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Originally published April 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 26, 2007 at 9:08 PM

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Larry Stone

MLB scouts acing their assignments

Former Reds owner Marge Schott once questioned the value of hiring scouts with this classic font of cluelessness: "All they ever do is watch...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Tonight

Minnesota Twins at Mariners, 7:05 p.m., FSN/KOMO 1000 AM

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Former Reds owner Marge Schott once questioned the value of hiring scouts with this classic font of cluelessness: "All they ever do is watch baseball games."

If anyone wants a case study on the importance of scouts, they need only to trace the paths of the two pitching wonders that will be in action in the upcoming series at Safeco Field.

The Mariners' Felix Hernandez puts his 0.00 earned-run average and rapidly growing fame on the line Wednesday against the Twins, while his Venezuelan countryman Johan Santana, the acknowledged No. 1 hurler in the game, is scheduled to work Thursday for Minnesota.

Both the Mariners and Twins can thank relatively anonymous, but vitally important, scouts and organizational staffers for landing their aces.

For the Mariners, the path to signing Hernandez at age 16 in 2002 was blazed by a small cadre of international scouts.

There was Luis Fuenmayor, an area scout in Venezuela who was the first member of the Mariners' organization to spot Hernandez, then 14, while pitching in a youth tournament near Maracaibo, Venezuela.

However, it was another Mariners scout in Venezuela, Pedro Avila, who set to work forging a relationship with young Felix and his family. Word of his magic arm was spreading around baseball, and a host of teams began to maneuver to get Hernandez's signature when he turned 16 and became eligible to sign.

Tonight

Minnesota Twins at Mariners, 7:05 p.m., FSN/KOMO 1000 AM

Bob Engle, the Mariners' director of international operations, first saw Hernandez at age 15 at a showcase at the Mariners' Venezuelan academy. Duly wowed by his arm, and well-versed in the machinations of wooing teen-aged prospects in Latin America, Engle, too, cultivated the Hernandez family.

Engle developed a particularly strong relationship with Felix Hernandez Sr., a truck driver, a friendship that would prove highly influential in Felix Jr.'s ultimate decision.

"His father and I have a great relationship," Engle said Monday. "It's a very good family."

Emilio Carrasquel, another Mariners scout in Venezuela, was also involved in the recruiting of Hernandez, who on July 4, 2002, selected the Mariners over the fevered attempts of, in particular, the Yankees, Braves and Astros. Hernandez has said he signed that day with Seattle for a bonus of $710,000 — not the highest offer he received — because the Mariners scouts had done the best job of earning his, and his family's, trust and affection.

"I think the fact Pedro got to know Felix and his family at an early age, and the fact we went in his house, spent a lot of time with him, was very important," Engle said.

"We tried to explain things as they took shape, what our objectives were to bring him to the States, and move him through the organization."

By the time Hernandez made his major-league debut in 2005, Santana was establishing himself as the game's best pitcher. He was a unanimous Cy Young Award winner in 2004 and 2006, and easily could have won the award in 2005, when he finished third to Bartolo Colon and Mariano Rivera.

Two teams in baseball have to be kicking themselves on a daily basis — the Astros, who originally signed Santana (as an outfielder) but foolishly exposed him to the Rule 5 draft in 1999, and the Marlins, who selected Santana in the Rule 5 in December 1999, but promptly traded him to the Twins for the Rule 5 rights to the pitcher they really wanted all along — the long-forgotten Jared Camp.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan readily gives full credit for the master stroke to two of the team's organizational men. One was Bill Milos, Minnesota's Midwest League scout, who had seen Santana pitch for Houston's affiliate in that Class A league. The other was Jose Marzan, the Twins' manager in the Midwest League.

Both passed on glowing recommendations of Santana, which emboldened Ryan to make the deal with Florida — a transaction that required the Twins keep Santana on the major-league roster all season.

Considering that Santana had gone 8-8 with a 4.66 ERA for Class A Michigan the previous season, few could have foreseen his ascendancy to multiple Cy Young status.

"We had two guys who recommended him," Ryan told The Seattle Times during spring training. "That's what you want in the Rule 5, a couple of guys stepping up and saying, 'This guy would be worth a selection.'

"When we kept going through the names, we probably had three or four guys we were considering. At that time, remember, we weren't very good. We were struggling.

"Here was a left-hander who threw 140-plus innings when he was 19 or 20. Plus, we knew he had great makeup. Then, pitching that winter in Venezuela, we got just enough of a look to re-affirm some of the things we believed. And we took him."

In their wildest expectations, did the Twins believe they were landing their future ace?

"Not us. Not Houston. Obviously, we got lucky," Ryan said.

Hernandez and Santana are exhibits 1 and 1A of the benefits of a little luck, and a lot of great scouting.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Missing aces
Felix Hernandez and Johan Santana will each pitch this week at Safeco Field, though not against each other. Their lines so far this season:
Pitcher W-L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO
Felix Hernandez, Seattle 2-0 0.00 2 17.0 4 0 0 0 4 18
Johan Santana, Minnesota 2-1 3.60 3 20.0 14 8 8 2 6 25

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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