Clark looks for his next big catch

Tournaments : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Saturday, October 23, 2010

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! 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 clock rolling.”

And then hope the next Jason Heyward or Bryce Harper happens to drop by.

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