JUPITER, Fla. – The
assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel for the
Washington Nationals was looking intently over the fields at the Roger Dean
Complex where the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship was being played out.
Roy Clark, the
aforementioned Nationals front office guy, was asked if he was trying to spot
the next Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper. Or maybe even Jason Heyward.
Absolutely!” Clark proclaimed with a broad smile.
Clark is a seasoned
scouting director who went to work for the Nationals in 2009 and was
instrumental in the organization drafting the then-17-year-old Harper as the
No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Major League Draft.
He had spent the
previous 11 years as the scouting director for the Atlanta Braves and logged a
total of 20 years with that organization. He was instrumental in the Braves’
drafting Heyward, who enjoyed an outstanding rookie season in 2010, and most of
the other stars who dotted the Braves’ roster over the past two decades.
Clark was at the
World Championship this week looking for the next big catch, the next kid who
can come right out of high school and make a big splash.
The Nationals have 10
scouts here but that was dwarfed in comparison to the 34 the Toronto Blue Jays
sent to the event.
“We as a scouting
staff, we go at it for 12 months a year trying to find the best players to
bring into our system,” Clark said. “We did the same thing with the Braves, and
we believe that the harder we work the luckier we’re going to get.”
Clark looks at the
WWBA World Championship in the same way an offensive lineman might look at an
all-you-can-eat buffet – with very wide eyes.
“This is just a
tremendous tournament, outstanding talent,” Clark said. “Even colleges, West
Coast colleges, are here. It’s known in the scouting ranks as the No. 1
tournament in amateur baseball.”
Clark left the
comfort zone the Braves offered to go to Washington and work with Stan Kasten,
a Nationals founding partner, and Mike Rizzo, their executive vice president of
baseball operations and general manager.
“The combination of
being able to work with these guys and try to build a solid foundation was very
exciting, and it still is,” Clark said.
By moving from the
Braves – winners of 14 consecutive National League division titles from 1991
through 2005 (there was no division winner in 1994 because of a player strike) –
to the perennial last-place Nationals, Clark suddenly found himself with the
first pick overall in the 2010 draft.
That didn’t happen
often with the Braves, but it was not completely foreign territory for Clark.
“I remember back in
1990 we picked first and we took a guy by the name of Chipper Jones, so I’ve
been there before,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m not used to it, and hopefully
this will be the last time we pick first.”
The Nationals will
have the sixth pick in the 2011 Draft after improving their record by 10 games
in 2010 over 2009.
“If we keep doing
that every year, we’ll be in a pennant race in the next few years,” Clark said.
Perfect Game events
like the World Championship are especially appealing to Clark because the
players use wood bats and are facing the best competition possible.
He tells the story of
scouting Heyward, and how when he attended his high school games, he was always
intentionally walked. When he saw Heyward perform at Perfect Game events, the
pitchers weren’t afraid to challenge him.
“This is very
important because they’re facing the best competition from across the country
and they go right at ‘em.” Clark said. “That’s just one example, but many, many
of the guys with Atlanta we saw at these events.”
There more than 700
professional scouts and college coaches at the World Championship, and both
groups are basically looking for the same thing.
“Most of the
colleges, they’ve got their commitments for 2011, so they’re looking at the
younger guys, but we are too,” Clark said. “We’re trying to get to know these
young guys and see them at an early age and start evaluating and start the
And then hope the next Jason
Heyward or Bryce Harper happens to drop by.