts in our (draft) room looks at the board and says "Hey, we can't take him, he's not from our area." No, we're trying to get the best players. At the end of that first day of the draft is the first time that I really look up and say "Okay, who did we get, and where did they come from?" As a scouting director you hope that every scout gets the guys that they want. You hope they get the guys they've been pushing for, the gut-feeling players. You realize that you can't get them all, it doesn't work like that. I was a scout, and in my first two years I was shut out. I didn't get anybody in the draft. I don't think it was anything personal, it's just the way the draft falls. It happens every year. I'll be standing there getting ready to select a guy, and he gets taken one or two picks in front of you, and there's nothing you can do to control that. It's just like I was telling you about high school versus college, it doesn't matter, we just want the best players.
Patrick Ebert: Is your focus solely on amateur scouting, or do you get involved with professional or even international scouting?
Roy Clark: I have, I go to Latin America, last year I went to Taiwan. I'll go see a guy or crosscheck a guy that we like internationally, but generally my focus is on the (amateur) free agents. The pro coverage that I do mostly is within our own organization. But, when we're in a pennant race, for example, last year I scouted the Cubs for the last couple of weeks of the season in anticipation of us possibly playing them in the playoffs.
Patrick Ebert: How involved are you with the development of the players once you add them to the system? Do you and Dayton Moore (farm director) discuss coaching and player development strategies?
Roy Clark: We talk all of the time. I think that's one of the reasons that we are so successful because of the communication between scouting and Dayton in particular is very crucial. We talk many times a day. Our scouting department sees these players and we know our development plan with each and every player. We communicate very well.
Patrick Ebert: What are some of the specific things you look for in hitters and pitchers, and more specifically, what are some of the things you look for in a hitter to gauge how well he'll make the switch from a metal bat to a wood one?
Roy Clark: (Pause) That's a good one. The common denominator is you've got to have good hand-eye coordination, you've got to have bat speed. The way I look at it is that big leaguers come in all different sizes and shapes and packages. Some of them stand this way and they hit this way and some of them stand this way and they hit that way. There's no way you can put your finger on it. That's the reason you go back to tools, you go back to makeup, hand-eye coordination, whatever it is. To get to the Major Leagues you have to be special in some way, and whatever that is we try to identify that. (Laughing) I know I'm skirting the question, but there's no way you can answer that.
To put it better, we believe the radar gun will get you drafted, but you have to pitch to get to the big leagues. Tools will get you drafted, but you have to be able to play to get to the big leagues. You can talk to anybody that has played through the minor leagues that have played with guys with tremendous tools, but something was missing. They never get to take advantage of those tools in the Major Leagues.
Patrick Ebert: And that's basically up to your player development team to teach these guys how to play.
Roy Clark: Exactly. And these kids have to have a passion to be the best they can be.
Patrick Ebert: Let's say you have a talented two-way player whose ceiling is equally high as both a hitter and as a pitcher. Do you have a preference as to how you would like to develop him? Do you lean towards the old expression that you try a two-player as a hitter first?
Roy Clark: Most kids, they want to play everyday. Most competitors want to be in the action day in and day out. I'll give you an example in Adam LaRoche. His dad pitched in the Major Leagues, a left-handed pitcher for a long time. Adam has a tremendous arm, beautiful delivery, all that good stuff, but he wants to play. It's nice to have the option if he doesn't work as a hitter, we can put him on the mound. But most of the time a player is going to love swinging the bat first, and then if it doesn't work out after a couple of years you can put them back on the mound. If you put them on the mound first, and then they don't hit for two or three years, it's very difficult to try and bring them back as a hitter.
Patrick Ebert: Given your experience as a player, a coach, a scout, and now a scouting director, if you had one piece of advice you could give a young man playing baseball what would it be?
Roy Clark: It's only one thing: Have fun every day. Play every game like it's your last game and have fun. That is the key to being successful. If you're happy doing your job, you're going to be better at it. I doubt many people grow up wanting to be a scout. You can ask any nine year old kid, what are you going to do when you grow up? "I'm going to be a Major League Baseball player" is what you're going to hear. I haven't heard too many say I want to be a scout. When you have fun and when you have a passion for this game good things happen. You may not make it as a player but you might make one heck of a coach, you might make one heck of a scout, and it's a good way to make a living. It ain't that tough, this ain't rocket science.
Patrick Ebert: I know you don't want to play your cards early, but how would you gauge the draft class for this coming June?
Roy Clark: I've got an old saying I always tell reporters. I've been around for several years now and they all say the same thing. They say "Roy, same quotes as last year?"
And I say "Absolutely." So, here's what I'll tell you: On draft day you're going to have 30 scouting directors go into their general managers' office and tell them what a great draft it was. How everything fell just right, and we got a crop of real good players.
I don't think any of them are going to say "Hey, boss, it just didn't fall right this year, we had a bad draft, we'll get 'em next year."
So I'm going to tell you, it's going to be a good year. There are good players all over this country, and it is our job as a scouting department to find them, draft them, sign them, develop them, and help us to continue to win championships. So it's going to be a good year.
Patrick Ebert: (Laughing) Thanks for being so candid. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me today, and continued best of luck to you in the future.
Roy Clark: You're very welcome. I wish you the absolute best.
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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