It wasn’t too long ago that Darin Holcomb was one of the Colorado Rockies’ top prospects.
Now, as a first-year scout for the Rockies, it’s his job to find them.
Holcomb made a big impact in his rookie year with the Tri-City Dust Devils in 2007, hitting 12 home runs and driving in 51 RBIs, setting team records in both categories.
He continued producing over the next two seasons, leading Asheville with 102 RBIs in 2008 and then becoming one of Tulsa’s top producers in Double-A in 2009.
But back issues plagued the former Gonzaga standout, and his playing career came to an end midway through the 2011 season in Tulsa.
“I kind of knew at the All-Star break I’d have to retire. (My back) wasn’t getting any better. I knew I had to hang it up, but I wanted to stay in the game,” he said. “I really wanted to be a hitting coach, but upper management didn’t think it would be too good on my back.”
So Holcomb, 26, looked into the possibility of becoming a scout, and after an intensive two-week course that introduced him to a whole new side of baseball, the former Dust Devils star found an opening as the Rockies’ scouting supervisor in the Pacific Northwest.
Right away, he discovered why scouting can be such a challenging profession. For starters, his coverage area includes five states (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington), plus the Canadian province of British Columbia — an area of nearly 1.5 million square miles. During the spring baseball season, he routinely attended three games a day between high school and college ball. Building relationships, he found, is an important part of finding those hidden gems.
“Getting to know the summer league coaches is key. It’s something I’m getting used to doing,” said the Shadle Park High School graduate. “Being from around here helped. I’ve played against most of them.
“You can see a player and see the tools he has, but it’s important to get to know his character.”
It was during Holcomb’s daily rounds that he began to zero in on Washington State outfielder Derek Jones, who would end up as the Cougars’ all-time home run leader.
“He’s a quality player, and a power bat from the left side,” Holcomb said. “His coaches raved about him. You know you’re going to get his best every day.”
Jones liked the fact that Holcomb played pro baseball and had a feel for what he might experience in the next few months. He also appreciated Holcomb’s hands-off approach compared to other scouts.
“I had them all on my phone, probably between 25 and 28 scouts from different teams,” Jones said. “Some will call and call and call. It’s almost like, leave me alone.”
The Rockies liked Holcomb’s reports enough to draft Jones in the seventh round of the First-year Player Draft in early June and then assigned him to Tri-City to begin his career — the same place Holcomb began five seasons ago at age 21.
To commemorate signing his first player as a scout, Holcomb drove from his west Seattle home to Pullman to sign Jones.
“I never thought I’d be getting a Coug,” Holcomb quipped. “It’s something that will stick with me forever. It was a special moment. You’re going into draft day not knowing who (the Rockies) are going to get, but you’re hoping it’s some guys you know and like.
“Now I’m checking the box score every game. It’s definitely a relationship that’s going to last.”
Jones agreed, saying he looks forward to keeping a solid relationship with Holcomb in the years to come.
“Charlie (Blackmon) told me to stay in contact with your scout, because he can give you input you might not get from somewhere else,” Jones said. “It might be good, bad or indifferent, but it lets you know what guys in the organization are thinking about you.”
Tri-City hitting coach Anthony Sanders, a seventh-round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992, still keeps in contact with Mark Snipp, the scout who built a relationship with Sanders as a high school senior out of Santa Rita HS in Tucson, Ariz.
“It always helps when there’s somebody you can reach out to in the organization to let you know they’re still there and that you’ve still got an opportunity,” Sanders said.