This article was written by Bill Nowlin
This article was published in Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession
Speedy switch-hitting outfielder Fernando Perez of Columbia University was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the seventh round of the 2004 MLB June Amateur Draft. He signed on June 16 that year, less than eight weeks after he turned 21. Assigned to the Hudson Valley Renegades in the New York-Penn League, he advanced through the Rays system and at the end of his fourth full season of minor-league ball, he got a September call-up to the Rays in 2008.
In 72 plate appearances, he hit .250 with three homers and achieved a .348 on-base average, stealing five bases. He appeared briefly in the ALDS, ALCS, and in the 2008 World Series, successfully stealing a base in his one and only Series appearance, a pinch-running role in the ninth inning of Game Five.
Called up once again in September of 2009, he saw his OPS drop from .781 to .412 in 35 plate appearances. In 2010 Perez spent the year in Triple-A with the Durham Bulls, and in 2011 at midseason, he began the season playing with the Iowa Cubs, the Triple-A team of the Chicago Cubs, but was released in July, almost immediately signed by the Mets and assigned to their Triple-A team in Buffalo.
Asked what it had been like, being scouted near the beginning of the 21st century, Perez shared his thoughts in an August 20, 2010, interview with Bill Nowlin.
FP: Not in high school whatsoever. Really, the first time I was aware of them was my junior year of college [Columbia University]. We were playing down in Florida and a few of them were coming to games … mostly to look at other players … and one of them approached me expressing some interest. It ended up being the scout that signed me, Brad Matthews. I was pretty surprised.
Perez said he was very, very skeptical as well. His home state of New Jersey isn’t exactly a hotbed of talent, he explained. He also said that he downplayed any feelings he might have had, not wanting to become optimistic about something he never expected to see come to fruition.
He’d be near our bench during games. I could tell he was watching me. I could feel that he was as concerned with what I was saying as what I was actually doing on the field. I remember that spring starting to understand what the whole thing was about, and starting to get a sense that I might actually get drafted.
BN: So you were at Columbia, kind of in Lou Gehrig’s footsteps …?
FP: It was a lot different. When Lou was there, they actually liked baseball. They used to play baseball on Center Campus. Now, sports is an activity which is not exactly looked on … I was more apt to make sure that I had no trace of athletic regalia on when I was in my classes.
BN: When you first met Matthews, were there other scouts from other teams there at the same time?
FP: Not that made personal contact. Later on, I learned that there ends up being a share network of information. Some other scouts had heard by that time. I’d been approached by an agent and I think that he sicced some other scouts on me, but for the most part he was the only guy that I talked to during that period. He’d give me a call every once in a while. He was trying to psychologically profile me, and I was doing the same thing, trying to gauge what was happening.
The Major League Scouting Bureau came to a workout that we had at Columbia. We had all of our players run a college workout in the fall. The Bureau came and a few area scouts came. I ran like a 6.2 60, and I’m pretty sure that that’s where he heard of me and then came down to Florida where we start the season.
The coach who recruited me, he ended up leaving before the start of my sophomore year, kind of abruptly. He wanted to go to a big program, where you could recruit players regardless of their baseline knowledge of Kierkegaard. He went to Boston College. When I first got to school, I was just kind of there. I was thinking of baseball really more as an activity and I was just taking in everything at school. Freshman year in New York City. Pretty impressionable. The coach said to me right off, “You’re going to learn. You’re going to get a little bigger. You’re going to become a student of the game. You’re going to become the best player in the Ivy League. And you’re going to get drafted.” I remember thinking that he’s selling me lies. I was not necessarily down on my talent, but just very skeptical of dreams like that.
BN: Did any family members ever get involved in giving any advice of one kind or another?
FP: Not at all. In my junior year, I remember sitting down at dinner with my parents at a favorite restaurant on the Upper West Side and explaining to them that I was probably going to get drafted. My mother would have nothing to do with it. She said, “No. You’re not. You’re going to finish school and you’re not going to follow any irrational pipe dream of becoming a professional athlete. What are you thinking? You’re going to Columbia University. You need to study more.” Once I kind of explained to her that they were going to pay me to skip my spring semester and that they would pay me to go to fall semester, no strings attached, she sort of reconsidered.
BN: When in the process did you first actually meet, or interview agents, or did you just meet one that you clicked with?
FP: Before the draft, I had only one agent get in touch with me. Andrew Mongelluzzi. After the coast was clear with my mother, when she didn’t think that the draft was the Devil, he went up and met with my parents while I was at school and kind of explained things to them. He ended up being my agent for the first couple of years of my career. He’s no longer my agent, but he was for the first couple of years. He was my adviser, but my junior year, right before the draft, I got injured so it ended up being very unnecessary for me to even hire an adviser.
It didn’t really end up mattering, because all of the teams I talked to, I did essentially all of the negotiating there was to do. Most of the teams, if they cannot talk to an agent, they’d rather talk to the player, and with all of the teams, I was the one who spoke to them, I ended up being drafted by the team which had followed me the most all along. Then the day of the draft, I got calls from like ten or so different agencies. A little bit weird.
There was one glaring experience I had. The week before the draft, there’s a few pre-draft workouts. I’d not really hit much with wood. I was injured going into the draft, hurt at the end of my junior year, so I was in kind of a holding period but I did some acupuncture for a pulled hamstring, and I got better. The first workout I went to was at the Phillies place. I did OK. I did the running, the hitting, the throwing. I ran really well. I threw OK, hit OK. Afterward, one of the guys from the Phillies tried to pressure me into doing a pre-draft deal. He basically said, “Why don’t you wait around and don’t go back to your car quite yet.” I don’t know if he thought I was just some idiot, but basically, what the guy did was he tried to convince me that I was not a good player and that I would probably not get drafted, and that my best shot of playing professional baseball would be like to sign a $20,000 contract with him right there on that day.
He was saying, “Well, why would I draft you? I have all these high-school kids that are better…and this and that.” I asked, “Well, then, what are you trying to sign me for?” I looked at him kind of like the guy was crazy, thinking, “Are these really tactics that work?” I thought it was funny at the time and I remember kind of laughing in the guy’s face, getting in my car. It was actually really embarrassing for him. He ended up calling me on the day I got drafted and apologizing for the way that he spoke with me.
I had a similar experience with the Mets. I had a workout with them, and I was supposed to go on to this predraft workout in Arizona. The Mets guy said, “I’d like to have a special workout with you and some of our top brass. We’re thinking about taking you with a very early pick.” I’m thinking to myself, “Well, you guys already saw me. I went to your workout. It wasn’t my best workout, but that doesn’t matter. I already have plans to go to Arizona.” The guy says, “Well, I think it would be in your best interest to skip that general workout in Arizona, because you’re going to go out there and there’s going to be a hundred other players out there. This is going to be just you and the general manager and a couple other people.”
I left for Arizona but for some reason, my flight got canceled. I was stranded in Chicago and I realized that I could be back in New York the next day if I got on a plane. I called the guy from New York — and he told me that he made that up so that I wouldn’t go, and that there wasn’t any workout! The guy actually confessed to me. “Don’t come to Shea Stadium. There is no workout. I was just making that up so that you wouldn’t go to Arizona.” That was right before the draft. I was kind of getting an idea how primitive and salesman-like the whole thing was.
BN: That stuff, I suspect, is “illegal” under the system. That sounds like these guys were trying to subvert the system, in both cases.
FP: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I hate it to sound like the perfect story, because I’m with the Rays now, but going to their workout, it was a pretty good workout. I remember talking to the scout director, R.J. Anderson. At least it had this guise of being very, very honest, but I could tell by talking to the guy who signed me, there were certain objectives that he had, and of course objectives that I had, so it wasn’t a super, super honest perfect dialogue. But still, I remember talking to R.J. Anderson on the field after the workout. He asked, “Where do you think you’re going to get drafted?” I remember lying through my teeth, saying that I think I would get drafted in the fifth round. I was just saying that because I thought that that was the right thing to say. If I hadn’t been drafted at all, I wouldn’t have been surprised really at all.
R.J. Anderson said, “Well, we’d like to take you in the fifth or sixth round, but I don’t think you’ll be available.” This is a scouting director. I decided that he must be fairly knowledgeable. This was one of the first times that I thought this was really going to happen.
Really, I was one of those players who benefited from scouts who were going to see bigger prospects. The year I got drafted, there were a bunch of good prospects in the Ivy League who got drafted. Ross Ohlendorf was a fourth-rounder. They had B.J. Szymanski. They had tons of scouts out to watch them pretty much every time that they played. It wasn’t really like that for me. During a midweek game, it’s not like there’d be any scout, and on a weekend day, there really wouldn’t be too many anyway. But when we played Princeton, I guess I benefited from the scouts being out to see brighter prospects.
BN: Did you have any discussions with Tampa Bay or other organizations about signability?
FP: Yeah, there was that. I definitely had to convince people that I was for real, that I really wanted to play baseball. A lot of that was done by my coaches. He asked, “There’s a lot of guys calling about you. Do you want me to give them the impression that you’re signable and you want to play?” At that point, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I said, “Yes.”
Toward the draft, it got a little closer when I was talking to the Rays. It was in that sort of secretive bargaining jargon about what it would take. However I learned it, I learned to maintain some ambiguity but to make sure that you unflinchingly show a desire to play. In my case, I was very lucky that they were actually real concerns. If somebody was going to offer me $10,000 or $20,000 to play, I would have just gone back to school. I didn’t think that this thing was going to happen anyway. I wasn’t going to leave school for no reason. And I really, really did want to play.
I had this really odd feeling of being in somewhat of a driver’s seat, entering the week thinking that there’s no way anybody is going to draft me into baseball, but as things sort of progressed, there were all these sort of signs like teammates around me … I remember talking to R.J. on the field, where he thought legitimately that I would get drafted in the first couple of rounds – which gave me the impression that I would get drafted by like the 20th or 25th round.
BN: Was the seventh round in the first day or the second day?
FP: First day.
BN: So you didn’t have to wait overnight then.
FP: No. I went to the beach actually. I was on LBI in New Jersey. Long Beach Island. I just sort of took the day off and I went to the beach. I got a call in the sixth round. I said I would sign. They called back and said, “There’s this guy we really, really want to take. Will you sign in the seventh round?” And I said, “Yes!” I remember thinking, “Just hurry up and draft me.”
BN: Was any other team in touch with you that day?
FP: That day? No.
BN: By taking you in the seventh round, they had to be concerned that someone else would take you before it got around to the eighth round.
FP: The only team he’d really been in touch with other than the Rays was the Diamondbacks. The guy who was my adviser said the Diamondbacks were interested after the 10th round. If the Rays would have waited, maybe I would have gone to the Diamondbacks. I didn’t really mention much to my friend [when we went to the beach]. I just had to keep the phone on me. He was a friend that I had played baseball with and didn’t really believe that this was happening. He’d been lobbying for me to quit baseball for a long time. Then I got the call.