Mariners GM leaves Milwaukee legacy

Mariners GM has Milwaukee legacy

MILWAUKEE -- In his now-former life as the Brewers' amateur scouting director, Jack Zduriencik was so sure about a high school kid from Tucson named J.J. Hardy that the Brewers might have reached all the way to the first round of the Draft to get him. Never mind that no other club had Hardy ranked that high.

But Zduriencik and the Brewers also liked high school right-hander Mike Jones, and couldn't pass when Jones was still available with the 12th overall pick in 2001. Hardy was still up for grabs when the Brewers picked again in the second round.

"There was a decent amount of uncertainty about J.J. Hardy," said Tom Flanagan, Zduriencik's longtime aide. "He had an exceptional pre-Draft workout that really helped quell some of the critics, but all spring long there was a tremendous amount of debate about what kind of runner he was and what type of hitter he would be.

"That was a guy that Jack kind of latched on early, and then, when we took him in the second round, a lot of people around baseball saw it as an over-draft. But I think there was a chance that if Jones was gone, Hardy could have been our first-round pick."

No matter where he was picked, Hardy ended up being a good one. He has been Milwaukee's starting shortstop since 2005, made the National League All-Star team in '07, was the Brewers' hottest hitter in the '08 NL Division Series and has hit 50 home runs over the past two seasons.

Hardy was part of the core of Zduriencik picks that propelled the Brewers to their first postseason berth in 26 years. Less than three weeks after Milwaukee was eliminated by the Phillies in the NLDS, Zduriencik was formally introduced Friday as the new general manager of the Seattle Mariners.

If general manager Doug Melvin was the architect of the Brewers' 2008 Wild Card team, then Zduriencik was the mason who laid the foundation. His Brewers picks over nine First-Year Player Drafts include right fielder Corey Hart (11th round, 2000), Hardy (second round, '01), first baseman Prince Fielder (first round, '02) and left fielder Ryan Braun (first round, '05), all of whom have made NL All-Star teams and were regulars for Milwaukee in '08.

"Jack has put in his time and he's as deserving as anybody for a GM job," said Scott Martens, who was the Brewers' assistant farm director when Zduriencik was named the team's scouting director on Oct. 25, 1999.

"I'm sure there are people [in Seattle] wondering, 'Who is this guy? What is he about?'" Martens said. "That's to be expected in this game, and those people should know they are getting a guy who knows baseball. A lot of the success that we had this year and the success we have had at the Minor League level over the past few years is due to Jack and his work."

Zduriencik, Flanagan and Martens were the only three baseball officials left in place when Melvin took over as GM at the end of the 2002 season. Melvin has called the decision to leave Zduriencik in place, "the best decision I made after coming here."

After being passed on by the Pittsburgh Pirates for their GM opening last year, Zduriencik emerged from a field of four finalists to get the Seattle job. News reached the front office at Miller Park on Wednesday morning, but Brewers officials were asked not to comment until the Mariners held a press conference Friday.

"He has almost a sixth sense about people. He can meet someone and know in an instant what kind of person or what kind of player someone is. I think that was his secret weapon."
-- Tom Flanagan, on former Brewers amateur scouting director Jack Zduriencik

Among those most happy for Zduriencik, who visited the office on Wednesday to say his goodbyes, were his longest-tenured co-workers. Flanagan is now Milwaukee's director of administration for player development and scouting, and Martens is business manager for player development and Minor League operations.

"I was ecstatic," Flanagan said. "I was really happy for Jack and I know he deserves it. Seattle's gain is our loss. That's part of the business, I suppose."

What kind of guy are the Mariners getting?

"They're getting a '24-7' evaluator," Flanagan said. "By that, I mean he is thinking 24-7 about whatever is his main mission at that time. It could be 11 o'clock at night and he's watching a basketball game, and a player bears some striking resemblance to an amateur [baseball] player that we are looking for a comparison on. He's just focused 24-7 on his job.

"He's kind of relentless in a way -- in a good way," Flanagan added. "I've seen him do it with scouts, where he will ask the same question four or five different times, just to see if a guy will waver in his answer. He looks the guy in the eye to see how passionate he is. If it doesn't meet Jack's criteria, he'll move on to the next guy to see how passionate he is.

"He has almost a sixth sense about people. He can meet someone and know in an instant what kind of person or what kind of player someone is. I think that was his secret weapon."

That weeding-out process led the Brewers to select Fielder in 2002 amid scrutiny that they once again were reaching. Fielder was criticized at the time for his weight and his defense, but Zduriencik viewed him as the best power hitter in the Draft, and scout Tom McNamara was adamant in his support.

"I didn't really hear a lot at the time about other teams in the mix for Fielder [that high in the Draft], and I know for a fact there were a lot of doubters," Flanagan said. "That was a pretty astute pick based on where we were at as an organization at the time."

That's because the Brewers did not necessarily need a first baseman. Richie Sexson was coming off a 45-homer season in 2001 and appeared to be a fixture in Milwaukee, and the Brewers also had Brad Nelson, who was on the way to winning the team's 2002 Minor League Player of the Year Award.

Zduriencik nonetheless spent the seventh overall pick on Fielder, who five years later became the youngest big leaguer ever to hit 50 home runs and finished third in NL MVP balloting.

"Jack's goal is just to get it right," Flanagan said.

As is part of the scouting business, Zduriencik has made his share of mistakes. He mostly missed on his early-round pitching picks, though Martens pointed to right-hander Yovani Gallardo (second round, 2004) as one very notable exception. Jones and fellow high school right-hander Mark Rogers (first round, '04) have seen their careers derailed by injuries, and 2006 first-round pick Jeremy Jeffress' development has been slowed by a suspension for drug use. Just this week, Jeffress was shut down in the Arizona Fall League because of shoulder fatigue, but he remains Milwaukee's top pitching prospect.

"Jack looks for impact. If you get a few guys of impact, you can build a team around those players."
-- Flanagan

Zduriencik has had much better success with hitters, often choosing big bats over other tools. That certainly was the case with Braun, Fielder and second baseman Rickie Weeks (first round, 2003) and to some extent outfielder Matt LaPorta (first round, '07) and catcher Brett Lawrie (first round, '08), all of whom were drafted by the Brewers amid some questions about their defense.

"I think there is sometimes a misconception about players like that," Flanagan said, "Like with Braun, the more he hit, the more people would take liberties in criticizing his defense. If he was not such a good hitter, his defense would fly under the radar.

"Still, the bat is the No. 1 tool that Jack looks for in his position players, and he probably has a comfort zone with position players over pitchers. If you don't get an impact position player in the first three rounds, you're usually not going to get one at all. Pitching, you can get guys from all over the Draft.

"I think Jack looks for impact. If you get a few guys of impact, you can build a team around those players."

Now, the Brewers need to find someone else to make those choices.

"Successful organizations lose people," Martens said. "But the flip side of that is when you lose good people, you have good people to put in their place. It's kind of good to see the Brewers get recognized for their success on the field and our success in the front office. I have no doubt that we will be able to fill that position, even though Jack leaves big shoes to fill."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.