When the Orioles officially hired baseball-lifer Gary Rajsich as their director of scouting in November, Toronto Blue Jays pro scouting director Perry Minasian sent a message to a friend.
"You just stole one of my best scouts," Minasian texted Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "And one of the great people in the game."
Rajsich (pronounced ray-sitch) has been involved in pro baseball since he was drafted out of Arizona State University in the 11th round by the Houston Astros in 1976. He spent parts of four seasons as a big-league first baseman and outfielder and three more years playing in Japan.
By 1990, he was with the Major League Scouting Bureau, kicking off a two-decade-plus career as a highly-regarded scout with the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Blue Jays.
But for the first time in his career, Rajsich, 57, isn't just making suggestions on players — he'll be calling the shots starting Monday night, when the Orioles select fourth overall in baseball's annual amateur draft.
"It's pretty exciting, it really is. Just to sit back and think of what the impact and implications are on the organization moving forward," Rajsich said. "It's really important, and at the same time exciting and a little nerve-racking."
As a pro scout exclusively since 2002, he'd watch a three-game series, sometimes more, before rendering an opinion. That's not often the case with high school and collegiate players.
"The travel schedule is a lot different. And the scouting is a little different in that you get one game, maybe two games, and then you've got to make the call on a player," he said. "It's a lot of hopping around, a lot more snap judgments and a lot quicker scouting."
Rajsich estimates that he has evaluated 80 to 100 amateur players this year, flying all over the country and into Puerto Rico. He said he hasn't kept track of how many days he has been on the road in the past three months, but joked: "I have a platinum [account] with American Airlines for the very first time."
His frenetic pace culminates in three days and 40 rounds of drafting, which begins Monday night and runs through Wednesday. The Orioles will pick in the Top 5 for the sixth consecutive season and in the Top 10 for the 11th time in 12 years. The previous seven drafts were run by Joe Jordan, who left in October to become the Philadelphia Phillies' player development director.
Jordan had his first-round successes with catcher Matt Wieters and top prospects Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy, but he also had disappointments including Billy Rowell and Matt Hobgood.
Personality-wise, Jordan and Rajsich are a contrast. Jordan's a quick-witted Oklahoman with the swagger and presence that can take over a room; Rajsich, a Youngstown, Ohio, native, is more understated. He's known more as a listener than a pithy quote machine.
"He has a nice way with people," said Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette, who made Rajsich the first key hire of his administration. "He is well-respected in the industry by his peers. He has good work habits and is a good listener, which is great to have in that position."
Duquette first got to know Rajsich when they worked together in Boston, starting in 1994. Duquette credits Rajsich for steering the Red Sox toward pitcher Derek Lowe in the 1997 Heathcliff Slocumb deal with Seattle that is considered one of the best trades in club history (they also received eventual captain Jason Varitek).
Rajsich possesses a work ethic that matches the ballyhooed evaluation skills, Minasian said. The Blue Jays executive remembers calling Rajsich one evening near the trade deadline and asking him if he could see some prospects in Montana the next day at 1 p.m. There was a slight problem: Rajsich was on the East Coast. He said he'd do what he could and hung up.
"The next day I get a call at 12:48 p.m. and he says, 'I just arrived to the ballpark in Montana. I made it,'" Minasian said. "He is willing to go the extra mile without any needed notoriety."
Minasian said what really separates Rajsich from so many other hard-working scouts is the way he relates to everyone — which is paramount in sealing a deal with a draft pick.
"One of Gary's greatest strengths is his ability to connect to all kinds of different people, whether they are from the South or the Dominican Republic or the inner city or a suburban area," said Minasian, who made Rajsich his first hire with the Blue Jays in 2009. "As good of a scout as he is, he's even a better person."
Philosophy-wise, Rajsich and Jordan seem to share common ground. In the first round of Jordan's last five drafts, he selected two high school pitchers, a high school hitter, a college pitcher and a college hitter.
Rajsich has a similar strategy for this week. The organization's draft board is talent-based — with signability issues factored in — and does not stress a position or need. Rajsich said he has been given no directives. If the best guy available plays a position in which the Orioles appear to be set now and in the future, such as shortstop, he is still going with that pick.
"I've not been directed any such way. I think when you have true competition in an organization it is good," Rajsich said. "If you have two good players, well, one of them can move. There is nothing wrong with that. So that doesn't come into play for me unless I am told, and I have not been."
Perhaps the best player available in the draft is Georgia prep center fielder Byron Buxton, who has drawn comparisons to former Oriole Eric Davis for his tools and makeup. Buxton, however, likely won't get past the Seattle Mariners, who have the third pick.
There is no consensus No. 1, but the Houston Astros may be targeting Stanford University right-hander Mark Appel, who may be the most polished pitcher in the draft. He is one of three collegiate right-handers, along with University of San Francisco fireballer Kyle Zimmer, and LSU draft-eligible sophomore Kevin Gausman, whom the Orioles likely will consider.
A college pitcher is a safe bet to land with the Orioles, but if they decide on a position player, and Buxton is gone, one intriguing scenario is Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, who is shooting up draft boards and has been scouted by Rajsich.
If the Orioles want high upside and are willing to go with a high school pitcher — as they did last year with Bundy — the choice could be California prep lefty Max Fried, whom Baseball America ranks as the best southpaw in the draft.
It would be somewhat surprising if the Orioles went outside of those six with their first pick. That's partially because this draft is not considered particularly deep — especially compared to last year, when as many as eight players were legitimately top-pick quality.
"I heard about that [one] and I can tell you there is no Dylan Bundy in this draft," Rajsich said. "And the fact that we got him four, I give the Joe Jordan regime here all the credit in the world, because they got a good one."
Rajsich believes he will get "a good one" when the dust settles Monday night.
And there's a sense — certainly a hope — that the Orioles got a good one last November.
"Selfishly, we hated to lose Gary," Minasian said. "Obviously, it is great for him and his career. And he is definitely the right guy for that job. It was an outstanding hire."
Meet Gary Rajsich
Name: Gary Louis Rajsich
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Title: Orioles' Director of Scouting, first year
Playing career: 11th round pick of the Houston Astros in 1976. A first baseman/outfielder, batted .236 with three homers in 149 big-league games in parts of four seasons (1982-85) with the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Still holds Triple-A Norfolk record for most career homers (52).
Scouting career: Began in 1990 with the Major League Scouting Bureau; with Boston Red Sox from 1994-2006; Texas Rangers, 2006-09; Toronto Blue Jays, 2009-11.
Family: Wife, Linda; sons, Lou and Lee; older brother, David, pitched for three seasons in majors, 1978-80 for New York Yankees and Rangers.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times