Milwaukee Brewers Special Assistant to the General Manager/Director of Amateur Scouting Jack Zduriencik has been named 2007 Major League Executive of the Year by Baseball America.
"I was honored and flattered when Baseball America informed me of the award," said Zduriencik. "As appreciative as I am, this is a reflection of those that I work with and the hard efforts that they have put into their jobs. I consider this award a representation of the entire organization and from the bottom of my heart I would like to thank Baseball America for this award."
Zduriencik is the first non-general manager to be recognized as the recipient of this award, which was first presented in 1998 to current Brewers Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Melvin (then with Texas). Prior to recieving the Executive of the Year Award in Nashville, Jack spent some time in the House of Blogs.
One On One With Jack Z.
His name might be tough to spell, but it belongs at the top of the leaderboard when it comes to delivering Major League talent. Jack Zduriencik [Zur-EN-sik] begins his ninth year as the Crew’s Amateur Scouting Director. His blue collar Pennsylvania roots fostered a "produce results, deflect credit" mentality. But, the stats don’t lie and the spotlight continues to shine brighter. Weeks, Hardy, Fielder, Braun, Hart, Kendall (Jack’s 1992 pick in Pittsburgh), and Sheets. You need only look at the Brewers potential Opening Day lineup to keep score. No Draft Day boss in baseball can rival the results Jack Z. has produced in Milwaukee.
BRIAN ANDERSON: What is your "big picture" draft day philosophy?
JACK ZDURIENCIK: You have to remove yourself from addressing immediate needs at the Big League Level. Baseball is different than any other sport in that normally our guys are three to four years away from being a big league player. There’s a learning curve on what kind of impact they can have once they’re in the system. There’s a point in time when you draft for need but with those early picks you have to take the best player available simply because in a small market we don’t have the luxury to go out and sign those high priced players. If were going build up our team, we have to build it up with the kids in OUR system.
BA: What skills are you specifically looking for in a ballplayer in preparation for the draft?
JACK: Power. Power comes in many phases of the game. Power arms, power speed, power bats. Look at what JJ Hardy did this year at the shortstop position. We think Rickie Weeks will be a power guy. Ryan Braun IS. Prince IS. We have some kids in the Minor Leagues that can "fly!" Those are power legs. They are going to offer things to this organization in the years to come. We took Mark Rogers (2004) and Jeremy Jeffress (2006). These guys have power arms. We talk about it all the time. Power, in every aspect of the game, is a very desirable tool. If you have it, then other teams are going to desire what you have because it’s a tough element to find.
BA: How about tools outside baseball skills?
JACK: What makes a player special? His character, his drive, his desire, his confidence. You can sit there and talk about 30 players but it works like a pyramid, eventually you get to the point where there is that one who is sitting there and that your going to select. Now, you’re dealing with the human element so you’re not always successful but I think it’s important to find players who want to play and who want to play now. I think it’s important to have background on players. We like to watch them play other sports. We have really pushed our scouts to make sure they have answers about a guy when you’re putting the kind of dollars into these players like we are. In many cases, our scouts have hit the nail on the head. We’ve been fortunate with our kids. Our scouts have done a great job of recognizing what makes a major league player.
BA: What does it mean to a franchise to get good young players to the Big Leagues?
JACK: It does an enormous thing for your payroll. Homegrown talent is much less expensive so it offers the opportunity to make a big free agent signing if necessary. We’ve counted on our minor league system to deliver
big league players by need. Our margin for error is a lot less than the higher market clubs.
BA: Drafting Prince Fielder came with some criticism. Now, what impresses you most about his impact on the franchise?
JACK: I go back to draft day (2002), our area scout Tom McNamara stuck his neck out on the line for Prince. He went to his private workouts, got to know the family, got to know the kid inside and out and when there were questions, Tom never wavered. He said, "This guy is off the charts, he’s an old school type of player." I think Prince has brought that to our organization. To be 23 years old, to do what he’s done, to be respected by not only his teammates but especially his peers in the other dugout is pretty special. Prince is a very special player. The name is appropriate. Actually, we should change it to "King Fielder!"
BA: How about draft day 2005 that produced the Rookie of the Year, Ryan Braun?
JACK: The draft that year was loaded with quality third basemen. Washington took Ryan Zimmerman. We picked 5th. Quite honestly it got down to three guys for us, Ryan, Troy Tulowitski, and Cameron Maybin. When it was time to pick, Ryan made the most sense to us. We liked his work ethic. We liked the fact that was was ready to sign and start playing. We liked his confidence. I don’t think any of us expected him to put up these kind of numbers this fast but his impact in terms of solidifying the infield and the lineup has been phenomenal.
BA: What are your thoughts on the contributions of two other Rookies in 2007, Yovanni Gallardo and Carlos Villanueva?
JACK: You look at Yovanni Gallardo as a future one or two starter down the road. The confidence and poise he brings when he’s on the mound has been fantastic. Carlos handled a few roles for us in ’07 including some real nice starts at the end. And, these are young guys, 21, and 23 years old respectively. I look at these guys and the rest of our young talent and I say, "This could be fun…for several years to come!"
BA: Can you give us an update on your latest first rounder, Matt LaPorta?
JACK: We’re very happy with what Matt has done. He signed quickly and went out and played. We had to get him through a lingering quad pull but once he was healthy, he was terrific. He hit 12 homeruns in 30 games and adjusted very well to left field, which we are happy about. We rolled the dice a little bit (with Matt and LF). In our market, there are certain times you have to do that and as a result he had a long first three months on the job. He did well in the regular season and did well in the Fall League. He made some real good adjustments and we’ve seen some real positives. We think once he gets a chance to relax a little in the winter, then continue to work on his conditioning, he’ll come into Spring Training next year and open some eyes.
