By Rob Rains
As he prepared for the 2012 amateur draft, his first as the Cardinals’ scouting director, Dan Kantrovitz admits he had one over-riding thought.
“I remember being nervous,” Kantrovitz said in an email.
Because of the departure of free agents Albert Pujols, Octavio Dotel and Edwin Jackson, the Cardinals would be selecting five of the top 59 picks in the draft. Two of those choices were first-rounders, the 19th and 23rd overall picks, while the other three were supplemental picks between the first and second rounds.
“After running an international scouting operation, being an area scout and doing a lot of different types of domestic scouting, I was confident from the perspective of having scouting experience. And, I also felt comfortable with the analytical and modeling side. But I didn’t know what to expect running a draft,” Kantrovitz said. “Then, factor in the added wrinkle of the new CBA and the first time teams had a draft pool, it was unchartered territory for everybody.”
Including their pick in the second round, the Cardinals actually had six of the top 86 picks in the draft.
“I remember comparing our six picks in the top 100 to the club’s 2005 draft when I think there were also like six picks in the top 80,” Kantrovitz said. “Frankly I just didn’t want to mess-up or let anybody down. They had good drafts before me. I think we had some good drafts while I was there. And, they have had good drafts since. Great scouts, analysts and executives for sure.”
A decade later, four of the six players selected by the Cardinals with those picks are still playing in the major leagues. Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, Patrick Wisdom and Carson Kelly have all had nice careers.
So too, however, have the two picks that saw their playing days end without an at-bat in the major leagues, James Ramsey and Steve Bean.
“They both are guys that love the game and had a passion for the game,” said former Cardinals’ manager Mike Shildt, who worked with both players during his years in the farm system. “They should have no regrets about not making the big leagues.
“Unfortunately, everybody doesn’t get to the major leagues. … I’m glad they found a way to still impact the game.”
Both Ramsey and Bean took their love of baseball in a different direction as their playing careers ended. When it would have been understandable for them to be disillusioned by the game, both instead found a new niche for themselves and are thriving.
“I’m not surprised both have gone on to have success in other ways,” said Kantrovitz, now the director of scouting for the Chicago Cubs. “We did really like their mental makeup and thought they were hard workers.”
Ramsey is now the associate head coach at Georgia Tech while Bean is working as an agent for Vayner Sports. Here are their stories:
To Ramsey, the decision to retire as a player and pursue a career in coaching came down to one question that he had to ask himself.
“It got to the point where I said, ‘Are my inputs going to match my outputs?’” Ramsey said. “I think people valued me as a guy who could play in the big leagues … I loved playing the game and that was the hardest part of walking away from it.”
It was 2018, and by then Ramsey was with the Twins, his fifth organization in as many years. The Cardinals had traded him to Cleveland in 2014, believing they had depth in the outfield and needed a pitcher if they wanted to make a push for the pennant, so they dealt Ramsey for Justin Masterson.
Ramsey, playing for Double A Springfield at the time, was in his hotel room in Tulsa when he got a phone call telling me he had been traded.
“They were open about the fact that they were trying to win a World Series and they had Oscar Taveras, one of the best prospects in baseball,” Ramsey said.
Wisdom was Ramsey’s roommate, and he still remembers the look on Ramsey’s face when he hung up the phone and told Wisdom the news.
It was an early lesson for both that in baseball, timing is everything.
“The weird thing about the big leagues is that it’s not necessarily skill oriented,” said Wisdom, who has remained close to Ramsey over the years. “It’s just timing and opportunity. It’s crazy. What it really is all about is just making the most of your opportunities.”
Nobody could have predicted on that late July day that three months later Taveras would be killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Ramsey believes that had he not been traded, he would have been in the majors with the Cardinals in 2015 and for who knows how long after that.
Instead, he was in Triple A in Columbus. He suffered nerve damage in his hand. An elbow injury was misdiagnosed for five months before he had surgery. He spent time with the Dodgers, Mariners and Twins over the next three seasons.
“I don’t look back and say I didn’t play well enough to get to the big leagues.” Ramsey said. “I just wasn’t in the right spot. I still had opportunities to play, but I was 26.
“It was time to become elite and world class in something else. I turned the page and decided to get into coaching.”
Ramsey accepted an offer to join Mike Martin’s staff at Florida State, where he enjoyed a stellar career, becoming an all-American and the team captain. As driven as he was to be the best player he could be, his focus quickly shifted to becoming the best coach he could be.
“He always knew who he was,” said Shildt, who managed Ramsey for two years in Springfield and in the Arizona Fall League. “He had an identity. He had character that was rooted in his faith. He cared about people. He really was intentional about taking advantage of his experiences.
“He asked the right questions. He studied the game. He wanted to know the why of what was taking place, not only in his career but just in general.”
