New York Yankees organization members Chris Stewart and Mike Thurman stopped by Goss Stadium on Tuesday night to amuse and inform Corvallis Knights fans about life in Major League Baseball and what it takes to reach the big leagues.
They were guest speakers of Hot Stove Night II and shared their experiences with the 70 in attendance.
Stewart is a catcher for the Yankees and Thurman a former pitcher and current Northwest scout. Thurman was standout for Philomath High and Oregon State.
Both are former Knights who played when the club was based in Beaverton as the Aloha Knights.
“Every day is the greatest day of my life,” Stewart said. “I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else.”
Stewart catches C.C. Sabathia, is in the lineup with Derek Jeter and speaks with Yogi Berra in the clubhouse.
He feels lucky to have the opportunity to play at that level after years of bouncing around the minor leagues.
It’s Thurman’s job to find the next Stewart in the Northwest. He scouts the West Coast League with the Knights, OSU and area high schools.
The scouting year begins after the June draft. Thurman watches players in summer collegiate leagues such as the WCL and high school showcase events in the summer and fall.
During the winter, he creates a list of players to follow in the spring. Thurman also does several home visits with players to educate them about pro baseball and learn about their personalities.
Once the spring season hits, he’s on the road for five or six days a week watching games to see how the players develop heading into draft day.
Thurman faces challenges in the Northwest due to the weather. It’s hard getting other organizational scouts here to crosscheck his ratings.
“There are a lot of good players in the Northwest,” Thurman said. “I need to find the right time to get my supervisor to come down to see them. Unfortunately, they get pushed down in the draft when we can’t get a look at them.”
He likes scouting the WCL in the summer and rates it as one of the top four collegiate leagues in the country with the Cape Cod League and Alaska League at the top.
Those leagues cater to upperclassmen who are draft-eligible. The WCL has many underclassmen who are still a year or two away from the draft.
“That’s the biggest separator,” Thurman said. “Talent level, it’s comparable. But that’s why there’s more priority to see Cape Cod and Alaska.”
As for what he looks for, it varies depending on age. Basically, he wants players to repeat their swing, pitching motion or fielding mechanics.
Hitters should recognize breaking balls and handle velocity. He finds it difficult to evaluate high school hitters because they don’t see the caliber of pitching that’s in college or the minor leagues.
“We look for their athletic ability, aptitude and work ethic,” Thurman said. “Can they get better and make adjustments?”
Stewart agreed looking back at his career. He saw the better high school players as the most physically gifted with power in a swing or with a hard-throwing arm.
In college, he saw guys who played the game to win every time no matter what it took but weren’t as physically gifted.
“Different attributes show up when you are older,” Stewart said. “In high school, you see guys throwing 95 mph and are blessed. But you just have to repeat yourself with mechanics. That even separates big leaguers from minor leaguers, being able to do it on a consistent basis.”