Monday, December 13, 2010

Interviewed by David Saltzer, Senior Writer

After spending seven years with the club, Eddie Bane was let go from his position with the Los Angeles Angels as their Scouting Director. Replacing him was an internal candidate, Ric Wilson, who took over the position on October 21, 2010. Wilson, who had been with the Angels since 2003, was the National cross-checker under Eddie Bane. viewers know that had a regularly featured chat with Eddie Bane “
The Bane Connection” in which we discussed the players in the Angels’ system and the upcoming drafts. However, after speaking with Ric Wilson, is pleased to announce that Ric Wilson will continue the tradition and will be available to answer questions from the fans throughout the year. However, Ric did make one request: he said that all his friends call him “Willy” so look for upcoming segments of “Willy’s Wire” to get all the latest information on what’s happening with the Angels system.

Below is our interview that we recorded with Ric on November 16, 2010. Talking with Ric is like talking with an old friend from high school. He’s got a humble, folksy manner that just makes you feel comfortable. After speaking with Ric, got the impression that the quality work that helped the Angels land future stars such as Mike Trout, Jordan Walden, Tyler Chatwood and Garrett Richards will continue under Willy’s management. How are you doing today?

Ric Wilson: I’m doing pretty good Dave. Thank you. Could you tell the fans a little bit about your background?

Ric Wilson: I came out of college from Arizona State University. I left there in 1981 as a Junior—the last national championship we had there thirty years ago, coming up this next season. I left there and went to Seattle as a player and played in their Minor League system I believe until 1987. Then I went from there into coaching. I coached a year in the system. I came out a year and didn’t do anything baseball-wise. I was really tired. My body was a mess, so I stayed out a year. And then I got back into scouting, believe it or not, with the Milwaukee Brewers. Sal Bando brought me along with Kenny Califano (who was the Scouting Director there), and I worked a few years as an area scout. I left there and became a West Coast Supervisor. I did that for a number of years. When Eddie came over to the Angels he brought me over from the Brewers and I’ve been here for the last eight years. And, here I am now. When you were playing, did you have a preference between catching or playing first base?

Ric Wilson: That’s interesting. They put it in there that I was a first baseman. But, that really wasn’t the case. I probably played a handful of games at first base, and more times than not, they were games of a double-header that I would catch the first game and maybe play first on the second game. Or, if I needed a day off or two from behind the plate, they put me over at first. But I never really was a first baseman. I was primarily a catcher—and not a very good hitting one at that (laughter). How did you first get into scouting?

Ric Wilson: It’s kind of an interesting story. As I said, I was out for one year, and I was coaching high school baseball in my hometown of Chandler, Arizona. Spring Training was getting ready to start and the Brewers had Spring Training in Arizona. Sal Bando called me and asked me if I’d like to come out and throw some batting practice when Spring Training was going. I said sure. So I went out and began throwing batting practice and Phil Garner was the manager—and he really liked me for some reason—and I was out there all Spring Training with them. To make a long story short, Spring Training broke. Sal called me back at the All-Star Break and asked me if I would join the team in Kansas City to be a part of the club throwing batting practice, catching bullpens—whatever I needed to do. I was young in my marriage then and I was working then for my father actually, and I asked when I needed to be there. He said “I need you there in Kansas City tomorrow.” And I said “Oh, I can’t do that Sal.” So he said “Well, I’m going to offer you the same position at the end of the year.” I said “If a scouting position doesn’t become available, I will take that job.”

So, lo and behold Al Goldis, who was the Scouting Director with the Brewers, left and Kenny Califano came in. When Al left, he took Tommy Jones, who was the area scout in Arizona at that point. He went with him. So, that opened up a vacancy in the four-corners area. Sal talked to Kenny, and Kenny called me right away, and I flew to Baltimore. I had lunch with Kenny and he asked me if I wanted the job. I flew home that afternoon and the rest has been history since then. It’s kind of an interesting way to get started, but, living out here, you’re always around baseball people. It’s really a small network, but it’s really a large network as well. It’s kind of an interesting way to get going, and I’ve been doing it ever since. What have you been doing since you first became the Scouting Director?

