An Interview with Tampa Bay Rays Director of Pro Scouting Matt Arnold

A few weeks ago, the Rays quietly (is there any other way the Rays announce things?) announced a couple staff moves for the upcoming season. One of the moves that intrigued me was the promotion of Matt Arnold to the newly created position of Director of Pro Scouting. This intrigued me for two reasons: First, I was unaware the team did not have a director in place already. And second, who is Matt Arnold?

Lucky for me, I was able to contact Matt and he is a fan of DRaysBay. He has spent the last three seasons with the Rays as a professional scout. This comes after his stint with the Cincinnati Reds as Associate Director of Pro Scouting. Before his time in Cincinnati, Arnold worked in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers front offices handing a variety of tasks; the Ben Zobrist of the front office, if you will. Matt was kind enough to grant me some time to pick his brain about his new job, his past experiences as a scout and...sabermetrics!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Matt Arnold...

Tommy Rancel: Congratulations on being named the Director of Pro Scouting. I know you're new to the job, but what will your day to day duties include? 

Matt Arnold: Thanks very much.  I'm very humbled by the opportunity, and the fact that I work with such a great group of people is something I definitely don't take for granted.  It's an exciting challenge and I'm really looking forward to it. 

My main focus will be the coordination of our pro scouting staff.  We need to have the right people in the right ballparks at the right times.  We also need to stay on top of the current flow of information, and when the landscape changes, we need to be able to adjust quickly.   I'll be monitoring scouting reports that are submitted and do my best to provide constant feedback and communication to everyone in the field.  I'll still be doing a good amount of evaluating and report writing as well. 

TR: Does the department pro scouting include independent leagues and overseas, or are those separate groups? 

MA: Carlos Alfonso and his entire staff do a tremendous job with our international scouting operations.  We'll overlap in some instances when it comes to winter ball coverage in the Dominican, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico, where we'll have our pro scouts get involved.  The Independent League coverage falls underneath the pro scouting department, and we plan on continuing to establish a presence in this area.   

TR: Obviously to get to this position you had to put in a fair amount of time as a scout and in the scouting department in general. Tell us about your experience as a scout. What did you look for in a player? What things may have deterred you from a player? 

MA: I think it started as a kid.  I just loved baseball, and if I wasn't playing the game I was studying it.  My Dad always told me I knew so much about baseball that he thought I'd make a great cab driver someday.  I've always loved the game, and when I was finally able to get an opportunity to work in it, I made a point to put in as much time and effort possible to learn everything I could from quality baseball people. 

Spending countless hours in the car and on the road with great veteran evaluators such as Gene Bennett (signed Barry Larkin, Paul O'Neill, Chris Sabo, Don Gullett), Larry Barton (signed Eric Davis), Larry Doughty (former scouting director and general manager), Bob Zuk (signed Reggie Jackson, Darrell Evans, Gary Carter, Willie Stargell), and many other talented baseball people has been very valuable for me.  Gaining experience evaluating players at all levels of professional baseball has also been important in developing perspective.  Over time, I've developed my own style, but am always trying to evaluate my own process and get better.

Players come in all different shapes and sizes, from Augie Ojeda to Tommy Everidge, so I've always tried not to go into a ballpark looking for a specific ‘cookie cutter' type player.  Generally, I like players with tools who show instincts and can play the game.  They don't grow on trees.  

I like players who play with a sense of urgency.  I'd much rather have a player you have to harness than a player you have to prod. 

TR: Besides physical tools, how big does a player's make-up factor into a potential trade or signing?

MA: Makeup is a huge factor.  It's like anything else in life, you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't apply yourself, you won't reach your potential.  

TR: Who is the best player that you've ever scouted from a position of raw talent? 

MA: We had Alex Rodriguez when I was with Texas in 2002.  Watching him play everyday made you numb to his unbelievable talent.  He could do it all. 

TR: In your experience, has there one player who you absolutely thought "couldn't miss", but unfortunately missed?

MA: Several.  If you haven't been wrong on players, you haven't written enough reports.  I try to learn from those mistakes and reflect on why those players didn't perform the way I had envisioned, and do my best make adjustments in the future. 

TR: The Rays are one of a few organizations than openly embrace progressive statistics. Coming from a scouting background, what are your thoughts on statistics in general, as well as the new wave of progressive stats what we've seen recently?

MA: I have a degree in Economics, so I very much appreciate the value of new metrics.  Personally, I try to go into a ballpark with a clean slate and without any preconceived notions on players.  I do my best to have a good feel for cutting edge data, but our guys in the office do a tremendous job with statistical analysis, so I'll leave that up to them.  It's our job as scouts to identify guys that are playing well at every level, but also those who have the tools and may not be performing up to their potential.  We can also help identify young talented players who may have little or no statistical histories.  At the end of the day, we blend the two thought processes when making decisions. 

TR: Some people feel that a person can either be a scouting person or a stats person. Do you feel that these two groups must remain separate, or can we have a blend of both?

MA: I think it's important that we separate the two fields as we each make our own evaluations, but combine them in the final synthesis of information when making a decision. 

TR: How heavy do you weigh the competition from the NL to the AL? For example, when scouting a player, how much does it concern you that he may have done certain things in one league that may or may not necessarily translate into the other?

MA: From a scouting standpoint, we have to maintain high standards and identify players that are going to thrive in the American League East.

TR: When scouting potential targets, how big does home park factor in?

MA: I think the ballpark definitely becomes a factor with the end result, but as a scout, I'm more concerned with the process.  If a player hits a wallscraper HR to left field in Erie, I know the wall is only 312 ft. away.  If he hits it over the basketball stadium behind the left field wall in Erie, it tells me he can hit a bomb in Yellowstone.  We always need to take the context of performance into consideration, but if the process is sound and the ability is there, the tools should play at the highest level.

TR: In your opinion, what is the hardest position(s) to scout?

MA: Tough call.  Maybe some of the defensive aspects of catching.  Operationally, we need to sit behind home plate using a radar gun and evaluate pitchers while breaking down the mechanics of hitters and simultaneously run a stopwatch for the batter, baserunners, and pitchers release times, but also not forget about the footwork, arm action, release times, blocking skills, etc. from catchers.  You also need to get a side view in order to see how catchers' hands are working.  It's not easy to watch, digest and record so many pieces of information all at once. 

TR: If you were a scout for another team, which Rays player would immediately stand out to you?

MA: If they're wearing a Rays uniform, hopefully they'll stand out. 

MA:Thanks very much for all the positive Rays energy this community generates.

And thanks to Matt for giving us the first opportunity to introduce him to Rays fans, as well as giving us more perspective into the scouting side of the front office. We wish Matt all the best in his new role and look forward to chatting with him again.

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