Draft Day: One Scout’s “Christmas”
Nearly 5,500 fans filled the forest green seats at Dow Diamond in 2007 as they awaited the first pitch of the Great Lakes Loons game on a beautiful day in Midland, Mich. Los Angeles Dodgers pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw threw warm-up tosses to catcher Carlos Santana, while one particular individual settled in — pen and notebook in hand — for his first Minor League game.
Not even a minute passed before Cleveland Indians scout Junie Melendez opened his notebook and began jotting down his observations. He understood this Single-A affair was a step up from college baseball, but this duo screamed talent after just one pitch.
Melendez, a former Major League Baseball scout, had recently been hired as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians. Little did he know, the two minor leaguers eventually would wind up in the big leagues.
“Right away, you could tell Kershaw had a fastball in the 80s and a plus curveball,” he said. “Santana was recently converted from third [base], so you could tell he was new to the position. [I recognized his] natural athleticism and arm strength. Offensively, he could handle himself from both sides of the plate and was a selective hitter, as you’re seeing today.”
Melendez is responsible for scouting Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Eastern Canada. His summer consists of attending numerous scout days, intrasquad games, summer league tournaments and summer showcase events. Over the course of the summer, Melendez creates a “follow list,” which features players who demonstrate the potential to compete at the next level.
Players who make the follow list are revisited, and those who continue to impress scouts are ultimately added to the organization’s preferential list.
“You get to that next game, see the player, his size, whether or not you feel he belongs on our ‘pref’ list, and you take notes at the game,” Melendez said. “There are certain things you’re looking for; if you like what you see and think he’s capable of playing at the professional level, you write your report, send it in the next day and go out the [following day].”
Monday and Thursday are typically spent watching high school games, while weekends include visits to college games. Melendez’s schedule on Tuesday and Wednesday depend on the local talent in the city he is visiting that particular week.
Melendez said area scouts from various MLB organizations cross paths enough to recognize one another during the year. Fortunately for Melendez, he does not need to climb trees or stay in his car in order to disguise himself at various ballparks.
“That doesn’t go on as much anymore,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t like to billboard — show up in all Indians gear. I want to keep a low profile in this job.”
While Melendez keeps quiet in the stands, his goal is to develop a solid relationship with each player on his preferential list by the time spring rolls around.
“With your higher profile prospects, you do one-on-one meetings. For college players, [I] go to the coaches offices or locker room and have one-on-one meetings. If they are in high school, you go into their house, meet the player [and] meet the family,” he said. “Come spring, you don’t have to talk to the player during the game or talk to the coach.”
Melendez is one of 15 area supervisors for the Indians. He reports directly to one of six regional supervisors, which then report to Brad Grant, Cleveland Indians Director of Amateur Scouting.
“The game is about the players. I enjoy oftentimes being the first person from the Cleveland Indians organization that a player meets. It starts from the ground up; it starts with area scouts,” Melendez said. “If you feel that player is from a certain talent level, that’s when others get involved.”
Melendez will join many others in the draft room tonight, when the Indians will make the fifth overall pick in the draft. Melendez has had draft day circled on his calendar for months as all of his hard work will finally come to fruition.
“These three days are what we drive thousands of miles and stay hundreds of nights in hotels for. You have all the guys scattered throughout the country, and we come together and put together the draft board and the whole thing,” he said. “It’s our reward, our Christmas.”
–TribeVibe contributor Megan Golden