Ric Wilson: My first order of business is hiring some new guys. Filling our staff. We had a few guys leave for different reasons. I think I have six or seven jobs to fill and I’ve filled five of them. So, that’s been my main focus these first few weeks. The guys that were on board are very good scouts—the ones who remained with us—very good. They know what they need to do, so they don’t need a lot of direction at this point of the year. So, I’m mainly focusing on the guys were bringing in and bringing them on board and getting the acclimated to what were trying to do. Just trying to get a cohesive unit put together has been my main focus. But, before long, I’ll have a full staff in place and we’ll be good to go. What is your scouting philosophy?

Ric Wilson: Well, as it has been in the past, I believe in high impact-type players. And you don’t always get them, but, my philosophy in general is power arms, power bats, speed and defense. And, if we can keep to that criteria—and obviously the lower you go in the draft the lower those become—but if you can get the best guy in each round you’ll have a successful draft. But we are definitely concentrating on the power bats, power arms, speed and defense. And I think that’s the combination that wins championships. We’ve been very fortunate to have that caliber of a Major League club, and we don’t see any signs of letting up. And, that’s how we’re going to approach it—to give Tony as many options as we can possibly give him. Just keep filling up the system with strong impact-type players and Tony will have some decisions to help him to do what he needs to do. Do you have any mentors or people that you model yourself after?

Ric Wilson: Well, I don’t have one in particular, but I have many that I’ve taken stuff from—Eddie Bane being one. I learned a lot from Eddie Bane. I learned a lot from Larry Doughty, who has actually done everything in the game. He’s been General Manager, a Scouting Director, he’s been on the field. He’s been every phase of a scout—Area Scout, Supervisor, Cross-checker, Scouting Director. I learned a tremendous amount from him. I learned a tremendous amount from Jack Zduriencik who I was with in Milwaukee. And I’ve taken a little bit from everybody and developed my own style and philosophy, but it’s a little bit of all of those guys put together. How important do you believe the modern statistical analysis are for evaluating a younger player?

Ric Wilson: I think that they are a tool, like a lot of the tools that we use. What they will do is they will give you some big red flags. Like if a guy’s average is down, that’s probably a pretty good indicator that there are going to be problems down the road. Or if a guy walks a lot of people . . . they are just little tools that just throw up red flags. And we use them to the right degree I think. It’s not the only thing, but it is part of the whole overall picture. How important is the traditional method of scouting, with eyes on players?

Ric Wilson: For me, it’s very important because with the kind of players we see, there are a lot of them who are very similar in a lot of ways. But, what separates player A from player B? That becomes the intangible stuff that you can’t see on a statistic or on a lineup card or anything like that. It’s the makeup, the character, the player, the toughness, just all the intangible stuff. And I think that’s very vital in what we do as well because you can get all the talent in the world, but if they don’t have the makeup and the desire and the want to do it, it’s going to be tough for them. It’s going to be a long road. On the other hand, if you can see that guy who gets after it and he never quits, you know, if he makes an error it’s okay, give me the next ball, those types of guys are the types guys you’re going to want because they can handle failure a lot better. So, I think that the traditional way of scouting is very, very important, and probably more important than all of them put together. They are all part of it, if that makes sense to you. Absolutely.

Ric Wilson: And, we use every avenue that we can to try to get the best feel on each player—whether it’s statistical analysis or just the traditional way or whatever. Anything we can use to help us to make the decision on player A from player B, than we are going to use it. How important are blood lines for you?

Ric Wilson: They are important to a certain degree. Again, it’s part of the tools. Those guys seem to get a little more attention, but at the end of the day, they still have to stand up to the test. To know what you’re getting and their makeup and their tools and their whole package. That will eventually get a look, and then they will have to take it from there, each individual. Blood lines are important, though, because most of the kids who have learned to grow up in the game, they understand what it’s all about. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work. That’s where you have to separate one from the other. Do you believe in drafting for need?

