Scouts On Scouting, Part 2: Pitching



See Also: Scouts On Scouting, part 1: Hitting

See Also: Scouts On Scouting, part 3: Defense

See Also: Scouts On Scouting, part 4: Makeup

See Also: Scouts On Scouting, part 5: Their Job


In addition to talking with scouts all year about players, I also spent the year asking scouts about their job. Scouts are the backbone of any major league team, but there isn’t a lot of information out there about what they’re looking for, what they’re doing and how they do their job. So, I asked several scouts about their job this year about their jobs to pass along the information to our readers, whether they’re players, parents, coaches or just fans. Here is part two, on pitching. . .

When you’re watching a pitcher for the first time, what are you looking for?

“First, it’s his arm slot. Is he sidearm or three-quarters, high-three
quarter or overhand? And then his arm swing in the back. Is it clean in
the back? Or is it short and compact? Is it rigid? And then arm speed
coming through, what kind of arm speed does he have? Does he have a
live arm? That’s really the first thing because the guy that has a slow
arm, obviously, isn’t going to throw very hard and the guy with the
live arm, obviously, is going to throw the ball harder. And then his
size. Traditionally, you want a guy 6-(foot)-1 or above, because that’s going
to give him leverage and create plane on the fastball to home plate.
The ability to spin the breaking ball, too, especially a high school
kid. He’s got to be able to spin either the curveball or the slider. A
lot of times there’s been guys with good arms that don’t have an feel
to spin it, but then they get in the minor leagues and not only do they
have to have success with getting hitters out, when they’re learning a
breaking ball, it’s tough for them. It’s something that I’d really like
to see a young high school pitcher have, is the ability to spin the
breaking ball with a good tight spin and have some feel for it. A
college guy, obviously he better have feel of some type of breaking
ball to have any type of success at the college level and then at the
pro level, too.”

—An American League area scout

“For me, it’s always been about two things. It’s always been about stuff, just pure stuff. Fasball, curveball, changeup—you know, what do those things do now and what are they going to do in the future? The projection, for me, is not so much the body. We all like the big, projectable body and you know what that looks like. But it’s not so much that, it’s the arm speed. If you want to throw 90 miles an hour, you have to make your arm go 90 miles an hour. It’s real simple, but that’s the biggest thing I look at if I think they’re going to project and get those pitches to get better. The second thing is, and I’ll go to my grave with this one. I follow all the guys I’ve scouted with this and that’s if they are strike throwers in high school, I don’t care if they’re throwing 85 miles an hour, but if they’re strike throwers in high school, they’re going to continue to be strike throwers. But if they’re not, they are NOT going to become strike throwers. I don’t care if Houdini works with them on the mound or some combination of Leo Mazzone and the other best pitching coach in the world, whoever that might be. If you don’t throw strikes at a young age, you’re not going to learn how to throw them. To me, that’s the biggest thing. I’ve drafted some big arms and they’ve made it to the big leagues as relievers or whatever, but they’re always going to give their managers headaches because they’ll be like, ‘Can he throw a strike?’ “

—A National League area scout

“You hate to say it, but velocity is kind of the first thing that jumps out at you. There are plenty of kids out here that can pitch but are throwing 80 and that just isn’t going to work. I like to see athleticism in the delivery, a repeatable delivery and a low-stress delivery—something where they’re not significantly fighting their body to throw quality strikes. I don’t like to see a lot of side-to-side movement—pitchers that either throw across their body or stride open and open their front side early. Generally, that creates a lot more stress in the delivery and it’s going to hinder their command and their stuff. The ultimate goal this guy has is getting the ball on a straight line to the plate, so if they have that side-to-side movement and creating momentum with their body toward either first base or third base, they have to then fight back to get to the plate and throw strikes. So, as much as guys can minimize that, is certainly a good thing. And you want to see a delivery that works together, the bottom half and the upper half, so a guy’s not just throwing all arm. The more athletic the guy is, the more apt he’s probably going to be to making these sort of adjustments. If you have a guy who isn’t particularly athletic and has a high-maintenance delivery, it’s going to become difficult for that guy, as he becomes physically mature, to straighten out his delivery. It’s nice when you go in to see a pitcher and then the next day he’s playing shortstop or center field or catching and hitting in the three hole. Those are the type of athletes that you’re looking for. I feel that if a kid is athletic and shows some aptitude on the mound, then a lot of those delivery flaws are fixable. I tend to think arm action is arm action—the first time you pick up a ball and throw it is generally how you throw and trying to change someone’s arm action isn’t particularly a successful practice. Most of the guys get hurt or they lose their stuff. It’s kind of a fine line where some people have to make a decision: Are they going to continue pitching in a way that is likely to get them hurt, but maintain their stuff, or are they doing to take a risk and see if they can maintain their stuff while changing their arm action significantly?”

—A National League area scout

“I look at arm action, I look at how clean and easy it is. But it depends, you know, because a lot of relievers in the big leagues throw with some effort. I think it’s hard to find starters. Number one, I’m looking for athleticism or a guy that has the ability to repeat his delivery consistently. As long as he can repeat it, there’s a good chance he can repeat it with a fastball, which means he’s going to be able to locate his fastball. And, if he’s a dude, he should be able to locate his secondary pitches also. Starters, for me, should have at least three average pitches or better with plus control. If it’s a lefthander, I’ll give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt on the fastball velo if he can paint and mix. The biggest thing though, for me, if you’re a starter—especially if you have average stuff—you better be able to command it. You better be able to have some fastball sink or exceptional movement. Because if it’s just straight or it’s just fringy movement, you don’t have a chance, dude—you’re going to get hammered. The more movement, the better. That’s why everyone wants Halladay because the movement is ridiculous.”

—An American League area scout

“The delivery—how his arm action is in the back and how the ball comes out of his hand. A lot of times we’re always worried about, if he doesn’t have the prettiest arm action, is that an injury waiting to happen down the road? If it’s a clean arm action and the ball comes out good, but the velo might not be there, well you can project that when he gets bigger and stronger, the velo’s going to be there because he has good arm action, he’s clean. I look where his front foot lands, too. If his front foot lands open—if he’s a righthanded pitcher and his left toe is pointing to the first base dugout, that’s not good. That’s muscle memory and it’s hard to get a kid out of that. You don’t want to land with an open heel because you’re losing velo and you’re losing your lower half there. I’m not saying it can’t be corrected, but pitching coaches I’ve talked to say it’s hard to get a kid out of it. Unless the kid’s blowing 92-94 (mph) already, well then you can live with it. But if he’s 88-90, well, he’s generic then.”

—A National League area scout

A lot of weight is put on a pitcher’s mechanics these days. Mechanically, what do you like to see and what don’t you want to see when it comes to a pitcher’s mechanics?

“For me, as a scout, if I don’t see any major red flag areas, I’m OK with the delivery and I know our guys are good enough that they’ll tweak him to where he can do things a little bit better, so I don’t concern myself with that too much. I’m kind of a big mouth, but I go down the side like everybody else does with a righthanded pitcher—you know, down the third-base line. And when I’m walking down, I always go, ‘I’m just walking down here to BS, fellas. I’m not quite sure what to look at down here.’ And they’ll go, ‘See, he got over his front leg!’ And I’m just like, ‘Let me tell you something. I don’t care if he got over his front leg or not, that curveball just went like this and their best hitter just swung and missed at it.’ You can go over your front knee all you want, but if you don’t have any stuff to get him out, you’re not going to be any good!”

—A National League area scout

“Usually the guys that repeat their delivery better are the guys that are more athletic. For example, Tim Lincecum who is ultra athletic. Actually, if you’ve ever seen him golf, he’s a really impressive golfer. When we’re talking arm action, ideally you want a cleaner circle. You don’t want a stab or a jab, where they’re basically stabbing their arm back and it doesn’t come out of the glove as a clean circle, because that action, as your body moves forward, is very hard to repeat. Take, for example, Greg Maddux, who had a very clean delivery. How was his command? Pretty good. Jamie Moyer? How’s his command? Very good, right? John Lackey—really fluid, easy arm action, but it’s always on time, you never see it dragging behind, for the most part. Or a Josh Beckett—power arm, but a very clean delivery in my opinion. Everyone’s got a little flaw here and there, but the reason we want those arm actions to be like a clean either full circle, or a medium circle, or even like a Bartolo Colon who had a short circle in his prime, it’s because circles are like a timing mechanism and they end up being on time more often than a guy that stabs or stops his arm. You’ve still got your Rick Sutcliffes who actually plunge their arm down and came back up—there are some exceptions to the rule. But, in most cases, that’s kind of the ideal arm action we’re looking for and that helps with repeating your delivery and delivering the baseball. So, we can say, ‘Hey, this is what we want.’ But, do you know what the reality is? Along comes a Tim Lincecum who like stabs the ball behind his back and then brings it all the way around—and he can pound the zone with three pitches—and then that goes right out the window. So, there’s an ideal model I think we’re all looking for, but we’re also not going to ignore the guy that absolutely just has a great feel for repeating his delivery and timing.”

