Gabe Sandy scouts out winners for Cubs
Gabe Sandy is always on the move. His travel pack includes his laptop, a thin black book with his company's logo emblazoned on the front, a stopwatch and a gun. Sandy lurks in the shadows, away from the crowd, and when he pulls the trigger, he expects answers. Answers that others have missed.
He has files on hundreds of potential targets. Sandy guards that list closely.
He often encounters operatives from other organizations — sometimes strolling through the parking lot, other times they cross paths much closer to the diamond. He greets them with a smile, but is careful not to give anything away.
Sandy operates in the secret world of the professional baseball scout.
After spending his first 12 seasons with the Miami Marlins, Sandy was able to reconnect with friend and former teammate Matt Dorey, who had been promoted to Senior Director of Player Development with the Chicago Cubs.
The two held down the right side of the infield, Sandy at first base and Dorey at second, during Mt. Hood Community College's run to the Northwest championship in 1993. The duo would also spend a season together at Portland State.
"Through all those years, we always figured we would circle back to be teammates again," Sandy said.
Sandy spent a decade coaching in the dugout at Mt. Hood where he served four seasons as an assistant for long-time Saints' coach Dale Stebbins before becoming head coach in 2000. He guided the Saints to the Northwest title in his first season.
After three other finishes in the top three, Sandy changed career courses in 2006. And Dorey was right there with him. The two shared a duplex across from the college — Sandy starting out as a scout with the Marlins and Dorey doing the same with the Boston Red Sox.
The two looked at the game much the same way through the lens taught by Hall-of-Famers Stebbins.
"He always taught old-school fundamentals. We got our core basics from him, and the game always goes back to that," Sandy said. "You hear about his next new approach to something, and Matt and I text back and forth all the time — 'We heard this from Stebbs 25 years ago'."
Early in 2019, Dorey brought Sandy to the Chicago Cubs to be the team's area scout for the Northwest and Canada.
"I have nothing but reverence for the Marlins and my time there. It was a tough decision to leave, but it was a great opportunity to advance my career," Sandy said.
It also meant an opportunity to work for the highly-touted Theo Epstein, Cubs' President of Baseball Operations.
"Theo broke a curse in Boston and he broke another one in Chicago — that's not easy," Sandy said. "His message is simple 'I want our scouts to be the best in the ballpark every single day', and I try to do that. I love competing. I'm up against the guys from the other 29 teams."
That means covering a lot of ground and getting his eyeballs on as many players as possible. One day he may be up in Seattle for a college doubleheader, and the next it's a drive to Medford to take in a high school clash. He takes in around 15 games in a given week.
"I spend four or five days on the road, then try to get home for two, get my clothes washed and some home cooking, then it starts again," Sandy said. "After 14 years, I've perfected by tactics — I triple check the weather reports."
Nothing worse than a long road trip that ends with a tarp laid across the field.
In the world of scouting, Sandy has learned to keep his eyes peeled for hidden talent.
He relays a story from a trip back in 2010 where he traveled to Grants Pass to take in a pitching showdown between a pair of top prospects — Brandon Drury out of Grants Pass and Matt Maurer out of North Medford.
"Everyone knew about those guys," Sandy said.
Drury ended up being picked in the 13th round by the Toronto Blue Jays, and Maurer ended up throwing four years at Pepperdine.
But before the game, a North Medford assistant coach pulled Sandy aside and told him that the best player on the field that day was the sophomore playing at shortstop.
That ended up being Braden Shipley.
"We put in a small report about him and three years later, I'm hosting him for a private workout. He was in the mix to be our first-round pick," Sandy said.
Shipley would end up going 15th overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Scouts judge prospects in a five-tool system — speed, arm, glove, hitting and power.
"The bat that is the hardest thing to evaluate because they all do it differently — if you find a good one you want to sink your teeth into them," Sandy said.
But one aspect trumps all of the tools.
"The number one thing is athleticism," Sandy said. "You look at the guys in the big leagues and they are going to beat you at ping pong or pick-up basketball — it doesn't matter, they are just superior athletes."
Still, Sandy is careful not to get hypnotized only by the numbers. He wants to see how a player reacts after striking out, how a prospect interacts in the dugout, what is their attitude after the game?
"You never want to miss on a kid's make up — you always want to sign that guy, who you're going to have to rip the shirt of his back before he is going to quit," Sandy said. "You want to see them on a bad day, you want to see them when they don't know you are at the park — there is a lot to know."
Adam Conley, a lefty pitcher out of Washington State, was Sandy's first prospect to reach the Majors. A second-round pick by the Marlins in 2011 — he spent four seasons advancing through the minors before picking up his first Major League win, 14-3 over Cincinnati, in July of 2015.
The 29-year-old remains with the Marlins heading into this season.
"A lefty who throws 97 (miles per hour) is going to have a job for a lot of years," Sandy said.
In his first draft with the Cubs last summer, Sandy saw the club select his prospect Josh Bergmann, out of the University of Washington, in the sixth round. It also marked his first signing out of his new Canadian territory.
"I love making their dreams come true — that's fantastic," Sandy said. "We are linked together. I always say the jersey says Cubs on the front, their name on the back and inside on the tag it says mine."
This story is scheduled for our Tuesday, March 17, print edition.
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