Tim Wilken, Director of Scouting

Starting with Lionel's tremendous recap of the Cubs recent amateur draft results, we here at Towel Drills have "Amateur Draft Fever." If you haven't read Lionel's draft recap, it's a must read-you can check it out here.

With the MLB Amateur Draft rapidly approaching (June 5-6), I thought I'd expand our draft coverage and take some time to read up a bit on Cubs Director of Amateur and Professional Scouting, Tim Wilken. Since Wilken was hired in late 2005, I've heard about what a great talent evaluator he is. But these are the sort of guys that, while they're integral to a ball club's success, you just don't hear a lot about. So let's take a look at Tim Wilken.

Tim Wilken is a Florida native and attended St. Petersburg Junior College, Spring Hill College, and the University of South Florida. Wilken began his baseball career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979 and spent more than 25 years with the club in various scouting and front office positions (not sure if he played ball or what he did prior to 1979; Baseball Reference shows no record of Wilken as a professional player) . The Blue Jays' first year as a baseball club was in 1979-so Wilken was around for most of their existence. Wilken started as an area scout and received several promotions, eventually landing as Director of US Scouting in 1995 and then as VP of Baseball Operations in 2000. Wilken resigned from the Jays in 2003 after "a difference in philosophy with Toronto's upper management."

Wilken then moved on to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, joining the club as a special assistant to the GM. Wilken also appears to have run the amateur drafts for Tampa Bay. Some guy named Lou Pinella was the manager of the Devil Rays when Wilken came on board. Pinella said of Wilken at the time,
"He's had a lot of success in the professional scouting area,'' Piniella said. "He's a good baseball man and will add a lot to us. We are fortunate to be able to hire a man of his caliber.''
When hired in Tampa, Wilken had this to say:
"As you can see, I don't move around much,'' Wilken said. "Hopefully, this is the last place I will be in my career.''
Though he made some key acquisitions while there, like stealing stud SP Scott Kazmir from the Mets, Wilken's stay in Tampa was a brief one nevertheless. In what appears to be an unusual and unexpected move, Wilken would leave the Devil Rays for the Cubs in December '05, stating:
"I'll be pretty active there," he said. "It's a little more detailed and a little more responsibility, simply because we didn't have an international market here."
It seems as though Wilken missed the amateur scouting portion of his former gig with the Jays:
“It felt like this job wasn’t half as hard as it felt the last couple of years I did it in Toronto,” Wilken said. “I realized in 2004 how much I had missed it, even when I kind of got burned out on it toward the end there with the Blue Jays.”
Wilken was hired by the Cubs in December of 2005, replacing John Stockstill who left to become an assistant GM with the Orioles. Shortly after being hired by the Cubs, Wilken was named East Coast Scout of the Year for '06. Wilken ran the Cubs amateur drafts in 2006 and 2007 and is getting ready to complete his third draft for the Cubs later in the week. Scout.com has a nice Q&A with Wilken regarding the 2006 draft, Wilken's first with the Cubs, that produced first rounder Tyler Colvin as well as Jeff ND.

Wilken is very well respected in the baseball community and his success speaks for itself:
"During his 27-year career, Wilken has seen a distinguished list of players signed and ushered into the big leagues, including: Derek Bell, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Freel, Shawn Green, Roy Halladay, Steve Karsay, Billy Koch, Josh Phelps, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells and Michael Young. While with the Blue Jays, he contributed to the club's streak of seeing 11 straight first-round draft picks reach the major leagues."
Last May, Baseball Prospectus did a run-down of the drafting tendencies of MLB scouting directors. Wilken comes out pretty steady, not showing much of a preference for any one particular type of player:

Chicago Cubs
Scouting Director: Tim Wilken (Drafts run: 2006, Devil Rays 2005, Blue Jays 1996-2000)

Best Player Produced: Vernon Wells (1st round, 1997) or Michael Young (5th round, 1997)
Best Prospect in Minors: Jeremy Hellickson (3rd round, 2005)
Notable Steals: Reed Johnson (17th round, 1999), Jay Gibbons (14th round, 1998), Orlando Hudson (43rd round, 1997), Mark Hendrickson (20th round, 1997)
Five-Round Strategy: 34 total picks. 44.1% college, 44.1% high school, 5.9% Latin, 2.9% junior college.
Strategy in a Nutshell: Landing Wilken as scouting director was a coup for the Cubs, as he's long been considered one of the best talent evaluators in the business. Hitter or pitcher, college or high school, Puerto Rican or American, it’s hard to spot biases in the way Wilken drafts. Whoever he has evaluated as the best player available, he will take. Wilken does evaluate differently, as he's made as many scratch their heads in the past over a pick like Alex Rios as they do now with Jeff Samardzija. But look for Wilken’s legacy to grow with the Cubs, as a bigger pocketbook should lend to more late-round steals.
2007 Draft Crystal Ball: While I have not used inside info in this section before, our own Kevin Goldstein has called Wilken's affinity for Josh Vitters the "draft's worst-kept secret." This doesn't necessarily defy his previous selections, so barring a late interest in Matt Wieters if he drops to the Cubs, we'll project Vitters here.

As you know, Wilken did in fact take Vitters with the Cubs first pick last year. Interesting to note that Wilken has a reputation for evaluating players differently than the majority. And even more interesting that, despite this fact, he still enjoys a reputation as being a great talent evaluator. Essentially this means that people tend to question Wilken's drafting decisions as they go against the popular grain-but that he's turned out to be right in making those decisions.

If Wilken does favor a certain type of player, it seems he favors athletes. Regarding the '08 draft, Wilken says:
Scouting directors usually say they'll take the best player available. Wilken says: "We're going to take the best big leaguer left." He likes athletic players -- past No. 1's like Tyler Colvin and Josh Vitters are perfect examples. He's also excited about the possibilities with the 41st pick, which the Cubs will receive as compensation for loss of free agent Jason Kendall.
What direction the Cubs will be heading come Thursday is a matter for its own post (check back soon for that). And how Tim Wilken's draft selections for the Cubs in his first two drafts will pan out is a matter of time. But it seems that the overwhelming sentiment is that the Cubs got a good one here.

Again referring to Lionel's tremendous draft recap post from last week, the Cubs last good draft without Wilken came in 2001. But as good as the '01 draft went, the '03-'05 drafts were simply disasters. The Cubs have been straight awful at producing home-grown talent over the last number of years. That all starts with the draft. Quite simply, if you don't draft well, you're putting your team at an enormous disadvantage. The trend is baseball is to win with young, home-grown, cheap talent. The Cubs have been missing that bus for a while now. Wilken seemed to come along at the perfect time. We won't know for a while how Wilken's selections will pan out, but all indications point to a bright future for the Cubs. Let's hope he nails another draft later this week.

Comments (3)

jumbo

June 3, 2008 at 11:12 PM

And no truth to the rumor that Tim Wilken is actually one of my college telecommunications professors:

http://www.indiana.edu/~telecom/faculty/mcgregor.html

jumbo

June 3, 2008 at 11:17 PM

Or that he's the star of HGTV's "Living with Ed":
http://www.thedailygreen.com/cm/thedailygreen/images/Mh/Ed-Begley-2007.jpg

Mary

June 13, 2008 at 12:13 PM

I certainly hope he wasn't your professor, LOL -- he's a much better scouting director