—An American League area scout

“The red flags, mechanically, are a real short arm action in the back. Maybe a low-slotted elbow, when the elbow’s lower than the shoulder and just pushing the ball toward the plate, that would tend to create problems over the long haul, when you’re talking about a lot of innings for a kid in the minor leagues, tending to have injury. And then a kid that—and this happens with most players, most of them stand straight up and down, nowadays. They don’t get good extension out front and they don’t finish the pitch. And I’m talking about finishing the pitch with the hand outside of the knee on the land leg there. They all stand straight up and down and I believe that they do that because it’s physically easier to finish the pitch standing straight up and down. But, with that, they’re not going to get extension and the ball is going to have the tendency to be up in the strike zone more. Extension is the one thing that I don’t see a lot of pitchers get out there in the amateur world. And when you do see it, he definitely stands apart from the rest of his companions there.”

—An American League area scout

What kinds of things do you look for in a young pitcher that make you think that a kid will be able to add velocity down the line?

“First and foremost, if he’s a max-effort guy and he’s already maxing out, he’s probably going to go backwards. It’s kind of like a four-cylinder engine on a vehicle—the harder that it’s got to work to go uphill, eventually the guy that’s a V8 can get up the hill a little easier, would be similar to a bigger, looser guy. Loose as in it comes out with a little less effort—it looks like he’s playing catch, right? The reason we want those guys is because if they work at a lower effort and they can maintain velocity, they’re going to probably be able to go a little harder maybe when they need to or probably be able to maintain that 92-93 mile per hour sinkerball through nine innings without a problem.”

—An American League area scout

“First, it’s the eye test. We’re looking for tall, lean—I’m not going to say skinny kids—but non-mature kids that three or four years down the road, they’re going to get in the weight room to where you can project their value on the mound that they are going to throw harder. If you go out there and you already see a muscle kid or a mature kid that’s 90-92, well I don’t know how much you can project any more in that. The only way he’s going to go is getting into a bad body now. But if you get the skinnier kid or the leaner kid with good arm action that’s already sitting 89-91, well our job is to say what this kid’s going to be in three or four years. That’s why they pay us for our opinion and in three or four years, that kid’s going to get in the weight room and mature and you’re going to believe he’s going to add more velo to his fastball. As a scout, we’re hoping to project on a kid. I don’t like going to the ballpark and the 18-year-old senior is already a man and there’s no projection there, it is what it is. I think, as a scout, the worst thing a kid can have as a high school senior or even a high school junior is a beard. That’s not good. You walk into a ballpark and you’ve never seen the kid yet, but you walk in and he’s got a fully-grown beard. That tells me he’s mature and there’s not projection there. It’s all about perception. Perception is 90 percent of it. Whether it’s right or wrong, if I walk into a ballpark and I see a kid with a beard and he’s just OK, well I can’t project anymore. The kid’s fully matured. That’s one thing for me, I like baby-faced guys.”

—A National League area scout

With the reliance on radar guns these days, do you think pitchers that don’t throw quite as hard but just know how to pitch are getting overlooked more frequently?

“I think it definitely has. I think it’s one of the biggest problems that’s happened to major league baseball is, all of a sudden the prerequisite for being a bullpen guy . . . if you throw 92, you can’t pitch in a bullpen because everybody throws 95. They might not throw over the plate, but they throw 95. Trying to sell those righthanders without big velocity can be tough.”

—A National League area scout

“We all grade fastball velocity. I think that comes with arm speed. Fastball velocity with 89-91 (mph) being average there. We’d like to see that or project that, especially with righthanded pitchers. Lefthanded pitchers might be able to be a tick below that if they have a solid changeup and the ability to work the ball in and out. But definitely the righthander, you’re looking for size and power because look at the guys in the major leagues. Most of your frontline starters are big guys and they all have a plus fastball, so that’s definitely what you’re looking for.”

—An American League area scout

Draft | #2010 #Draft Basics

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