The highest score an amateur player can receive in an evaluation from a Twins scout is an eight. Rarely is the number used.
Past recipients include outstanding talents like Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Yet two days after he saw Twins first-rounder Walker Jenkins play in person last August, legendary scout Mike Radcliff, who died Feb. 3 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, inputted an eight when he filed his follow report on the player.
A follow report isn’t the final word on an athlete; rather, it acts as an introductory examination early in the process. Individual skills like hitting, power, arm strength and speed must still be assessed and pored over repeatedly by additional scouts.
But the Twins believe Radcliff acted deliberately when he placed an eight on the chart of Jenkins, who last week received a $7,144,200 signing bonus. More than three years after his May 2019 diagnosis, several Twins scouts think Radcliff wanted to ensure his voice was heard in the draft room last month in case he wasn’t around for the July 2023 amateur draft.
“He was saying ‘Super high end for me,’” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “I think that’s a good way to think about it. When the time came this spring, would he have carried an eight had he still been alive through this process? I’m not sure. … But the fact that he had it in at the end of last summer is a way to say ‘Huge ability here. If we have a chance to get this guy next spring based on what I’m seeing right now, he’s very much what we are looking for.’”
What the Twins apparently sought resembles Hall of Famer Larry Walker. Or Harper. Definitely a player who could be selected with the first pick.
Said Radcliff’s report: “Impressive body/focus/presence…premium offensive ceiling — hitterish presence/swing to hit for avg and intent/leverage for top-of-scale power pot…will be a plus defender most likely in corner OF…Larry Walker/Bryce Harper comps…#1 pick candidate.”
Vice president of amateur scouting Sean Johnson and Radcliff were among 10 Twins employees in Phoenix on Aug. 28, 2022 when Jenkins played in the Perfect Game All-American exhibition at Chase Field.
The trip was perfect for the two longtime friends, a blend of watching elite talent, spending quality time together and finally eating dinner at Pizzeria Bianco, a tiny Phoenix joint known for its delicious, wood-fired pizzas and extensive wait times.
Johnson isn’t stunned that Radcliff was enamored with Jenkins, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound center fielder from South Brunswick High School in Southport, N.C., who was committed to the University of North Carolina and considered one of the top two high school players in the upcoming draft.
But two days after the game, Radcliff, who was famous for quickly filing dozens of follow reports with his thoughts on every player he’d seen at the SEC Tournament, didn’t hesitate to bestow the highest grade possible on Jenkins.
“An eight on our scale is basically, ‘Would you take this player first overall?’” Johnson said. “It was classic Mike. He thought (Jenkins) was the guy. It’s as we say all the time, ‘He’s what they look like. When you see it, you see it.’ … You can go to a lot of games without seeing a player that looks like Walker Jenkins. When you see it, it’s the reason why scouts love their jobs. It’s to see amazing talent and you see it before they’re on TV and you see it before anyone else. … Walker was definitely Mike’s favorite player in the class.”
The Twins employ roughly 40 professional and amateur scouts. None carries the same clout as Radcliff did.
Just like the old television commercial said, when Radcliff spoke, people listened.
For 36 years, he was one of the primary architects of the organization, responsible for bringing in much of the homegrown talent that has worn a Twins uniform. Radcliff began with the Twins in 1987 as an area scout and quickly worked his way up the ladder, promoted multiple times in his first seven seasons. In 2007, he became the team’s vice president of player personnel.
Radcliff quickly developed a reputation for having a passion for scouting unparalleled by most of his peers. Often spending at least 225 days on the road per year, he never left home without his passport and was ready to travel anywhere upon request. And he always made time for his fellow scouts, to counsel them about the endless grind of the job or life.
Though COVID-19 restricted Radcliff’s travel in 2020, he participated in every scouting-related Zoom he could attend. On days when he had chemotherapy, Radcliff also broke the rules and snuck out to scout local games near his Kansas City, Mo., metro area home.
When Radcliff dropped the eight on Jenkins’ report, nobody with the Twins batted an eye. They knew the athlete was a legitimate No. 1 pick candidate.
That Jenkins wound up with the Twins — a team that as of Radcliff’s Aug. 30, 2022 report was 67-61 and picking 17th — is inexplicable. Not only did the Twins have to collapse down the stretch, they needed the help of Major League Baseball’s first draft lottery to later move up from 13th to pick No. 5 in December.
Even then, everything had to fall in their favor. But with each step, the Twins can’t help but believe Jenkins will always be tied to Radcliff.
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“Mike’s footprint in this franchise is going to last for decades,” general manager Thad Levine said. “We talked about that openly when he was still with us, impacting the franchise and certainly we talked about that when he passed. But you wonder what that truly means until you then see something like this. Is it coincidence or is it serendipity? I don’t know. But as long as Walker Jenkins is wearing a Minnesota Twins jersey, I think we’ll forever link him to Mike. It meant so much to every individual in that room.”
Faced with the prospect of Radcliff not being in the draft room, the Twins did everything they could to make his presence felt. Everyone wore Radcliff’s trademark white visors for part of the first day. Everyone’s shirts were adorned with “MRad” patches. The team also renamed a room at Target Field as the “MRad Draft Bunker.”
Along with heeding Radcliff’s evaluation of Jenkins when the pick came around, it was the best they could do to honor their friend.
“We really wanted to really capture his spirit of being in the room as much as we could have him there,” Johnson said. “It was so different with him not being there for a lot of different reasons. He was the voice of reason for a lot of people and it’s just that voice that you trust, whether it has to do with baseball or life. He just knew what to say.”
For one last time, the Twins listened to Radcliff’s gut instinct, too.
(Top photo: Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins)