Connect with us

Tampa Bay Rays

Heyman | Dan Jennings recalls mistake of passing on Pujols

Jon Heyman



Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The occasion of Albert Pujols’ 3,000th hit was another chance for all those many scouting directors who passed on the Maplewood JC shortstop 19 years ago to wonder what might have been.

Most of them quietly suffer “the one that got away.” But Dan Jennings, the Rays’ scouting director at the time, later the Marlins GM and manager and now a special adviser to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, is secure enough to joke about it, talk about it and analyze the call that went awry.

Jennings also recalled that during Pujols’ magical first year, when he became Rookie of the Year, his highlights played on every TV he saw, in every last hotel room. Jennings’ 1999 draft for the Rays included future MVP Josh Hamilton (first round, No. 1 overall), future Rays star Carl Crawford (second round) and multiple other major leaguers, so perhaps that makes it a bit easier to take.

The other thing is that Jennings is comfortable about his place in the game. Pujols didn’t get picked until the 13th round; “give (the Cardinals) credit,” Jennings says. Now-Cards GM John Mozeliak was the scouting director, Mike Roberts a key scouting exec and Dave Karaff the Cardinals’ area scout for that historic pick, so 29 scouting directors passed on him up to 13 times.

The thing that Jennings recalls is that their area scout Fernando Arango had Pujols first on his board in his five-state responsibility (he had Kansas, Missouri and three other adjacent states), and while no other Rays scout liked Pujols – not even a bit – Jennings admits he learned something from the episode.

That is: “If a scout has that kind of guts and that kind of conviction … pull the trigger,” Jennings said.

Don’t take him ahead of Hamilton, seen as an otherworldly talent back then, or Crawford, or maybe even Doug Waechter or Seth McClung. But take him at some point before 13 picks go by. After Arango made him his No. 1 pick, Jennings sent in three of his very top scouts to look at Pujols, and none of them saw what Arango saw. The three scouts were bright baseball minds who have risen to heights in major league baseball – Stan Meek, R.J. Harrison and Michael Hill – but none of them saw what Arango saw, as was recounted in Jonah Keri’s book “The Extra 2 Percent.”

They all told Jennings virtually the same thing. “I can’t write him up,” which in scout parlance means there aren’t enough good things to recommend him as a future major leaguer. But because Arango was so convicted, Jennings invited Pujols to their pre-draft workout at The Trop so everyone with the Rays could see (they had some big-time scouts, such as Meek, Bill Livesey, Chuck LaMar, Bart Braun and others).

They saw a body that seemed a little “spongy,” and they saw a bat that was good but seemed far less than great. They worked Pujols out at shortstop, and it’s no surprise no one saw a major-league shortstop in the making. But in fact, Pujols was so unimpressive at shortstop that they asked him to don the catcher’s gear to see if he could make it there. At first Pujols balked, telling them, “I’m not a catcher,” but he did it, anyway, and he did OK behind the plate. But not good enough.

And they had him bat, and he was just OK, hitting one ball out at the Trop, one high fly Jennings can still see in his mind’s eye (just one ball that floated over the fence, as he recalled it – nothing too dramatic). Afterward, all the Rays guys gathered, and they all picked out different players they liked. No one particularly liked Pujols. Except, that is, for the area scout who knew him best.

Had they listened to that lone voice, and picked him seventh or eighth, they would have had an all-time draft. As it was, they still gathered a couple great players (one of whom starred for them), and they learned one valuable lesson.

Jon Heyman is an MLB Insider for FanRag Sports, featuring breaking news, information and his Inside Baseball column, which appears on every Thursday. Heyman also has been an insider at MLB Network since the channel launched in 2009 and is a regular contributor to WFAN in New York, where he appears weekly on the Joe and Evan Show and previously appeared on the Mike and the Mad Dog Show. He also appears on WSCR in Chicago, WBZ-FM in Boston and the Petros and Money Show on Fox in Los Angeles. Heyman comes to FanRag Sports from, where he worked for five years and wrote the popular Inside Baseball notes column. Before going to CBS, Heyman worked for five years at Sports Illustrated and, where he was a senior writer and started an Inside Baseball Column. Heyman worked for 16 years at Newsday in New York, where he was the Yankees beat writer, a baseball columnist and finally a general sports columnist. Heyman started his career at the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch, then moved to the Los Angeles Copley Newspapers (Torrance Daily Breeze and Santa Monica Outlook) before going to Newsday. Heyman at one time also served as a national baseball writer for The Sporting News. Heyman is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The Santa Fe, N.M. native grew up in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.

scores by the Score