Nick Ennis is an Advance Scout for the San Diego Padres. Prior to joining the Padres, he interned with the Labor Relations Department in MLB’s Office of the Commissioner while earning his MBA from Columbia Business School. He is also a graduate of Georgetown University and began his career working in finance for an early-stage venture capital fund.
GSABR: How and why did you switch from venture capital to baseball? What would you recommend for both undergraduate and graduate/MBA students deciding between sports and finance?
NE: I started having conversations with people in baseball (or around baseball, or who were even remotely willing to talk to me about baseball) while I was in business school. I got lucky and those conversations eventually led to an internship that helped me get a start in the game. It’s the standard cliché that baseball was a passion and always an interest. Being in school again opened the door to trying to turn that into something, and I got a little traction that’s helped me find my way to a great place where I work with great people.
I think it’s easy to try to digest my career path as a rejection of finance or an escape from the career I had before business school, but I liked finance. It had its challenges (and the broader industry can certainly be a mix of long hours and general subjugation), but you’re typically working with smart, driven people in an environment where you have to get better. You can do a lot worse when you’re trying to get your feet under you after school, and I really value the experience I was able to get during those years.
GSABR: What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities and what are the biggest challenges of your job? What are its most rewarding aspects?
NE: Advance Scouting is the process of preparing for the teams we are going to play on any given night. I’m part of a group here that tries to make sure our players and coaches (who do an enormous amount of work on their own) have the information they need to find favorable matchups, be ready for opponent tendencies, and, ultimately, win games. We watch a lot of video and try to incorporate as many sources of information as we can, but we’re also trying to condense and clarify that information into a form that’s digestible. Our junior staff generally gets a chance to work on everything else we do around here as well, ranging from player arbitration to potential acquisitions.
I think the challenge is grappling with new information and trying to find new advantages in a field that is constantly changing. It’s rewarding to identify something in preparation and then see it utilized later that night. But more generally, I’m learning every day from people who are very good at what they do, and it means a lot that they put their trust in the work we do.
GSABR: MLB teams have implemented considerable analytics along with retaining scouting and player development. How do you balance analytics with the good, old-fashioned eye test when scouting players?
NE: From what I’ve seen, it really depends on the question you’re trying to answer. When we are trying to describe the swing mechanics of a hitter and why he struggles to cover certain parts of the zone, it’s going to be a prose approach that communicates things we can see. When we are trying to think through the likely effects of aging on a player’s production over the next three years, we’re going to incorporate more historical data and analysis.
GSABR: Working in one of baseball’s smaller markets, is there a necessity for more advanced analysis or more scouts? Is expanding a baseball operations department a better or worse investment for small market teams vs. those in large markets?
NE: I don’t think it’s a numbers game necessarily. I’m sure our staff size is comparable to most other teams throughout their respective baseball operations functions. Player payroll obviously has a wider range of variance from club to club, and that can shape the dynamics of decision making in pretty meaningful ways. We know we need to be good at what we do and I think we focus on getting better whenever we identify those opportunities. So we tweak where we can. That probably will mean different things at different times.
GSABR: For breaking into sports and being successful in baseball operations, what is the recommended background that students should have? What would you recommend students who are interested in baseball operations should do to set themselves up for success in the field?
NE: There’s probably a mantra in here somewhere, but play as long as you can, watch as much as you can, and talk to as many people as you can. And on the last one, trying to start those conversations in low pressure ways that don’t come with resumes or direct requests for job interviews will really go a long way. A lot of people made time to talk to me when I was first stumbling my way into the industry, and I think most people working at any level in the game try to pay that kindness forward to others getting started. It’s much easier to do that, and the conversations are more beneficial, when the expectation is just a chance to hear about someone’s experience and get to know them a bit.
Most of the people who I talk to (and probably most of the people reading this) are high achievers academically who are accustomed to making progress, reaching milestones, and generally advancing. A career in baseball probably isn’t going to play out so cleanly, and accepting that things will develop in a non-linear way with some patience and a focus on what’s right there in front of you will really help. Coming into things with some analytical skills and as much time as possible watching live baseball will definitely serve you well. Finding ways to turn course projects into baseball projects makes a ton of sense, especially when you can then pass them on as a way to keep a conversation going with people you’ve talked to.
And it just helps to really want to do this. The math’s probably not going to work out, and the opportunity cost is almost definitely too high. But if you care about being good at it and don’t need to find title progress in every four month period, it can be a really satisfying career. I’m still taking things as they come obviously. And I’m always open to hearing from people looking to learn from a few of my many comedic mistakes.
Special thanks to Nick Ennis for his time and insight
Interview by Nik Oza, Georgetown Class of 2016