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'This young man's got a chance': How Ian Rebhan became baseball's youngest director of amateur scouting

Jesse Friedman Avatar
September 15, 2022

As an assistant manager in the marketing department, Ian Rebhan wore many hats for the Tri-City ValleyCats in the summer of 2013. He attended local events. He dragged the infield in the fifth inning. On occasion, he wore literal hats — big heads, rather — resembling a local mayor for the ValleyCats’ equivalent of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ legends race.

It was Rebhan’s first job after graduating with his master’s degree, and as long as baseball was involved, he didn’t really care what it was. Now, less than 10 years later, he is the youngest director of amateur scouting in Major League Baseball.

His story is about — of course — being in the right place at the right time. It is also about a simple philosophy that fueled his journey: “Dominate the job you’re in and keep saying yes.”

From donning mayoral big heads, to working as a video coordinator for the Washington Nationals the following year, to selecting Druw Jones with the No. 2 overall pick three months ago, Rebhan’s rapid rise has taken several unexpected twists — not the least of which is the fact that, even a few years ago, he had no intentions of becoming a scouting director.

“I’m the type of person that always gets to work extremely early, and I don’t expect anybody to get there when I get there,” said former Diamondbacks scouting director Deric Ladnier. “Every morning, I would show up, there he was. I’m talking about 4:30, 5 o’clock in the morning. I’m like, ‘Wow, this kid, he’s ambitious.’”

When Rebhan landed with the Diamondbacks as a baseball operations intern in 2015, Ladnier — who was also in his first year with the organization — quickly took an interest in him. On some level, Rebhan was just doing the normal intern things: printing magnets, making folders, filling in wherever he was needed. But there was something different about him: his passion for the game, the way he interacted with people, his insistence on showing up earlier and leaving later than everyone else.

“I just kept watching him,” Ladnier said. “This young man’s got a chance.”

In 2016, Rebhan advanced to a full-time role as a baseball ops assistant. The role was similar, but he took on more responsibilities and was no longer confined to the title of intern. After gravitating toward amateur scouting and the draft as an intern the year prior, he spent his free time writing scouting reports at whatever local games he could get his eyes on.

After a disappointing season for the major league team, the Diamondbacks hired Mike Hazen away from the Boston Red Sox to replace Dave Stewart as general manager, and Hazen brought in Amiel Sawdaye as assistant GM soon after. Sawdaye had been serving as the Red Sox’ VP of international and amateur scouting. With a new regime in place, Ladnier and Sawdaye came to Rebhan with a question he didn’t expect.

“Do you want to be an area scout?” they asked. “We think you’d be good at it.”

Lacking significant scouting experience, Rebhan was surprised. He also knew that saying yes could be a career-altering decision.

“If you want to go out and be an area scout, be ready to do it for 10 years,” Ladnier told him at the time. “You need to be all in.”

Rebhan accepted the challenge. He took on the four corners region, including Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and southern Nevada. It was his first real introduction to the full scouting process, and he was prepared to do it for a long time.

In reality, only one year passed before Ladnier and Sawdaye came to him with a new proposal. They wanted him back in the office as the coordinator of amateur scouting.

“I basically told them, like, whatever you guys think is best for the department…like whatever you guys want me to do, I’m on board.”

It was a twist none of them expected, but Rebhan said yes. The role was new but familiar. He was essentially Ladnier’s assistant, but with a bevy of new responsibilities, like being the so-called air traffic controller for Diamondbacks scouts around the country. Rebhan advanced from coordinator to assistant director of amateur scouting before long, and Ladnier gradually offloaded more and more responsibilities over time.

In Rebhan, Ladnier saw someone who could go further than he ever did. He was a natural leader. What he lacked in experience he made up for by asking great questions, contributing original, well-informed ideas and — most importantly, for Ladnier — putting others before himself.

“I started noticing….how much he cares about others and the empathy that he had for people, how much he would do to help anybody out,” Ladnier said. “There’s just a certain level of maturity about him.”

Over the next several years, Rebhan continued to impress in an increasingly pivotal role. Before long he was leading lower-level meetings, and his role more closely resembled that of a big league scouting director by the day. 

