Monday, May 18, 2009

Life of a Baseball Scout


By Art Davidson/Daily News staff
MetroWest Daily News
Posted May 17, 2009 @ 12:22 AM

On the surface it would appear that John Kosciak has a pretty terrific job. He gets paid to watch baseball games.

There are some long drives and boring nights in small-town hotel rooms, but Kosciak truly loves being a major league scout. What's different this year for the longtime Milford resident is that Kosciak is now employed by the Houston Astros. Kosciak joined the Astros following last season after scouting for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 1994. Kosciak previously worked for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1983-84 and for the San Diego Padres from 1985-94.

"It was tough leaving the Dodgers after being with them for so many years." said Kosciak, "but it was time for a change."

Kosciak was offered the job by Houston assistant general manager and scouting director Bobby Heck.

"I've known Bobby for a long time. It seemed like a good opportunity," said Kosciak.

And what does Kosciak think of the controversy his former team is embroiled in with the suspension of Manny Ramirez for using a banned substance?

"No comment," said Kosciak with a laugh.

The Astros have other connections to MetroWest. Club president Tal Smith was born in Framingham and lived briefly in the town as a child. Houston's director of team travel, Barry Watters, hails from Ashland and is a Keefe Tech graduate. Retired Astros scout Stan Benjamin, who worked for the team for several decades, grew up in Framingham and played in the major leagues. He will celebrate his 95th birthday on Wednesday.

Some scouts operate at the major league level. Their job is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of an upcoming opponent and judge players who might be pursued in trade negotiations. Amateur scouts like Kosciak attempt to find players their employer might select in the June draft. Following the draft, Kosciak will scout amateur, minor league and major league players.

"My job really hasn't changed. The only difference is that I'm working for the Astros," said Kosciak. "I'm responsible for scouting the six New England states, New York, New Jersey and eastern Canada."

Before Mother Nature permits baseball to be played in the Northeast, Kosciak began the season by scouting college teams in Florida.

"They played the Big East-Big Ten challenge in Clearwater. They had several games going on at the same time," said Kosciak. "There were days when I saw three games in the same day."

Now that college baseball is almost over locally, Kosciak has been viewing more high school teams.

"I try to see a game every day," he said. "Because a lot of night (amateur) baseball isn't played in this area it's tough to see more than one game in a day. Sometimes it's possible to watch two games in a day during the weekend."

If Kosciak sees a player who might have some potential he'll write a report and send it via e-mail to the Astros.

"Sometimes you might go 3-4 days without seeing anyone who is a pro prospect. There are weeks when I might send in 5-6 reports on players, but that doesn't happen all the time," said Kosciak.

"If I want to see a particular pitcher I have to know when he is pitching. The Internet has changed things. Instead of several scouts calling the coach's house and bugging his wife some coaches will send an e-mail to let all of the scouts in the area know when a certain pitcher is pitching."

Kosciak will often watch a player several times before the draft. He might have seen him also play last summer. A major league club will often send another scout to evaluate a player it is considering drafting, someone called a cross-checker. If it's a very high draft choice, Heck might go see the player himself.

"One of the things that has changed in scouting are the baseball showcases that are held for players," said Kosciak. "The people running the showcases tell the kids they have to attend them if they want to be seen by major league scouts and college coaches. Sometimes kids will hold back during the season because they are saving themselves for the showcases. I don't think that is right. The players have to pay a lot of money to attend the showcases. It makes it easier for me, but if a player is good he'll be found. He doesn't have to attend a showcase to be seen."

Before Kosciak scouted a game for the Astros, he helped the club.

Los Angeles opted not to protect Drew Locke, a former Boston College standout who had played in its minor league system, ahead of last year's Rule 5 Draft. Kosciak had originally signed Locke and recommended that he be selected by Houston in the minor league phase of the draft last December. Locke now plays for the Astros' Double A affiliate in Corpus Christi, where he's leading the Texas League in RBI and is third in batting average and home runs.

"I'm very happy about that we were able to acquire him," said Kosciak. "He's doing really well."

The Astros could be adding more players recommended by Kosciak in next month's draft.

(Art Davidson is a Daily News staff writer. He can be reached at 508-626-4403 or adavidson@cnc.com.)

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