Free agency came after the 1976 season and changed everything about the baseball business. Twins owner Calvin Griffith was overwhelmed by the game’s new financial realities.
On occasion Calvin would spend — such as unilaterally giving Rod Carew a $100,000 bonus for his MVP season of 1977 — and then he would revolt fully at spending.
One of those later moments came as the Twins prepared to take the 11th choice in the 1979 June draft. Calvin decided to greatly limit the signing bonus for this first-rounder.
The Twins had a Midwest League farm club in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. They became aware of a slugging outfielder 15 miles down the road in Nekoosa. Ellis Clary, a long-serving big-league scout for the Twins, was flown in to take a look at Kevin Brandt, a 5-11, 180-pound righthanded hitter.
Clary saw Brandt bomb numerous home runs and said, “Yeah, he might have a chance.” That was good enough for the Twins: They drafted Brandt and signed him cheap.
Brandt batted .161 with one home run, nine RBI and 41 strikeouts in 137 at-bats for Elizabethton in the rookie Appalachian League that summer. He went back there for five at-bats in 1980, struck out three times and was released.
Things are somewhat more sophisticated on the scouting and drafting front these days. The Twins have four supervisors and 17 other full-time area scouts assessing draft eligible players from the 50 states and Puerto Rico.
The scout in the spotlight from this month’s draft is Greg Runser. He’s a 34-year-old former minor league pitcher. The Twins started Runser as a part-timer four years ago. He’s now the full-time scout in the “Greater Houston and Louisiana” area.
General Manager Terry Ryan said Runser was hired, because the Twins “were a little short in that part of the country … needed more coverage.”
A year ago, the Twins were selecting second in the draft. It was the first year of an individual cap on what each team could spend on its draft choices. It was also clear that agent Scott Boras was going to try to beat the new system with his top client, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel.
That made Byron Buxton, the high school outfielder from Georgia, an easy choice for the Twins at No. 2.
This year, the Twins were picking fourth, and the top three projected choices turned out to be the first three taken: college pitchers Appel and Jonathan Gray and college slugger Kris Bryant.
The draft analysts had spent weeks tossing around several names for the fourth pick, until a few days before the draft when unidentified sources started saying, “The Twins really like Kohl Stewart, the high school pitcher from Houston.”
This proved correct. The Twins took Stewart. The scout who had seen him the most and then signed on enthusiastically to the selection was Runser.
Runser was at Target Field on Wednesday when Stewart was officially signed. During a media session, Ryan mentioned Runser also had been the main scout on the second-rounder, Louisiana State pitcher Ryan Eades.
Ryan made his bones in baseball as a scout. This week, he was sent three questions on the craft and responded as follows.
Q: Are scouts such as Runser eventually judged on the progress a player they recommend makes; in other words, what kind of pressure is on a scout to have guys such as Stewart and Eades make it?
Ryan: Scouts are judged by how they handle their territory and supplying the organization with players. There are others involved with both those areas. There is pressure on any scout, most of it self-induced. Work ethic is vital.