Minors report: Wilson spanning globe
Former Cubs hurler covering a lot of ground in new scout role
MESA, Ariz. -- Is the next superstar big leaguer in Australia? What about Japan? Or Taiwan? Former Cubs pitcher Steve Wilson was hired recently as the team's first full-time Pacific Rim scout, and his job is to travel on the other side of the world and find that player.
Wilson, who pitched for the team from 1989-91, will be scouting Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China and Europe. He'll be building up frequent-flyer miles at a rapid pace.
"It's a pretty good-sized territory," Wilson said. "My passport is ready."
The Cubs have never had a full-time Pacific Rim scout, and Wilson will be busy.
"This will change the face of the organization in terms of the Pacific Rim," said Oneri Fleita, director of player development for the Cubs. "It will be a lot like what we did years ago when I went into Latin America. We've given Steve full reign to go out and establish a network and scout the tournaments that are played all over the world.
"It's a lot of work, a lot of travel, but he'll get to meet a lot of people and get a chance to see a lot of different players and experiences he hasn't had at this point," Fleita said. "It'll give him a more in-depth picture of the world and how baseball is growing throughout the world. The world has become very small, when you see players coming from all over."
Wilson got a head start by signing 17-year-old right-handed pitcher Ryan Searle of Australia, who is working out in the Cubs Minor League camp now in Mesa. He will stay in Arizona for extended Spring Training.
"He's pretty green, but he's got some ability," Wilson said.
Did Searle even know who the Cubs are? Well, sort of. As he was being interviewed at Fitch Park, Searle looked up and saw one of the Minor League coaching staff surrounded by fans seeking an autograph.
"That's a big leaguer," Searle said.
It was Ryne Sandberg.
"Who's that?" Searle said.
OK, there's a little bit of a gap.
"[Tuesday] he threw a bullpen, and they said, 'You have to throw some pitchouts,' and he'd never thrown a pitchout before," Wilson said of Searle. "He's a good-looking young pitcher and has a good arm."
Wilson made Searle an offer after he played in the finals of a high school national tournament, pitching for Queensland. He was familiar with the Cubs because he'd seen some of their games on pay-per-view television, and also because of Play Station. What about Wrigley Field?
"I had no idea," Searle said. "I knew Chicago. I didn't know what field it was until I looked it up on the Internet. Then I looked at my chewing gum packet. Oh yeah, Wrigley."
He's had some trouble adjusting to the time difference. Coke cans open differently. Australia uses the metric system. The Outback Steakhouse restaurant in Arizona doesn't serve anything like what he eats back home. And he's never touched a boomerang. Baseball is the same Down Under, but it's not played at the same level as in the United States.
"In Australia, we play 20 games a season, and one game a week for about five months," he said. "Here, they said they play 100 something games. Wow. In Australia, we train once a week for two hours, and there's an optional training session for another two hours. Then the game on weekends. That's the extent of our season."
Still, Searle, who is from Brisbane, has been playing baseball since he was 5 years old. He throws a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball, and he is working on a changeup. He also can throw a curve and a slider.
"All you need is an opportunity and a jersey, and you've got a chance," Fleita said.
Wilson was at the Cubs' Minor League facility this week, along with new part-time Australian scouts Larry Home and Brent Phelan, to look at the players currently in the Cubs' big-league and Minor League camps and scout some Arizona high school ballplayers.
"If you only see one country, you don't know what the abilities, the bodies, the skills are, and it's hard to compare," Wilson said.
Wilson was a part-time scout based in Taiwan for the Philadelphia Phillies when he got the offer from the Cubs. Wilson can speak Mandarin Chinese, has learned a few Aussie expressions and has picked up a little Taiwanese.
Though few are likely to have the breadth of Wilson's communication skills, the Cubs are doing their part in easing potential language barriers for incoming players. They are considering hiring interpreters to help players get acclimated to the U.S., and a Korean family in Mesa has been willing to help.
"I'm so happy -- I love this job," Wilson said. "I think you always have a little allegiance to your first team. Even when I was out of baseball, I followed the Cubs to see how they're doing and the Dodgers to see how they were doing."
And now he has a chance to make the Cubs even stronger by finding young talent. Wilson has some leads on other Australian high school players.
"The main thing," Wilson said, "is if we can get a network established in each country, and if I can get some good part-time people hired, and we start to get the ball rolling, eventually we'll be able to sign some kids."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.