When news broke of De Jon Watson getting fired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016, it was Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo who had a spot as an Assistant GM for Watson. A couple of years later, Watson took Mark Scialabba‘s spot as the VP of Player Development. Scialabba moved to another front office spot and Watson moved in. It raised some eyebrows then as a typical Rizzo people shuffle internally or bringing in someone from his past. Probably not a fair portrayal — but that has been an ongoing criticism of Rizzo that he usually hires front office people he personally knows. That really is not true, but labels and narratives are hard to change.
In sweeping changes at the end of September and the beginning of October, the scouting and player development heads are all gone on both the international and US sides, except Kris Kline who was reassigned. Nobody saw that coming with Johnny DiPuglia and Watson gone, and Kline moved to another spot.
That is a lot to swallow there, and we gave you the updates that Fausto Severino will run international player development in Latin America, Danny Haas will run a newly beefed up scouting department, and Rizzo continues to finalize who will run his player development group to take Watson’s place. A source told us that they are not going to rush it, and have whittled down their list to the final three candidates. In addition, several of Watson’s hand-picked coaches and players development system people were also let go. There are a lot of spots to fill. They will all get filled at the right time we were told.
In the scouting department, Haas retained Mark Baca as Asst. Scouting Director and has already built a top loaded group with the hires of Brad Ciolek and Reed Dunn in newly added positions to which Keith Law of The Athletic told me, “…these are three great hires.” He put special emphasis on the word, “great.” Law said he was more familiar with Haas and Dunn which was odd since he broke the news on the hiring of Ciolek from the Orioles.
There was a time about 10 years ago when the Nats scouting talent was getting poached by other teams. Dunn was grabbed by the Braves, Paul Tinnell to the Blue Jays, and the Diamondbacks made Deric Ladnier their head of scouting. Hass worked under Ladnier and now holds the same position as Ladnier for the Nats, and of course Dunn is now back.
We were told by others that Dunn was an integral part of the scouting and drafting three key Braves current players in his tenure there. Those names are Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II as two of the three, and Law filled in the third player: Austin Riley. Now consider those picks were 126th overall, 98th overall and 41st drafted overall respectively. None of them were Top-15 picks or even close to it.
This is where the VP of Player Development and their people are so important to the process. Once you have drafted, signed, and assigned these players into the minor league system, the scouts job is done with them. It is up to the player development system to turn out a finished product over time to the big league team. And hopefully some of them become future stars of the team. The Braves converted Harris from a pitcher to a center fielder. Maybe that was their plan from the start, and it certainly worked. You need scouting to fit well with player development to get the types of players that fit your system.
Also consider that the Braves do not seem eager to sign Scott Boras clients. Is that an organizational strategy or just coincidence? We don’t know — but it sure seems like it is a strategy. However, the Braves have not picked at the top of the draft in years where Boras clients usually are chosen. The last time the Braves picked Top-5 was 2017.
While this is not an article on the Braves, you have to give them a hat tip on what they have accomplished through the draft and especially player development. That is why they have been successful. Losing Dunn to the Nats is a big loss for the Braves, and a big win for Rizzo. Now, the next step is fixing the player development side to where it is one of the best in all of baseball.