Ian Rebhan and Deric Ladnier talk during the 2018 MLB draft at Chase Field. (Courtesy of Arizona Diamondbacks)

Rebhan and Ladnier’s friendship deepened along the way.

“[We] talk three, four times a day,” Rebhan said. “Sometimes it’s about his daughter doing gymnastics and sometimes it’s about the player we just saw or who we’re gonna draft.”

“He and I are very close,” Ladnier added. “Extremely close.” 

Despite an age gap of more than 25 years, Rebhan and Ladnier have a lot in common. They have similar values. They both check box scores at 2:00 a.m. They also religiously answer their phones, no matter the time of day.

For Ladnier, it is particularly easy to tell when Rebhan is calling.

“His screensaver on my phone is a picture of him in a mascot uniform,” Ladnier said.

With his mascot-wearing days still in the not-so-distant past, Rebhan proved he was ready for another leap forward in 2021. Ladnier had long planned to hand down his scouting director job when he found the right person. He knew he had found his guy.

Last offseason — roughly six years after his initial baseball ops internship began — Rebhan was officially named director of amateur scouting at the age of 31.

On the night before the 2022 MLB draft — Rebhan’s first at the helm of the draft room — inevitable jitters crept in. Both Ladnier and Sawdaye assured him: They’ve dealt with much worse.

“You’re lucky you’re not picking 15th,” they joked.

Picking second overall in the draft is a big responsibility, but there are fewer variables. You know you’re getting one of two players. Nonetheless, with literally millions of scenarios that could play out in the remaining 19 rounds, the ordeal gets complicated very quickly.

Running the draft for an MLB team is arguably one of the hardest jobs in sports. Each year, scouting directors like Rebhan collaborate with scouts and analysts to sift through thousands of draft prospects from across the country, only to draft about 20 of them. Not all sign, and of those that do, it is something of a miracle if more than two or three become productive big leaguers. The only thing harder than hitting a 100 MPH fastball is finding someone who can.

The job is even more challenging in a Diamondbacks organization that relies heavily on developing in-house talent to compete.

“Smaller market clubs like hours, we have to nail the draft. We have to get it right,” Ladnier said. “Every decision that you make is critical to the development and the success of the organization.”

With Ladnier, Sawdaye and late 2021 hire Jason McLeod all in the organization as former scouting directors, Rebhan has a wealth of experience at his disposal. He also, in their minds, has all the tools to succeed at the job. Aside from his skills as a talent evaluator, he is organized, diligent, and, perhaps most importantly, a great listener.

“When you get into the draft, you have to know that listening is more important than talking,” Sawdaye said. “The most important thing is realizing that your opinion is just one of many. There’s no super scout.”

Rebhan’s year as an area scout has helped him relate to the challenges scouts face every day, particularly the rigorous travel schedule. Despite the authority that comes with his new title, he is also acutely aware that some scouts on his staff have been scouting longer than he’s been alive.

“The most important thing for me is making sure that everyone feels like their opinions are heard, especially from a younger person that by no means has it all figured out,” Rebhan said.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with Ian,” Sawdaye added. “He’s the boss of the group, but he makes them all feel like they’re a part of the group.”

It will be years before Rebhan’s 2022 draft class can be fully evaluated, but the process, according to Sawdaye, was exactly what it needed to be.

“We didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “It’s as smooth of a transition as I’ve been apart of, and I didn’t expect anything else.”

Rebhan leads the Diamondbacks’ draft room now. In an industry where title changes can prove contentious, everyone was on board. Until at least 2018, working as a scouting director for a major league team was something he never saw coming. Of course, it would not have been possible without Ladnier, who has been in his corner from the beginning — even when, in Rebhan’s own estimation, he had relatively little to offer.

“I didn’t have any skills when you first met me,” Rebhan jokes to Ladnier. “But I showed up before you every day and that’s the only reason you like me.”

Ladnier would contend there are a few more reasons than that.

The Diamondbacks seem to have turned a corner on the field already, and Rebhan will play a significant role in trying to get the franchise back on track in the coming years.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Ladnier said. “He’s just wired for that. He really is.”

Follow Jesse Friedman on Twitter

Top photo courtesy of Arizona Diamondbacks

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