Alumni: Gators’ Weitzel Helped Start Trend Of Scouts Turned College Coaches
Buddy Reed drew a low number. His turn to hit at an Orlando Scorpions showcase would come last.
Reed, a Maryland native, was fairly new to high school baseball and the showcase circuit, thanks to a multi-sport background that included his own star turns playing soccer and hockey. He was told to shag fly balls and help gather balls back into a bucket behind second base while others took their batting practice and he waited his turn.
“Two things stood out,” Florida assistant coach Brad Weitzel remembered. “First, his body. He just had a great body—long legs, high waist, broad shoulders. Second, I watched him. He worked his tail off that day. He didn’t do anything halfway. He got after it. He had energy.
“He hit fine, but I was pretty sold already by the time he hit.”
The rest is Gators history. Reed says he didn’t hit well that day, but he still signed with Florida, became a regular as a freshman thanks to his defense, helped lead the team back to the College World Series in 2015 and is a first-team Preseason All-American as a junior.
He’s on the cover of this week’s magazine and could become yet another big leaguer on Weitzel’s ledger. Now in his ninth season as a Gators assistant, Weitzel and fellow assistant Craig Bell were working as area scouts when Kevin O’Sullivan was named the program’s head coach and hired the pair to join his staff. Weitzel had been scouting the state for the Twins since 1991, and he’s not shy talking about his track record.
It’s all right there on his Florida bio page. The page doesn’t have his preference lists, but it does list all the big leaguers he signed and coached during a five-year stint when he also helped coach the Twins’ instructional league.
Weitzel’s signature signee is A.J. Pierzynski, a 1994 third-round pick who should reach 2,000 hits and games played in 2016 in a truly significant career that has included two all-star selections and a World Series championship in 2005 with the White Sox. Weitzel also signed 2002 first-rounder Denard Span and Doug Mientkiewicz, who had a 12-year career and now manages in the Twins system. His bio also includes 36 players who have reached the majors that he coached either at Florida, as amateurs at other stops (such as American Legion ball) or with the Twins.
In other words, Weitzel made an impact as an evaluator, and he’s confident in his ability to spot what will work and what won’t. Twins player personnel director Mike Radcliff, who served as scouting director for most of Weitzel’s Twins tenure, said, “He’s one of a kind. When we talk about a scout having conviction in his evaluation of a player, Brad was convicted.”
Weitzel has now become a key piece in one of the nation’s top college programs. He’s also part of a growing trend. When O’Sullivan hired Bell and Weitzel, it was unique—I couldn’t find another staff where both full-time assistants were former scouts, with backgrounds predominantly in the pro game. Now, as coaching salaries in college baseball have exploded, more and more schools have followed Florida’s lead, such as Louisiana State, where pitching coach Alan Dunn and recruiting coordinator Andy Cannizaro came directly from pro ball.
Weitzel and Bell do more than scout and help recruit and evaluate, and pro scouts respect O’Sullivan greatly for working hard on the recruiting trail even as a head coach. But O’Sullivan involves both Bell and Weitzel in all aspects of the program, giving the Gators a pro feel that scouts take note of.
While scouts aren’t inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown like players, managers and other front-office executives, there is a scouts’ hall of fame, with plaques in St. Paul, Minn., and Fort Myers, Fla.
“As far as I understand it,” Weitzel said, “you have to scout for 20 years to get into that hall. I’ve scouted 16 years, so the way I figure it, whenever I leave this job—and one day I will leave this job—I’ll go back and scout four years and get my 20 in, so I can be eligible for the hall of fame.”
That’s the kind of conviction that a scout has to have. As it turns out, that makes for a good college coach, too.