BA: Your name continues to surface as a possible General Manager candidate. Is that something you’d like to do?
JACK: Yes. I would certainly like the opportunity to run an organization someday. It is an interesting process. I interviewed for the job in Pittsburgh. Anyone in this game has goals and (GM) is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve been fortunate in this game in that everything I’ve done I’ve enjoyed so I haven’t pursued jobs like others have. I’ve been a Farm Director, Scouting Director, Director of International Operations…and in doing all of these different things I’ve been content. But, there is a point in time where I’d like the opportunity to run an organization. That said, I’ve had a great mentor in Doug Melvin and I’m excited about what’s here. That’s the main focus.
BA: Can you tell us about the relationship between you and Doug Melvin?
JACK: Doug’s tremendous. His demeanor? I wish I could be as low key as he is. He’s been a good friend. He’s sharp and he has very good instincts. I think he’s one of the better General Manager’s in the game. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his abilities.
BA: What is the status of the organization, top to bottom, right now?
JACK: You always want to be better, we finished two games short. We were in it right to the end which is a positive. If you look at the age of these kids, our corps of talent, the possibilities are exciting. That said, we have to get better. Everyone in our league is going to be aggressive to improve their ballclub so although we’re headed in the right direction and we’re satisfied thus far, we’re not content by any means because we’re not where we want to be.
*photos courtesy of Scott Paulus
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Soon after Ryan Braun was named National League Rookie of the Year, I had a chance to sit down with him one on one. Dressed in a stylish navy, pinstriped suit, the 23 year old phenom was California cool as we discussed the season, the award, and his love for the fans of Milwaukee.
BRIAN ANDERSON…What was your first reaction when you got the call saying you’d won the National League Rookie of the Year Award?
RYAN BRAUN…I was just thrilled. You know, it’s just cool…this is the biggest achievement of my baseball career to this point. I was a little bit anxious, a little bit nervous anticipating the result. I actually woke up early and went for a jog to burn off some of nervous energy. It’s extremely exciting and rewarding knowing that all the hard work paid off. I don’t think I could’ve possibly started my career any better individually. To be recognized for an award of this magnitude at the end of my first season…I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
BA…Who was your first call to?
BRAUN…My parents. I called the house and they put me on speakerphone so they could both hear at the same time…(smiles)…I told them I won (Rookie of the Year) and they both just started yelling…(laughs)…My parents have been so supportive. I just can’t thank them enough.
BRAUN…I’m humbled by it. I realize how much my teammates contributed to winning such an award. Without guys in front of me like Corey and JJ getting on, I don’t drive in runs…without guys like Prince behind me, I don’t score any runs. Any individual award ANYBODY on this team wins is a result of being on a good team and we all know that.
BA…Going from the disappointment of not making the club out of spring training to winning Rookie of the Year, can you tell us about the range of emotions you went through this season?
BRAUN…I was certainly disappointed not making the team but I’m a firm believer in things happening for a reason. The opportunity to go play in Nashville was unbelievable. A great city. A great team to play with. Frank Kremblas is a tremendous manager. Without that experience I have no idea if I would’ve had the same success in the Big Leagues. Once I got to the Big Leagues, I just wanted to fit in, contribute, stay healthy and try to help the team win however I could. Now, to win this award after starting the year in Triple A…It’s a phenomenal achievement. I don’t think it has really sunk in yet.
BA…I believe one of the deciding factors in you winning R.O.Y. was the fact that from the day you arrived you were expected to carry a significant load offensively. Very few Rookies in the history of the game are asked to do that. You seemed unfazed. How were you able to handle that kind of burden?
BRAUN…I embraced it. I expect myself to have success. I love having pressure and being one of the guys who is being looked upon to help carry the load.
BRAUN…Making my Major League debut. It was a dream come true…something I had been dreaming of and working toward my entire life.
The home run I hit in off Lidge in Houston.
Winning this award.
The lowlight was being eliminated from contention.
BA…Having hit second, third, and clean-up in ’07, what is your favorite spot in the order?
BRAUN…Third! Right between two All-Stars in JJ and Prince.
BA…What are your thoughts about talk of a position change? (note: Doug Melvin has stated third base is where he expects Braun to play but the two have spoken about a potential move to the outfield).
BRAUN …I will do whatever it takes to make our club better. I’ve always been confident in my abilities. I understand this is only my second season at third base and I have work to do. I believe I have the athleticism and work ethic to become a very good third baseman…it’s just a matter of time.
BA …You grew up on the West coast. Played college ball on the East coast (Miami). Now you’re loved in the Midwest. How about your relationship with the fans of Milwaukee?
BRAUN…Incredible. My flight arrived at 12:30am last night and there were some fans there waiting for me. I was surprised. I signed some autographs, took some pictures…it was fun. Our fans are unbelievable…they’ve been extremely supportive. I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me and for the entire team. As players, we talk about how we look forward to putting together a better season than this one and becoming a perennial contender. We have a chance to be a very good team for quite a few years to come and we’re all very excited about it.
BA …What do you work on this off-season in preparation for next year?
BRAUN…Everything. I have a long way to go to become the player I ultimately want to be. I want to continue to get faster so I can steal some more bases…continue to work on my footwork defensively. I want my defense to catch up to my offense. I want to continue to get stronger as well. I’ve learned so much from this season. Our entire team learned a lot from this season. We all expect bigger and better things and we want to build on the things we accomplished this year and ultimately get to the post season and win a World Series.
*Photos courtesy of Scott Paulus
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