Houston Astros: Signing Dallas Keuchel with Jim Stevenson (Interview)

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The Stevenson Interview

Oct 11, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) walks back to the dugout after pitching against the Kansas City Royals in game three of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

CTH: How did you get into scouting?

Stevenson: I was coaching at a Junior college in Oklahoma, one year I went up to Canada where I am from, and I brought back six baseball players to play at my college. These players were really good, so I started to get some attention from scouts, especially the Indians. I got to know some of these scouts pretty well; then I was introduced to the scouting directors of the Indians. I was scouting part-time with the Indians in 1993 and later became a full-time scout.

CTH: Being born in Canada, how did you end up in the United States?

Stevenson: After high school, I went to play baseball at some junior colleges in California and briefly attended the University of Mississippi before having elbow surgery. Nowadays, the doctors know how to repair that, but in the mid 80’s to have a torn ligament in his elbow, they tried to repair it, but it didn’t work. After I was finished with my rehab, I moved back to Canada and played college hockey for three years at Concordia University. Then I came back to the United States to coach Junior college baseball.

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CTH: As a scout, do you focus on pitchers or hitters?

Stevenson: I am assigned territories, I used to have North Texas, but now my territory includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. To answer your question, I scout all the players in that region, hitters or pitchers. If I had to say what I specialize in, it would be scouting pitchers, mostly left-handed pitchers. As a former southpaw, I know what to look for in a left-handed pitcher.

CTH: Is there a difference in scouting high school players versus college players?

Stevenson: Yes, at the high school level, you have to focus on the player’s athleticism. However, when you get to the college level, you get to focus more on the player’s overall game, their mental makeup. How do they respond in a critical situation? How do they react after something good or bad happened?

CTH: How do you manage your family life when you have four states to scout?

Stevenson: I have three kids, family comes first to me. I know I’m going to miss some things being on the road, but I try to be there when it counts. With kids aged between 9 and 23-years-old, I have children involved in different activities. The Astros, as most teams, encourage you to be around your family during holidays. I feel like we have a great scouting director and front office in the Astros organization, and I enjoy working for them.

CTH: As a scout, do you have a poker face to not give your competition any hints?

Stevenson: My goal is to beat the other 29 teams. The scouting scene has changed a lot since I have started scouting, there used to be one scout from each team at games, but now you might have four scouts from a team at a game. It’s really hard in this social media world to hide players, so I try to keep what you would call a poker face when talking to other scouts. In fact, if I really like a player, I will say as little as I can about that player to others.

No one knew that I was interested in Dallas (Keuchel), I hid my interest in him. It was so much a shock when I walked in Keuchel’s house, his mom told me she didn’t even know that the Astros were interested in him, they were the only team who never talked to them. I really wanted Keuchel. I instinctively liked him as a pitcher.

The day that I’m not competitive as a scout trying to beat the other 29 teams, then it will be time to pack up my game. 10% of prospects make it to the bigs; my job is to find those 10%.

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CTH: What are three key things you look for when scouting a pitcher?

Stevenson: 1) Ability to pitch in the zone with three pitches. 2) The level of confidence, competitor, athleticism, aptitude. 3) Low effort deliveries and good repeatable mechanics and arm action. After saying that, that sounds a lot like Dallas Keuchel doesn’t it?

CTH: Speaking of Keuchel, what were your first thoughts when you saw Keuchel?

Stevenson: Well, he was left-handed, he grew up in Tulsa, my type of guy. I knew about Keuchel when he pitched in high school; I probably watched him pitch 20 times. When I watched him pitch with the University of Arkansas, he was more of an 86-89 MPH guy, but he would always be the Friday night starter (ace) against the flame-throwing prospect that all the scouts were there to see. He wasn’t a power pitcher, but next thing you would know Kuechel would be pitching deep into the game getting 13 groundballs.

He flew under the radar, but his makeup on the field, his athleticism, the way he studied the hitters, and he was a very smart pitcher caused him to be successful. A left-hander who can pitch the way he did in the SEC and be successful is destined for success in the majors. My belief is the SEC Friday night guys are normally winners in the MLB, Keuchel is a perfect example of that.

CTH: Tell us about the 2009 draft, how much influence did you have on the Astros drafting Keuchel?

Stevenson: The team makes the ultimate decision, but did I have a part in the Astros drafting him? I would like to say I did, we had the Evaluations from the Cape and reports from four different scouts, but ultimately it was my report that had the most weight. During the draft, I remember after the third round, I started to pound my fist on the table because I really wanted this guy. I was not part of the draft party, but I would constantly text Bobby Heck and remind him about Keuchel. In the end, it was lucky that Keuchel lasted until the ninth round, but Bobby trusted me and made the pick.

CTH: Keuchel struggled in his first two seasons, what do you think led to his struggles?

Stevenson: I don’t care if you are George Springer or anyone else, there will be a big adjustment period. The biggest jump for a pitcher is the jump from Double-A to Triple-A because the talent is tougher. He started pitching in the bigs with a sinking fastball, changeup, and curveball but pitched toe the left side of the plate away from the right-handed hitter. He then added the cutter and hard slider and was able to pitch all over the plate that led to the groundballs in 2014-15.

Then Brett Strom stepped in, told Keuchel to use more of his lower body in his delivery; that’s what makes Keuchel special. Many times pitchers are told things to change in their game, but Keuchel’s aptitude and determination led him to become the pitcher he is now. Keuchel is the type of guy to give others credit, such as Strom for helping him and A.J. Hinch for trusting him.

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CTH: Do you think Keuchel is the leader of this team, finishing 4th in the AL MVP award in 2015?

Stevenson: Keuchel is a leader, he makes other player want to play better behind him. You have to think that a lot of the winning attitude stemmed from Keuchel, especially in the rotation. All the starting pitchers don’t want to be the weak link, so his play challenges others to become better all around.

CTH: Speaking of other pitchers, why do you think that Lance McCullers didn’t have much of an adjustment period (except for that Ranger game) in his rookie season?

Stevenson: Lance is special, he has Cy Young stuff, and I could see him winning the award down the road. He was a first-round pick, so he was expected to be good, but few thought that he could be this good.

CTH: Last question, what do you look for in mental makeup with scouting players?

Stevenson: Good question, a player gets to the bigs because of their ability, but they stay in the bigs with great mental makeup. Baseball is a daily grind; you have to have the makeup to try to do the fundamental things daily. I watch for how pitchers react after pitching five innings, do they want to go back out there, or would they rather sit on the bench? When a pitcher was removed, was he happy with his effort? These are the things that mad Paul Molitor and Robin Yount great players because they were grinders who gave their best effort on every play.

Something I constantly tell the University of Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, if a player can play for you, then they can play anywhere.

CTH: Thank you, Jim, for doing the interview, now find us some more left-handed aces.

Stevenson: Thanks, Eric.

Next: Houston Astros 2015 Season Recap: Dallas Keuchel

Thanks for the insight by Jim Stevenson, if you would like to follow him, you can do so at @JimStevenson11. I interviewed Correa and his scout, now I interviewed Keuchel’s signing scout, what’s the missing variable? Dallas, I would love to interview you, hint.