Tim Kissner can read your future. He can look into his "crystal ball," as he analogized, and tell you how far your talents - or lack thereof - can lead you.
No, he doesn't work with the Certified Psychics or under a carnival tent alongside Madame Zelda, reading palms for dollars.
He's a professional baseball scout with the Phillies, and he's made a career out of projecting players' talents over the next levels.
"A lot of scouting is being able to look into a crystal ball and do some guesswork. But hopefully, it's an educated guess because you've seen kids in the past either succeed or fail, and the more players you have in that databank in your memory, the more times you can recall, 'Hey, I remember a kid who used to throw that way, and this is what happened to him.'
"Good scouts have good memories."
Kissner, 39, the Phillies' Pacific Rim Coordinator, was born in Homer and grew up in Alaska's capital city, where he was a member of the Juneau-Douglas class of 1989 before attending Mendocino Junior College and then Oregon State University as a baseball player.
After a stint with Anchorage's Glacier Pilots in 1991-92, Kissner went on to coach at the University of Kansas. In 1997, he was throwing batting practice for the St. Louis Cardinals, the same year Mark McGwire joined the team and one year before he smashed Roger Maris' single-season home run record.
"I spent about the last three weeks of the season in St. Louis and I ended up interviewing for a job at the end of the year with their farm director. And one of the questions he asked me was what my goals were and why I wanted to get into coaching," Kissner recalled. "I said, 'I want to manage in the big leagues. He said, 'Well, I'll be really honest with you. Having not played in big leagues, the odds of you managing are slim to none.'"
Big league managers are an exclusive fraternity, having generally all played in the majors, so Kissner said he was advised to go into scouting, where he could eventually move up to general manager of a club if he so chooses.
"I'm actually glad he gave me that advice because in scouting, you have a whole lot more freedom," Kissner said. "If I need to have a weekend to get away to go do something fun or spend time with my family, I'm able to do that. There's a lot more freedom involved."
The art of scouting
Kissner said when it comes to scouting, the idea is to look less for kids that are good now than to project which ones have the highest ceiling for improvement as they mature.
"The younger the kids you watch, what you're really looking for is kids that can get better. That's the name of the game," he said. "A kid might be the best player on his high school team, but in no way, shape or form is he a professional prospect because he may have been fully matured at 18 and more mature than all of the kids he's playing with, but that's the best he's ever going to be.
"I'm looking for the kid who's eventually going to get bigger, stronger, faster, grow into his body and when he's 23, 24 or 25, then hit his peak."
When it comes to position players, Kissner grades each of the five tools: arm strength, fielding ability, hitting ability, raw power and speed.
"With a pitcher, it's arm action, delivery - a lot of it is projection," he said. "I watch a lot of kids throw 86 or 87 in high school, but their arm has a nice, clean, fluid action; good, sound delivery and they're athletic, and those are the kids that are eventually going to be throwing harder as they get older."
Scouting Sitka's Matt Way
One player Kissner is most proud of having drafted is former Sitka lefty Matt Way, who went to the Phillies in the fifth round last year after attending Washington State University. Way is a 2005 Sitka High School graduate.
Kissner's dad, Paul, who still resides in Juneau, saw Way pitch and passed his own personal scouting report on to his son. Tim Kissner took his dad's advice and watched Way pitch when Washington State was in Los Angeles at UCLA. Way was drafted late, but returned to college for his senior year, which was when he improved the most, Tim Kissner said.
"For me, he improved a great deal between his junior and senior year," he said. "It was a lot of fun scouting him since we're both from Southeast, which is not usually a breeding ground for great baseball."
Kissner said Way's changeup was nasty.
"I watched him pitch against Long Beach State, which is a good hitting club, and he threw his changeup at will, getting a ton of bad swings. When I'm looking at a pitcher, a lot of times I don't really care what the radar guns says. I care what the hitters' bats and swings say," he said. "When hitters, especially a good-hitting team like Long Beach State, are taking terrible swings, that means they're not seeing the ball at all.
"He had very good deception and the first time I saw him his senior year, he could have told hitters his changeup was coming and they wouldn't have been able to hit it."
Kissner said he then had a gut feeling about Way, and he wanted to draft him.
"I was so confident in his ability to pitch, and his demeanor on the mound - his confidence... Those things together, regardless if he's from Sitka or not, he was a guy that I really, really wanted," he said. "I remember calling him and telling him, 'Hey, I've been doing this for 10 years now and I've signed 35 kids or something like that, but this is the best phone call ever because you and I have so much in common."
Way had a good summer last year in Lakewood, New Jersey, going 4-1 with a 3.11 ERA in six starts. Lakewood is a low A Phillies farm team in the South Atlantic League.
"I think Baseball America listed him in our top 30 prospects, which is pretty good for a kid that just got drafted," Kissner said. "He's really impressed some people in the organization. He is left-handed, and you're always looking for left-handed pitching."
Way is back in Lakewood again this season, but Kissner said it likely won't be for long.
"And you can quote me on this," Kissner said, "I don't anticipate him spending the entire year there."
Advice for young players
Kissner has sound advice for young players looking to play professionally. No. 1, show up ready to play every day because you never know who is watching.
"If you love playing baseball, always follow your dreams. If somebody tells you that you can't do something or you're not good enough, take that as a challenge," he said. "Try to prove them wrong. I've been trying to prove people wrong my whole life, and that's part of what motivates me. It's a great game and the one thing that I would tell players is that if you're going to take the time to play, play it right. Respect the game by not throwing your helmet and hustling. Every time you step on a baseball field, it's a privilege. You should give it everything you have. And if you do that, people will notice.
"And you never know who's watching, whether it's in Sitka or Juneau, Alaska, or Seattle, Washington. You never know who is there."
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