Shildt still remembers many of his conversations with Ramsey, how they got into philosophical discussions that sometimes involved more about life than just baseball.
“He was an inquisitive young man and really smart,” Shildt said. “He’s a great communicator and has a heart for people. He’s always looking to get better. That’s a really good combination of what I think makes a good coach.
“The sky is the limit for James Ramsey. He can do anything he wants to do.”
After a year at Florida State, Ramsey joined the staff at Georgia Tech in his hometown of Atlanta, where he has brought the same energy and drive which motivated him as a player into coaching, especially his work with the Georgia Tech hitters, helping them become the best offense in Division I this year, compiling a .327 team average.
“I wanted to stay on the field for the same reason I wanted to play,” Ramsey said. “I wanted to compete and be one of the best in the world and go win but also do it the right way and leave someplace better than I found it.
“It’s really cool to be in a place where you can have that impact. All that you want in life is for your inputs and outputs to kind of line up. You work hard for something, and know you are making an impact. I’m in the right place.”
This season, the Yellow Jackets had six all-conference hitters and will have one player, catcher Kevin Parada, who will be a top 10 pick in the draft on Sunday night. Ramsey helped a player, Chandler Simpson, who transferred from Alabama-Birmingham, become a .433 hitter and win the Division I batting title.
Ramsey, who also is the recruiting coordinator for Georgia Tech, has had multiple conversations with Parada about the draft, and counseled him – and others – about what life in professional baseball is like.
“Guys usually approach me about it,” he said. “They know my history. They want to know what they need to do, what do they need to not do, what do they need to be worried about and not worried about. It’s easy to have those conversations.”
Ramsey has had inquiries from other colleges about head coaching opportunities but has turned them down. It seems reasonable to believe that he is in line to take over as the Georgia Tech head coach when Danny Hall retires.
It’s a future that he might not have envisioned for himself on draft night a decade ago, celebrating with his Florida State teammates, but he looks back and realizes that what drove him as a player are the same personal traits which now motivate him as a coach.
“Once I felt like I had squeezed every ounce out of my playing career I felt like I had a lot of avenues, in different industries,” said Ramsey, an academic all-American who earned a finance degree. “Ten years ago my tone and perspective and desire and ambitions, they haven’t changed a lot. You can water the grass wherever you are. I think I’ve done a good job of kind of keeping the big things the big things.”
What Ramsey knew as he began his coaching career was that he wanted to do it in a place that reflected his personality, his drive to be successful and his passion for the game.
“I wanted to be in a spot where I would have a chance to build relationships with people, compete and kind of be in a leadership role,” Ramsey said. “Going out every day trying to win. That’s always the itch.
“I kind of see myself as a big vision guy and working to make that vision come to life. Being a first-round pick was a goal. It wasn’t a goal I had at 15, but it was a goal I had at 20. There’s something to be said about setting your visions and your sights, working for it and trusting that the process is going to get you there.”
He sees the importance of goals in the players he is now coaching, and mentoring, even if they don’t realize it themselves.
“These kids have to have someone believe in them,” Ramsey said. “They wouldn’t have told you that that was their goal for themselves. We were able to pour into them and push them and encourage them and see them accomplish things that even they didn’t think they could accomplish.
“That’s when you know you are doing something that has ramifications far beyond the game of baseball.”
Ramsey’s personal goal, to have his inputs match his outputs, is being realized.
“Leave somewhere a better place,” Ramsey said, “I think that’s my vision for wherever I am – just to build young men who are a total person. It’s an aspect of being a quality human being who also is able to play baseball.”
Ramsey, now 32, has had as much success in his personal life as he has had coaching. He has been married for five years, and he and his wife Grace have two young children. The impact he is going to have on their lives will be even greater than what he is doing now with the Georgia Tech players.
It’s moments like the one that happened after their last game this season, a regional loss to top-ranked Tennessee, that make Ramsey realize he is doing what he was meant to do.
“Chandler Simpson was crying on the field and he said, ‘Coach come here.’ He told me, ‘I want to remind you of something I will never forget.’” Ramsey said. “He said, ‘You told me in the fall when I got here people weren’t just going to know about me because of my speed. We were going to work and make me a complete hitter and a complete player.’ He won the NCAA batting title.
“Nobody’s ever going to be able to take that away from him.”
As Bean was making the drive back home to Texas after realizing his career playing baseball was over, he knew one of the first phone calls that he needed to make.
Drafted by the Cardinals out of high school, Bean thought then that his future would include many years as a catcher in the major leagues. When his career fell short of reaching that goal, it was time to move on and do something else.
For Bean, the new dream was to become an agent, an aspect of the game which had always interested him. While in his truck on the drive from Florida to Dallas in 2017, he got on the phone and enrolled in classes at the University of North Texas.
“I literally made the call on the drive home,” Bean said. “That was the next step.
“I kind of knew this was the route I wanted to take, honestly. Every player kind of knows at some point in their career if they are going to play in the big leagues or not. Honestly, that’s jus how it works.
“I knew this was what I wanted to do even before I stopped playing.”
Bean was the 59th overall player selected in the 2012 draft, an 18-year-old catcher from Rockwall, Texas high school.
“I was pumped, I was excited,” Bean said. “It was a dream come true.”
For the next five seasons, Bean bounced through the low levels of the farm system, spending most of that time trying to figure out how to hit. His highest average for any year was .235, and in 322 career games, all either in Class A or the rookie leagues, he hit .216 with eight homers in 1,087 at-bats.
“I was pretty good behind the plate but I couldn’t swing it. I struggled at the dish,” Bean said. “But I don’t have any regrets. There isn’t anything I wish I had done different. I’m very confident in saying that any manager or teammate I was around would say that I worked my tail off. I left it all out there.”
One of Bean’s former teammates – who actually turned out to be one of his first clients – was Rowan Wick, now a reliever with the Cubs.
Wick was also a catcher when they were together on the Cardinals’ rookie league team, and Bean was one of the people Wick talked to when the organization told him they wanted to see if he could become a pitcher.
“He kind of talked me into it and became my catcher,” Wick said about Bean. “He was a big reason for that, between him, my parents and a few other people. I just trust his opinion.
“He was a great catcher, but he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Neither could I.”
Luckily for Wick, he found out that he could pitch. And luckily for Bean, his studying sports management and integrated business at North Texas was the beginning of his second career in the game.
“I met Steve a few years ago,” said Greg Genske, the head of Vayner Sports and a veteran of more than 20 years as an agent. “He came into our office in Dallas and explained to me his journey – how he was a first-round pick, why he decided to hang it up, how he went back to school, why it was important for him to complete his education. I was struck with his personality and his ability to explain his situation.
“I thought he had a great opportunity to be an agent and really do some good things with it.
“The interesting thing about Steve was the questions he asked me during the interview. He was curious about the way he was represented as a player and how I would have done things differently. He had a real curiosity for not just being in the business and being an agent and being a friend to players but actually being able to dramatically impact players’ lives for the better. That’s what made him appealing to me and vice versa.”
Bean, now 28, said he always thought his impact in the game would come as a player, but since he has started working as an agent, he believes that is where it will happen.
“I’m in a position to tell players that we work with, especially with guys in the draft, what I wish I would have known when I was going through the process, kind of the structure of how everything works,” Bean said. “As with anything, if you are prepared and know what you are walking into, you are going to be more comfortable.
“I had a lot of uncertainty (as a player) about what was going to happen. That’s what I would change. When you don’t know what is going to happen it can cause some anxiety. Really it’s about just being prepared and that’s what we want to do for our players – make sure they are prepared for every situation they are going to walk into, no matter if it’s their first day in pro ball or their first day in the big leagues.”
Bean is working as an advisor for several players who should be selected in next week’s draft. Both he and Genske, who has become his mentor in the business, believe Bean’s experience as a player gives him a different perspective than some other agents.
“With every agent I’ve brought on they play a role in the agency where they have a unique life experience and perspective that will benefit a sub-group of players,” Genske said. “Steve absolutely has that ability. I think he has a very high ceiling in the agent business and I’m committed to him and to see how far he can take this.
“Steve is a refreshing person in the agent business. He’s very authentic. In an industry full of salesmen, he really stands out as a person with character and substance.”
Wick was sold on Bean years ago, and that hasn’t changed.
“He’s a guy that I fully trust,” Wick said. “He gets stuff done for me. He’s a great dude, and one of my best friends.”
To Bean, the relationship he has with Wick is what he hopes to have with all of his clients.
“It’s where I think I can make a positive impact on the game,” Bean said. “It’s about relationships. It’s about helping guys out. At the end of the day that’s what this is all about. You have a pretty good perspective (about agents) when you are a player.
“You just want to do right by the player, that’s the bottom line. You conduct your business in a high character way. You work with high character people and make sure you do good work for them.
“At Vayner Sports, we surround ourselves with good people, that’s the most important thing, the people you work with and the players you want to represent. If you stick to that mind-set I don’t think you will run into problems.”
Bean is relying on his experiences with the Cardinals in his new job, and even though he didn’t get to the major leagues, he credits people in the organization for leading him to where he is now – and for the role those people played in shaping his opinion about how he wants to do his new job.
“I was drafted as an 18-year-old kid,” Bean said. “The Cardinals had a big influence on me as a man. They were really good at taking care of the guys that they bring into the organization.
“I want to keep learning everyday and continue to have success. I want to conduct my business daily with high character and really try to do the right thing for them and take care of these guys, on and off the field.”
Photos courtesy of James Ramsey, Steve Bean and by the Associated Press courtesy of KSDK Sports
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains