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BASEBALL PLUS

Scout Master

Rowland Is Tirelessly Boosting Angel Prospects

August 20, 2000|TIM BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a second-floor conference room at Edison Field, Angel President Tony Tavares pointed to one of 600 names on one of several boards mounted to a wall.

Angel scouting director Donny Rowland responded, "Right-handed pitcher, high school, plus fastball, average breaking ball, good makeup, good body, high ceiling."

Tavares' forefinger settled on another name, another kid from somewhere out there, and Rowland said, "Second baseman, college, switch-hitter, average power, good feet, average hands, big-league utility player."

And so Tavares went, around the room, tapping the names of players known only to their coaches, parents and a few area scouts, and Rowland, off the top of his head, reciting biographical intelligence and reasons why they would or wouldn't someday play for the Angels.

Tavares had started out of curiosity, and continued because he could hardly believe Rowland was this prepared. Baseball's June draft was a week away, and Rowland knew every decent, draft-eligible center fielder from every dusty baseball town in the country, and spoke of him as if he were the only one out there.

"Tell me about this guy," Tavares had said. "Tell me about that guy."

Rowland, 37, a Michigan native who played five minor-league seasons as a second baseman for the Detroit Tigers before turning to coaching and then scouting, got every one.

"It's like when you were a kid and you collect baseball cards," Tavares recalled. "We all knew some kid who knew everybody's batting average, who he played for and his career history. That's what Donny was doing with these players."

It's all fun for the Angels now.

Instead of losing 90 games, as most predicted, they could win 90.

Their leadoff hitter might be the most valuable player in the American League, even if the star-struck vote goes to Frank Thomas or Carlos Delgado or some other home run-hitting lug, instead of to Darin Erstad.

By the end of the season, they will have shed Chuck Finley, Ken Hill, Tim Belcher and Kent Bottenfield--all pretty good pitchers in their primes, and all drafted when Ramon Ortiz was about 9--in one calendar year, and perhaps improved their staff.

They are contenders in a wild-card race that many thought they would merely support; that is, by rolling over at the feet of fellow AL West teams come the end of September.

It is Rowland, among others, who thinks of next year, when the expectations will be higher. And the year after, when some of this draft rises to the 40-man roster. It is Rowland who rallies legions of scouts, teaching them a language and a system he authored, so that a man somewhere in North Carolina pointing a radar gun through the thin metal diamonds of a backstop knows the Angels are more than a fax machine and a paycheck.

It is Rowland, among others, who engineered what some consider one of the top three drafts in baseball, seven months after General Manager Bill Stoneman hired him away from the New York Yankees.

"I don't like failure and I don't like knowing that other guys are better," Rowland said. "I want success, whether it's with the Yankees, Tigers, Angels or Acme Trash Company, whatever it is. That's just the way I am. My wife often tells me to slow down and take a deep breath. It's just not that easy for me. I feel good when I'm working hard and happy with the way we're doing things. Besides, sleep's overrated."

It is no one, it seems, who is surprised that the initial impressions of Rowland are so strong. Raised in St. Claire Shores, Mich., on the west coast of Lake St. Claire, 20 miles north of Detroit, Rowland won two national championships as an infielder at Miami. He quit playing in 1989, became a minor-league instructor for the Tigers, then an area scout. Within a year he was promoted to East Coast supervisor, and four years later he was hired by the Yankees as a national scout and pro crosschecker.

In this unusually tranquil period for the Yankees and their top management, Rowland was available when Stoneman called.

"I didn't want to lose him here, but he put himself in a position to be wanted," Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman said. "We wanted to do the right thing by Donny and his family. That's the proper thing. Believe me, it hurt when we lost him. I was sorry to see him go."

Mark Newman, director of baseball operations for the Yankees and arguably the most powerful baseball executive in the game, credited Rowland with helping to systematize the Yankee scouting methodology that provided the organization a better way to understand and categorize its assessments of players.

"We understood he was not only a real solid, adept evaluator of baseball talent, but he also understood those systems," Newman said. "He understood organizational behavior. He also demonstrated the kind of personality and energy that allowed him to be a leader.

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