Ric Wilson: Not really. No. I think, again, my philosophy is to give Tony as many options as we can possibly give him. And, if we take the best available player in each particular round, we’re going to be successful. Because what that will allow us to do is create some depth in the system and then Tony can make a decision whether he wants that guy to be a part of a trade or whatever the case may be. Given the choice between an equally ranked high school or college talent, which would you take?

Ric Wilson: If everything is being equal, and their ceilings are going to be very similar, I may lean a little bit towards the college guy a little bit more. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. I love young kids, but I love the young kids with the ceilings. A lot of it has to do with where you pick in the draft. Not only the players there—the draft is only as good as the people in the draft. Some years it’s a college heavy year, some years it’s a high school year that are more available. And, with where we’ve been picking in the draft, those high ceiling college kids are generally gone. We pick down in the draft, so you have to make a decision at that point which one you’re going to go with. If you’ve got a guy with similar tools with a little better ceiling, you’re going to go with that guy, whether it be college or high school. Given the choice between an equally ranked pitcher or hitter, which would you take?

Ric Wilson: Well, I’m kind of partial to the pitchers. I think they win championships. But you can also get pitching all the way down through the draft. When you run out of hitters, you run out of them pretty fast. So, again, it would go to that particular set of guys—whichever one he is. If he’s the better guy of those two, then I will take the pitcher. If the hitter is the better guy of those two, then I’ll take the hitter. So, it doesn’t really matter I guess is my answer. Just take the best guy. But, I do believe that pitching wins championships, and I tend to lean on the power arms a little bit. As the Angels have shown over the years, pitching is a lot cheaper to develop internally then it is get it on the free agent market. For the amount that it will take to sign a Cliff Lee this year, you can draft many, many other high ceiling prospects for what it will take to land Cliff Lee.

Ric Wilson: Yes. That’s a good point. Pitchers are a valuable commodity. There are twelve or thirteen of them on each team. You need a lot of them. You need a lot of them throughout your system. With injuries, with guys not working out like you thought they were, you need a lot of pitchers. Some of them bust through to be impact-type guys and some of them have different roles. Pitching is an important aspect, and you just need a lot them to make it work throughout the system. And hopefully you can get a guy that develops into a Cliff Lee or a Jered Weaver or someone like that. A Santana, a Haren. That’s what we are all after. What strengths do you see in the organization?

Ric Wilson: I think we have a lot of power arms in the system all the way up and down. As they develop, they’ll start filling in their roles. But there are a lot of power arms, impact-type arms. We have a lot of athletes in the system now, and they’ll start making their way as they get a little bit older as development takes over. There is a good combination of what I talked about: power arms, some speed and athleticism. What areas need improvement?

Ric Wilson: I think all areas can use improvement. You know we’re never going to be content or satisfied. There may be a little more use for some power in the system. But, that’s hard to find. That’s usually the last thing that develops. But, that’s a need as well—power. How concerned are you about how the national magazines, such as Baseball America, rank the Angels’ Minor League system?

Ric Wilson: Well, I’ve seen our whole system. And, there may be a little bias, obviously, but they don’t know. They just go out and watch. They don’t know the ink and depth of it. I just think that we have a lot of prospects. That’s Baseball America. They have their way of doing things as well. When you are constantly getting players to the Big Leagues, and they are producing, then I think that has a lot to say about it as well. How do you go about finding the next Trout or Richards?

Ric Wilson: The same way we found those two (laughter). We’re just going to do it through hard work and diligence. Greg Morhardt and Arnold Brathwaite did a tremendous job on those guys and they kept us in there on them. And they knew what kind of competition they had around them with them. They did their homework on them. They knew exactly what we were getting. And, fortunately they fell to us in areas where we could get them. Why they got there? I have no idea. But, every organization is different. I’m just blessed that they were there. To answer your question, we’re going to do the same things that we have done, and we’ll find some more. When Tony Reagins introduced you, he said that your focus will be on “acquiring championship-quality talent around the globe.” How will you improve the international scouting and signings for the Angels?

Ric Wilson: That’s just going to be a part of it. Marc Russo, our International Scouting Director, is the lead guy. He’ll make the determinations of who I need to see, and there will be a lot of comparisons with guys around the United States. Marc is doing a tremendous job and he’ll keep plugging away. As he gets his staff in place, and doing what he needs to do, then there will be improvement all the way around. When you were introduced by Mr. Reagins, you also said that you wanted to bring about the best talent for the Angels through all means, including trades. What role will you play in evaluating the talent that the Angels are receiving and giving up in a trade?

Ric Wilson: Well, I obviously see all of our players, so I’m going to know what we’re going to be giving up. And, we’ve got a very talented professional staff that will be able to evaluate the guys we’re getting. At times, they may send me out, I don’t know, to see guys, but I’ll have my piece on what we’ve got and what fits best. Hopefully, Tony will add me into some of those, and then we’ll take it from there. Have the Angels presented any limitations on how to go about signing players or a budget for 2011?

Ric Wilson: No. Everything has been status quo. We’re going to do whatever we can to get the best players available. That’s the way it was described to me. And, that’s what we’re going to do. If a player does fall in 2011 because of signability issues, such as Weaver did, do you have the flexibility to sign him?

Ric Wilson: Well, that’s obviously something that’s going to have to go a little bit higher than myself with Mr. Moreno and Tony with their input on everything. But, I will certainly put in my thoughts on the situation. It’s completely transparent. They are going to know what’s going on throughout the whole draft and what we’re thinking about. So, it’s not going to come as a surprise to us. Let’s put it that way. We’ll know what we’re dealing with. So, how does the draft look for 2011?

Ric Wilson: You know I think it’s a very strong draft. There’s a lot of college arms, obviously, a lot of high school arms, as well as position players. I just think it’s a good draft for depth. There are a lot of players that are very similar to each other. And, we’ll be right in there punching away trying to get the best ones that we can get. So, I’m excited about it. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge to me. I think our staff is more than ready to go at this thing. When the gun goes off, we’ll be more than prepared. What advice do you have for kids who are thinking of becoming professional players?

Ric Wilson: Just to work at it and to stay diligent at it. You have to have a tremendous love for playing. At an early age, you need to love the game, to give you the energy to practice it and do it. And, most guys that do that, they tend to get better. The guys who don’t develop a love for it—because it is really a tough road. Any sport is, really. At a young age, if you can stay diligent and keep working at it, things will happen to you naturally with the strength levels and the experience levels and things like that. But, first and foremost, though, I think you have to develop a love for it. Just learn to have fun playing. Because when you get older, it becomes such a business oriented thing. If you don’t have that passion and that love for it, it seems to dissipate a little bit. One debate that fans have every year, especially as the negotiations tend to drag on a little bit, is whether or not a high school player should sign or go to college. What are your thoughts?

Ric Wilson: Well, my initial thought would be that just because a kid has the athletic ability to maybe go play professionally, does he have the mental makeup to go out as a young kid at eighteen years and be prepared to fail a little bit. Is that going to hamper him or set him back? So I think the mental part of it is—because you’re not going to get a guy in there who doesn’t have the physical ability to do it. But, if he’s not prepared to go in there and experience a little bit of failure and know how to deal with it, those guys have tough times. And some guys just aren’t mature enough to go out there, whether their tools are strong or not. They need a few years of college just to grow mentally and in maturity. So, that’s kind of the guys we look for. The high school kids because they have to be a certain type of kid as well. Another question we’ve received many times at is from parents regarding how they get their son noticed by a professional scout or organization? What tips do you have for them?

Ric Wilson: The way things are now, there’s just so many ways. There’s an old adage that says “if you can play, we’ll find you.” That’s generally true. But, there are just so many avenues. These showcases, these elite teams, and things like that. There are so many different leagues. When the cream starts rising, the scouts will find them. Somebody will find them and they will get noticed or recognized. Colleges will get involved. When it starts happening, it happens very fast. We’ve seen 8th graders that we’ve already started tracking. Who knows what they’ll be by their seniors years, but at least we know who they are when they are 8th and 9th graders that they seem to have a little bit more ability than the rest of them. So, we start tracking them at a very early age, and that gives us another indicator as they get draft eligible as to what type of kid we’re getting because we have a long track-record with them. That’s incredible that you are that thorough. For those who don’t know, could you briefly explain the role of an area scout, a regional scout, and a cross checker for the fans?

Ric Wilson: Okay. The area scout is basically the front line. He’s the guy who actually digs up the players and will report on them initially. That report goes into the office and each region. We have three regions. Well, we’re going to have four now. I just turned it into four. We’ll have a West Coast, a Midwest, a Northeast and a Southeast supervisor. And each one of the areas guys reports to their direct supervisor. And their supervisor will go out and see their best players and they’re comparing a guy, in New Jersey to a guy in let’s say Ohio. So they form a list from top to bottom and that starts the weeding out process. The supervisor’s role is to see the best players in each area guy’s area. Plus, his role is to train the guys as well. Then it basically goes up to the next level, which is the national cross-checker, which is what I did last year with Jeff Malinoff. I chose to go with one national guy this year and four cross-checkers. I don’t want to get into why I did it, but I did do it that way. Jeff and I will see all the best players in the nation. Now we’re comparing all the best players along with the supervisors throughout the nation, and that’s how we come up with a prep list of how we want to put them in order. How they stack up against the rest of the country. How many players do you personally see?

Ric Wilson: Well, I usually see as a national guy between 170 and 190. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I’ll probably see a little less, but not much. I’m a grinder. I’ve got to be at the ballpark. I love being at the ballpark. And, I’ll see quite a few guys as well. I’m sure things will come so that I won’t be able to see as many as I’ve seen in the past, but that’s the goal anyway. And the other side of the coin is too, is that I’ll probably see as many guys, but I’m going to see the top guys several times. It’s good to know that you’re out there seeing that many to develop your lists and developing a lot of contingencies because every round you’re going to lose 30 guys.

Ric Wilson: That’s exactly right. Now, moving to the lighter side, what are some of your hobbies outside of baseball?

Ric Wilson: Fishing, fishing, and fishing. What’s your favorite thing to catch?

Ric Wilson: Bass. What’s the best one that got away?

Ric Wilson: I’ve got several of those, believe me (laughter). And my family of course. I’m a devoted family man—they mean the world to me. But, as far as hobbies, it’s fishing, fishing, and fishing. What music do you listen to?

Ric Wilson: Country all the way. What’s your favorite food?

Ric Wilson: You know what, I’m going to go with some country food. Some meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy. What is your favorite quote, baseball or otherwise?

Ric Wilson: Oh man, I’d have to think about that one for a little bit. I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask me that one at another time. What’s your favorite movie?

Ric Wilson: My favorite movie is Tombstone with Kurt Russell. What’s the last thing you read?

Ric Wilson: The last book I read was Leadership Secrets of Mr. Colin Powell. Is there anything else you’d like the fans to know about you?

Ric Wilson: No. Just that I am as common as the next person, man. I love the game, and I’m very passionate about it. I love being part of the Angels. It’s a tremendous organization. The leadership is outstanding. I just want to continue the winning ways and get back on track to a championship. On behalf of, I’d like to thank you for taking the time today to speak with the fans and give them some insight into the role the role of a Scouting Director. We’re looking forward to seeing the next generation of stars that you are going to bring to the team and seeing another championship.

Ric Wilson: Alrighty Dave, I appreciate it man. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

Ric Wilson: Thank you.
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