Brad Ciolek’s interest in baseball was planted in Detroit, where he watched his first game with his dad, an avid Tigers fan. And as Ciolek grew up in the Chicago suburbs, his love of the game grew, too. He attended every White Sox game he could.
By the time he was a teenager, Ciolek realized he wanted to work in baseball. So as a high-schooler, Ciolek sent out letters to MLB general managers, assistant general managers and scouting directors, looking for advice.
“I think my return rate as far as getting a response back was probably less than 10 percent,” Ciolek joked. “But a lot of guys did take the time to at least put something in the mail for me and give me some feedback and guidance which, at that point, I was ecstatic, because I didn’t know anybody.”
Roland Hemond, the former MLB executive who served as general manager of the White Sox, was one of the few who did reply. His advice: If you want to work in baseball, start working as soon as possible. So Ciolek reached out to the Kane County Cougars, then an Oakland Athletics’ minor league affiliate located in Geneva, Ill., looking for a job.
He was hired, though the work wasn’t glamorous. He picked up peanuts and fireworks from stores before games. He filled in as the team’s mascot, braving the Midwest summer heat in a costume.
“The opportunity to be around the game, watching the players, talking to scouts, that really just kind of reeled me in a little bit,” Ciolek said. “I said, ‘You know what, I don’t know where I’m going to end up in baseball. It may not be in baseball, it may just be in sports in general. But this is something that I could see myself doing for a long time.’ ”
Fast forward to present day. Ciolek, 37, did end up in baseball. In October, he was hired as senior director of amateur scouting for the Washington Nationals, a team that has struggled to draft and develop big league talent in recent years. He — along with new vice president of amateur scouting Danny Haas and national crosschecker Reed Dunn — are tasked with helping stop that trend.
Ciolek brings an analytics background to Washington, an area he gradually became more interested in as his career progressed. Haas raved about Ciolek at the winter meetings, calling him “creative.” Ciolek was the type to dig into data and “go down a rabbit hole” before offering up his advice, Haas said. The two bring different skill-sets that they believe complement each other.
“We’ve got a good blend,” Haas said. “I’m definitely more of a traditional old-school type, taught on looking at swings and deciding on whether players would hit or pitchers could be a pitcher and so forth. And he’s more of a metrics guy. To this point, we’ve been a pretty good balance. Hope to continue that.”
Ciolek’s first major league job was as a media relations intern for the New York Mets in 2007. A year later, he interned in their player development department, then stayed on there until he left for the Orioles in 2011.
The Mets had a one-person analytics department when Ciolek started in player development. Ciolek became intrigued how analytics were used on the advanced scouting side, which at the time was primarily advanced scouting reports with hot and cold zones for hitters or tendency reports on how pitchers attacked batters.
Ciolek earned a master’s degree in computer information services in 2017 from Colorado State while working for Baltimore. And when Orioles General Manager Mike Elias arrived in 2018, his understanding of analytics only grew stronger.
Ciolek said the work gets harder as other teams bolster their analytics departments. Advanced technology has improved significantly over the years, making data more accessible and reliable at all levels. And that data can provide insight into players that teams didn’t have 10 to 15 years ago.
“The horses are probably going to get there one way or another,” Ciolek said. “More or less, taking guys that aren’t necessarily finished products or guys that are later round picks and more or less helping them and molding them into big league contributors on a day-to-day basis.”
Ciolek hopes the Nationals can identify talent as early as possible in the scouting process so they can take time to do their homework on each prospect. Ciolek said “no team has a crystal ball” when it comes to finding MLB-caliber players, but getting feedback from every part of the organization during the draft process will help the Nationals formulate plans to help their prospects adjust and grow in the minors.
As Washington continues its rebuild, Haas, Ciolek and the rest of the staff on the amateur scouting side have their work cut out for them. But for Ciolek, this latest opportunity gives him another chance to continue to realize a childhood dream.
“I’m extremely grateful for every opportunity I had, every person that helped me along the way,” Ciolek said. “Even if they took five minutes to give me some feedback, it kind of helped me envision a path forward in what I wanted to do and kind of molded me into the person I am today.”