Brian Bridges was a part of the Atlanta Braves staff from 2007-2019 and is credited with drafting future Hall of Famer Craig Kimbrel, 5x gold glove winner Jason Heyward, former All-Star Alex Wood and Mike Minor who currently has a 2.52 ERA with the Texas Rangers. Brian Bridges should also be recognized for a lot of this year’s success. His first year as scouting director in 2015 saw the selections of current Rookie of the Year front runner and Cy Young candidate Mike Soroka as well as the savior of Atlanta Braves baseball himself, Austin Riley. Brian has been influential in the building of this team, and I had the pleasure of discussing both his time there and the future of the Braves without him.
Chase Pittman: As the former head of scouting for the Atlanta Braves, what are your thoughts on their top 3 picks this year: Shea Langeliers at 9, Braden Shewmake at 21, and Beau Philip at 60th?
Brian Bridges: They definitely went for some upside there. The catcher is a 70 defender – he can really throw – and has a 70 arm on a 20-80 scale with a chance to hit. He’s an average bat with 40 power. You’ve got an All-Star. Shewmake is a very good player, a dual-sport athlete in high school, really like him as a shortstop. Some feel he can’t stay there, but he definitely has the arm and the left-hand bat. He can run above average probably – a 55ish runner. Shortstop Beau Philip can run too, a little bit more of a free swinger than Shewmake. Phillip has a chance to play at short as well with plenty of arm to stay there.
Chase Pittman: With data analytics and sabermetrics taking such a prominent role throughout all of baseball – like the use in the shift or evaluating details of a player – do you think traditional scouting will become a thing of the past or does it still have its role in the game?
Brian Bridges: It still has its role in the game because there’s a lot of things that analytics and data collectors cannot measure: that’s the makeup of the player and the human factor. You have to factor in the human element as much as you do anything else. You can have all these shifts, but what if a guy comes into town that’s made the adjustment. You’re going off of raw data from a large sample size vs. this guy coming in hot, smoking balls the other way. You put the shift on, and he gets 5-7 hits, and they take 2 out of 3.
There’s always going to be the scout’s view that needs to be considered. Even analysts, with their so-called models, need to have the human element to be authentic. Let’s face it – most of the better high school kids sign right out of high school. So, what are you playing against in college? A bunch of guys who weren’t good enough or overpriced themselves that went to school. Is that data real? You’re just gauging it against the same competition, and in most cases, you’re gauging it off of one year.
There’s a lot of things to consider. Anytime you can measure something you can sell something. You start thinking about George Zura, George Digby – some of the better scouts. That’s an art, a gut feeling; you can’t measure that. It’s getting to know the player. If you don’t have the scout out there scouting the player and getting to know the player – because not only are you looking for championship ability but you’re looking for championship people – then you’re just drafting to draft.
It’s not football. You can’t scheme up a play and put better athletes on one side of the field and just bang somebody’s head in. Baseball comes in all shapes and sizes. Little fellas, big fellas, fat guys – all shapes and sizes. That’s what makes baseball so much fun because there is a part of it you can’t measure. Sometimes you look at guys and think this guy isn’t a good athlete. Turn on the TV in 3 years, and he’s playing in the big leagues. I can’t explain it.
Chase Pittman: This gut feeling you’re talking about, can you remember some instances where you went purely based off of your gut?
Brian Bridges: Craig Kimbrel. When I saw him pitch at Wallace State, I never left there not liking him. I always left there wondering, I hope I get him. He always brought you to the mound with him. You just really want to get this guy. You just really hope and feel in it your gut that you like him for the right reasons.
Chase Pittman: I have a question about another guy you scouted: Carter Stewart. He decided to play overseas. What do you think about the route he has chosen?
Brian Bridges: I think with the amount of press that everything had gotten last year when we were going through that about the wrist: is it hurt, or is it not hurt? I think it was a great play by Scott Boras. He did a great job by the kid and the family to give them that option to pursue the Japanese route where he probably made more money than he would’ve made in the draft. Scott played that about as well as anybody could by gauging the amount of interest in the player. It’s a grind over there, and if that’s the lifestyle you want to live, it’s a good play by the agent and the family.
Chase Pittman: Finally, Mr. Bridges, it’s no secret you have an eye when it comes to the sport of baseball. In fact, several of the guys you had a prominent role in drafting in 2015 are flourishing in their rookie seasons (28th pick Mike Soroka, 41st pick Austin Riley to name a few). Which player were you most excited about? Did any of these guys surprise you?
Brian Bridges: All of those kids were driven by the same thing. The one that surprised me the most, who has the stars lining up for him, is Patrick Weigel. He was the 7th rounder from that draft. He couldn’t throw strikes at Houston. We gave him a chance, and he has turned himself into a prospect. He would be one of the ones I would say – out of all the guys that made it (Allard, Soroka, Minter, Riley, Phillips,) – he’s the 6th one, and just the fact that he persevered and did it all on his own using his God-given ability. When he does get to walk under the golden arches of a major league clubhouse, he’s earned it. They’ve all earned it. But this guy has had to work twice as hard. The ones that have been there, Soroka and Riley, are having good years. Soroka has always been a driven kid. It does not surprise me with what he’s doing. Riley is driven by the same thing, and he didn’t care how he got there (the majors), he just wanted to get there.
Chase Pittman: Thanks for all your insight, I appreciate you talking with me and enjoyed picking your brain about baseball.
Brian Bridges: No worries, one thing I will say is I’m a Braves fan, and I’m pulling for those guys over there. I’ll always be a Brave at heart.