November 11, 2009 at 8:25 AM
I recently had the opportunity to exchange some questions and answers with Craig Shipley, Red Sox Senior Vice President/International Scouting. A veteran of eleven seasons as a major league infielder, Shipley became the second native Australian to play in the majors when he made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 1986. He went on to play for the Mets, Padres, Astros, and Angels, hitting .271 in 582 career games. Shipley began his baseball operations career as an infield and base running coordinator for the Montreal Expos in 2000. He later served as a professional scout for the San Diego Padres, and then joined the Red Sox organization on December 7, 2002. He has been the head of Boston's international scouting department since 2006m and the Sox have brought aboard a slew of international talent under his watch, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Stolmy Pimentel, Michael Almanzar, Junichi Tazawa, and most recently Jose Iglesias. Shipley is also a veteran of the College World Series, having played for the University of Alabama club that lost to Roger Clemens and the Texas Longhorns in the 1983 championship game. Many thanks to Craig for taking the time to answer our questions.
Mike Andrews: As the Senior Vice President/International Scouting, can you briefly describe to us what your job entails? I'm guessing you rack up a lot of frequent flyer miles.
Craig Shipley: My responsibilities are to oversee all aspects of the department including scouting, administration, and budget. I have daily interaction with our Latin, Pacific Rim, and European coordinators, and spend significant time on the road with the country supervisors and our area scouts. My year is usually spent from November to June scouting Latin America, July to October in and out of Asia, with Europe mixed in when necessary throughout the year.
MA: In recent years, the Red Sox have signed players out of Brazil, Aruba, the Netherlands, Germany, Curacao, and Cook Islands Maori. How does the international scouting department identify talent from non-traditional baseball countries, and how does the difference in baseball culture affect the scouting and negotiation process with players from such areas? For example, just how appealing is a deal with the Boston Red Sox to a player from Brazil?
CS: The evaluating process is very similar wherever we go. Our scouts look for projectable players following the protocols we have in place. In the case of Brazil, Fernando Tamayo made the initial contacts, then he and Mike Lord went down on an extended trip early in 2009. We always make contact in developing markets before we go in and usually come away with one solid contact person for future trips. Negotiation is the same in Latin countries - meaning we deal with an agent or buscon and in some cases both. Japan, Korea, and Taiwan all have agreements with Major League Baseball - when engaging a player in these countries the agreement protocols have to be followed. In the case of Taiwan and Korea, military obligations make the negotiation process a little different from the rest of the world.
The Red Sox brand is very visible in all parts of the baseball playing world. How appealing we are to a player depends on many factors, but in most cases the determining factor to where a player signs is the money.
Note: the Moanaroa brothers grew up in Australia. While their mother is from the Cook Islands and their father is from New Zealand, they learned to play in Australia
MA: Jason McLeod recently commented that "ascertaining the makeup of a player is one of the hardest things - if not the hardest thing - that we do as scouts." What steps does the international scouting department take to get to know the highly-regarded international amateurs, such as Jose Vinicio, before offering them big bonuses?
CS: Jason and I have discussed this many times, it’s the hardest thing to determine. I think that experienced evaluators usually have the best chance of determining “makeup.” There are so many components to a good baseball personality. The fundamental necessities for me are a great love for the game and a burning desire to play in the major leagues. All players will face adversity, how they handle it determines to a large degree their chances of getting to the majors. If they don’t have the aforementioned necessities as part of their “makeup”, the chances of them giving up the pursuit when they face adversity are exponentially greater.
To determine the personality of a player, we spend as much time as possible in one-on-one interaction, we also watch carefully from a distance. How the player interacts with teammates and coaches when we are not involved in the interaction, as well as how he reacts to circumstances on and off the field, are factored. Determining a player's personality should ultimately fall on the identifying scout, and in that regard we place a tremendous emphasis on the scout knowing the payer he is recommending. In most cases the international cross checker is able to spend a lot more time around players than a domestic cross checker, enabling us to get more than one scout involved in the “makeup” process.
MA: I've noticed a trend of the Sox signing international players in pairs - Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, Boss Moanaroa and Moko Moanaroa, Terumasa Matsuo and Hayato Doue, Xander and Jair Bogaerts, and Chih-Hsien Chiang and Chih-Hsiang Huang. Is this an intentional strategy to provide for a more comfortable transition to the States, or is it simply a coincidence?
CS: Okajima's signing was independent of Daisuke’s. Other than that, in some cases it’s a coincidence, and in some it's by design. Having a player you know when entering a foreign environment can only help.
MA: To what extent do you stay involved with the international players after they have signed?
CS: I am heavily involved in their placement through the lower levels of our system, but once they’re established in our system and begin moving up, the need for me to be involved is much less. I follow the development of all the players we sign on a daily basis.
MA: All early reports have raved about Jose Igelesias' defense. Can you discuss your take on his present and potential offensive abilities?
CS: Cuba does a lot of things very well when developing players. One that stands out is allowing a player to be himself while teaching important fundamentals. Jose left Cuba with fundamental components that should allow him to be a good hitter. Now he’s in an environment with a lot more structure, most of it foreign to him, but he’s very intelligent and I envision him adapting well. That said, his development will take time. His offensive ability will ultimately be determined by several factors, including strike zone management and his understanding of his own swing.
MA: Oscar Perez is another player that has drawn excellent defensive reviews. What are your thoughts on his potential?
CS: Oscar is progressing nicely. He has a great personality and desire to work. His defensive skills are continually improving, along with his approach at the plate. I saw him in the Instructional League, and last week in Venezuela. He looked good behind the plate with improving feet, exchange, and arm strength.
MA: The Sox recently signed a couple of Dominican prospects that the fan base doesn't know a whole lot about. What can you tell us about Raul and Mario Alcantara?
CS: Both are projectable righties who fit the mold of what we look for in starting pitchers. They will both pitch in the DSL in 2010.
MA: In a similar vein, what can your share with us regarding Jair and Xander Bogaerts?
CS: Jair is very strong - he is crude behind the plate with very strong hands and raw power. I envision Rob Leary being able to impact him quickly in regards to his receiving. Xander is very athletic and projectable. He has potential on both sides of the ball. Both of these guys love to play.
MA: You have signed three players out of Europe since 2007 - Raoell Kortstam, Jennel Hudson, and Swen Huijer, and were reportedly in on Max Kepler, the top European prospect in 2009. How far along is the amateur talent in Europe compared to other areas of the world with longer baseball traditions?
CS: Select countries in Europe, including Germany and Holland, actually have a long history of playing the game. The baseball communities in these countries are very passionate. The overall talent pool is developing, but like most countries or regions, the amount of talent is dictated by the number of participants. The pool of participants is growing, and the instruction is fair-to-good, ultimately giving the overall talent there the tools to improve.