By Rob Rains
As he has crisscrossed the country this spring preparing for next month’s amateur draft, Randy Flores has found himself with a lot of time to kill at the Atlanta airport.
It was there that the Cardinals’ scouting director found something that he liked, even if it isn’t this year’s version of Nolan Gorman.
“I’ve gotten on this thing where I text our national crosscheckers where I am in the Atlanta airport,” Flores said. “If you don’t take the shuttle there’s a couple of nice little walks between the terminals and I find myself seeking out the rainforest between the A and B terminals … listening to the sounds of the rainforest as I get on a connecting flight.”
Flores estimates he has gone through the Atlanta airport, the busiest in the world, literally “dozens” of times since the scouting season began in mid-February. He is not certain exactly when or how he fell in love with the rainforest.
“I saw it last year but it has kind of grown on me,” Flores said. “Normally you are in a rush and you kind of ignore it, but there have been times when I have a few extra minutes. I might be in a completely different terminal but I want to go see the rainforest.”
When Flores has not been in an airport, either in Atlanta or a myriad of other cities around the country, he has been listening to the sounds of bats hitting baseballs or baseballs smacking into catcher’s mitts. Now in his fourth season as the Cardinals’ scouting director, Flores and his team of scouts have been prepping for the draft which begins this year on June 3.
The Cardinals have the 19th, 58th and 96th overall picks this year in the early round of the three-day draft. They also had the 75th pick but included that slot in the package sent to Arizona to acquire Paul Goldschmidt.
The Cardinals also had the 19th pick last year, which they used to select high school third baseman Gorman, now considered the top prospect in the organization and one of the best rising prospects in the game.
Flores thinks about Gorman when he is making his plans on which high school and college players to go watch this spring, knowing that a month before last year’s draft he would not have predicted there was any change that Gorman would be still be available when it was time for the Cardinals to make their selection.
Could a player most experts think will be selected earlier still be there for the Cardinals to draft again this year?
“Some people might say, ‘What are you going to see that player for? He’s not going to get there.’” Flores said. “One of the things you try to prep for is the unexpected, and that just requires putting in the work ahead of time, laying eyes on the players, separating the looks as best you can, discussing any changes that have happened.
“You have to act as if someone who by all accounts shouldn’t be there might be there. You have to scout so that if something happens where someone unexpected is there, you are going into it with full information and not just an assumption too far in advance.”
Picking 19th, Flores said, allows for those kinds of surprises to occur.
“An organization might pivot in another direction,” he said. “All it takes is a couple of organizations deciding they want a college guy or really want pitchers or guys with top of the line velocity, whatever it is. Fill in the blank. There is someone who is not going to fit that profile. You have to prep for all scenarios.”
Two area players are ranked by most analysts as candidates to be selected in the first round of the draft – righthanded pitcher Jackson Rutledge, who went to Rockwood Summit High School and now pitches at San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College – and Missouri outfielder Kameron Misner, a native of Poplar Bluff.
The draft will provide only part of the influx of new talent into the Cardinals’ organization this summer. After a two-year penalty in which they could not spend more than $300,000 on an international player, the Cardinals have a full international budget again this year.
The front office executive who oversees a lot of the international signees, along with Luis Morales, is Matt Slater, and he calls that market the “wild wild West.”
Unlike the draft, those players can sign when they are 16 years old, but almost all of the most talented prospects reach a verbal agreement one or two years before the July 2 date when they can officially sign a contract.
The Cardinals, like other teams, already have those verbal agreements in place well in advance of the July 2 date.
Slater also has been scouting players for the June draft, and like Flores, his schedule will begin to wind down soon as all of the scouts start to finalize their ranking of this year’s prospects.
One change the Cardinals are making this year is bringing back a pre-draft workout at Busch Stadium a few days in advance of the draft.
“It’s basically going to be a test run for a blend of new school and old school workouts where we are able to make some sort of assessment with ball tracking and workload,” Flores said. “Our scouts can provide feedback and see if it’s something we want to pursue across the country in the future.”
Before that wotkout, and the actual draft, Flores knows he will still be on the road – and back in the rainforest at the Atlanta airport.
“It’s kind of like when you are on the road scouting and you have a few extra minutes,” Flores said, “Google maps now allow you to get off the interstate and look at some side roads. It might take you 20 minutes longer but you have two hours to kill so the road is nice. I find myself doing that several times a year.
“One trip culminated into a dirt road for a mile and a half before it wound up linking up to a normal paved road. I sent a group text to the guys in the Midwest that ‘this is what happens when you do Google maps in Kansas. You find yourself on a dirt road.’”
That was better than what happened to one of the team’s scouts in Puerto Rico this spring.
“One of our scouts used Google maps and he wound up getting stuck on a mountainside in the (actual) rainforest,” Flores said. “He was a little late to the game.”
Flores’ affection for the rainforest in the Atlanta airport has started to rub off on some of the Cardinals’ other scouts who seem to also have frequent stops there.
“One of our crosscheckers had a day where he flew in there in the morning, went to a game and flew back out that night,” Flores said. “While he was in the rainforest he noticed a Coke bottle left aside. Twelve hours later the same Coke bottle was still there. He was kind of scratching his head about when the cleaning crew must go through there.”
Flores will no doubt look to see if that bottle is gone the next time he is there, enjoying the non-traditional sounds both of an airport and his job.
“It has served as a little place of peace in the hustle and bustle of flights,” Flores said.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains