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Blue Jays scouting the best path behind Engle

May 08, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

Psst. Bob Engle is in town.

Most Hagerstown Suns fans would walk past Engle while visiting at Municipal Stadium. He blends in the crowd ... the only thing that gives away that he's watching more than just a game is the ever present stopwatch.

But make no mistake. When Engle watches a game, he's watching the whole game - not just where the ball is going. He takes in how it got there, how the players react and the subsequent fundamentals that are being used at each play.

That's his job as the senior adviser of baseball operations for the Toronto Blue Jays, the major league affiliate of the Class A Suns of the South Atlantic League. He scouts the progress of the investments known as minor league baseball players.

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"Once a player reaches the professional level, they are evaluated more that they ever were as an amateur," Engle said. "You look at their talents, but you look to see if they can make the adjustments. You go off of what they've done in the past and then when you come back, you look to see if they've improved."

Engle's appearance in Hagerstown served a triple purpose. It was a chance to see the Suns play, it comes after seeing the Orioles play against the Cuban Nationals on Monday and it gives him the opportunity to visit home and family in the Lebonan County, Pa., area.

Still, the main job is to see the Suns, one of the hottest teams in the league.

"Basically when I come to town, I get the chance to get an overview," Engle said. "I get to talk to the manager, who has the most contact with these players, and then the coaches and finally the roving instructors. Then, I look at the players myself."

Engle isn't neccasarily making career decisions or making plans for upcoming drafts when he watches. What he is looking for is signs of how each individual is progressing as a ballplayer.

"Generally speaking, we are interested in a player's physical potential," Engle said. "The key is if he can mesh his talents with others. Here, it's all potential. Once they move on to Double A and on, it's all about performance."

Engle said Toronto is a team committed to having a strong minor league system because it believes that it builds strong major league teams.

"The organization is determined to build from within," Engle said. "If you have a strong farm system and a good major league team, you have the best of both worlds."

Hagerstown is one of those starting points to making a strong farm system pay off with a competitive parent club. Consider: five former Suns are now playing in Toronto.

But the main thing for fans, who impatiently demand a winning team on the field, is that Hagerstown is one of the first rungs of the learning process.

"This is why it's called A ball," Engle said. "You are going to see base running mistakes and throws to the wrong bases. Those are things the managers and coaches can't control. Kids make those mistakes, we are just trying to reduce them. I don't mind seeing a player striking out when a pitcher gets the best of him, as long as he shows he knows the purpose while he's up there.

"We can deal with physical mistakes, but you can't have the mental ones. They can cost you games and in the majors, it could be the difference between earning a wild card spot or missing the playoffs."

And in the process, the fans might just get the chance to see one of those future major leaguers in the making.

"Fans can't get closer to the ballplayers than they do in a place like this," Engle said. "There isn't any secrets to this. It's all evaluation, common sense and patience ... like being a farmer. I guess that's why they call this the farm system."

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