Scouts On Scouting, Part 3: Defense

See Also: Scouts On Scouting, part 1: Hitting

See Also: Scouts On Scouting, part 2: Pitching

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 three, on defense. . .

When you’re watching a player defensively, what are you looking for?

“You want a guy with a good first step toward the ball and they don’t look like their feet are in concrete. They should be light on their feet and it doesn’t look like they’re wearing concrete shoes. Because you’ve got to go laterally to put yourself in position to field a ground ball. Some kids have got it and some kids don’t. Usually the shortstop’s got it, most of the time. If they’re a high school shortstop that can’t run and doesn’t have footwork, well, guess what—they’re moving to third base or maybe become an offensive second baseman.”

—A National League area scout

“Generally, it all kind of works from the ground up. You’re watching their feet and seeing how agile they are and how quickly their feet move. If they’re heavy-footed, then their range is going to be a little less than you like. But agile, athletic guys that are light on their feet—that’s the first part. And then their hands are second. That really plays at just about any defensive position. It’s a little less important in the outfield, but particularly with catchers and middle infielders, you want good hands and good feet. For arms, it’s disappointing that we’re not seeing the same quality of arms that we used to overall, not just in amateur scouting, but in pro ball. I’m not sure why that is exactly, but my take on it is that people need to be protected, but with some of that, people have gotten away from a lot of things that help allow you to develop arm strength. I think people long-tossed a lot more in the past from an early age. Now, 12-year-olds have structured pitching programs whereas, in the past, they pitched, they played shortstop, they long-tossed and just threw a ball more consistently. Every time you see a kid on a baseball field now, he has a uniform on and it used to be that you could see kids in shorts and a T-shirt and four guys on each side, improvising some way to play a game. Now you have two games a week and a practice and that’s all the time they spend on that. I think arm strength is the one tool that is most dependent on just doing it, just repeating the activity. You can do whatever weight training you want to do and some of that can help and some of it can hurt, but the only way to get better at throwing a baseball is by doing it. It’s such a specialized athletic motion, so that’s about it. By the time guys are on our radar for the draft, I feel most of them what you see is what you get, for their arms.”

—A National League area scout

“Outfield-wise, oh boy . . . it’s a real crapshoot. To see an outfielder
do a few things, shoot, you might have to watch five games!”

—A National League area scout

Can it sometimes be tricky to scout a player’s defense because, you always know a guy will get three or four at-bats a game, but he might not have a ball hit to him all weekend.

“Yeah, no doubt. That’s why you want to get there early and watch him take groundballs and infield practice. While they’re taking batting practice, see how he shags them off the bat—if he does shag them off the bat. Maybe he’s the type of guy that doesn’t do that. That tells you a little bit about the guy, too. But maybe he’s power shagging out there, taking all kinds of balls off the bat in the infield or outfield. And then, of course during the infield practice, you really bear down on him to look at his instincts and his actions and his range and his arm strength to get a feel for the glove.

—An American League area scout

“Obviously again, BP is huge to watch them take grounders before the game. That’s huge. We don’t get a lot of time to get multiple looks early, so what we see during in and out, is huge. We’ve got to see the actions and see the feet work. If the feet work and he has good actions, well there’s something there to work with. Obviously arm strength is a part of it too. What I don’t like as a scout is when the infielders just half-ass the ball over to first and don’t show any arm strength. We’ve got to see the arm strength. When we don’t see it, we have to project it.”

—A National League area scout

What about catchers? What are you looking for when you’re scouting a catcher’s defense?

“Obviously the first thing is arm strength. If they don’t have very much arm strength, for me, you can’t do much with that. Hopefully it’s a 45 arm if they can block and have good fundamentals behind the plate—they receive the ball well and have soft hands. You look for footwork here too. If their feet work on the transition—are they light on their feet to explode through second base, or do they just stand up and not use their feet to throw? Basically, if you don’t have arm strength, you better do all the other stuff average to above to offset it. But if you do have arm strength, well the other stuff can be taught. You have to believe the other stuff can be taught.”

—A National League area scout

“Well, arm strength, number one. An ability to be able to throw guys out is right up there with his receiving ability to be able to catch pitchers. You have to be athletic back there because you do have to move quick and have lateral range. Good size is important because that’s a wear-and-tear position over the long haul. The ability to frame and give the umpire a good look on borderline pitches. Definitely you don’t want to scout a catcher that’s going to drop a lot of balls during the course of a game. That’s going to tell you a lot about his hands—maybe he doesn’t have the best hands, and the guy he’s catching probably has below-average stuff, compared to the pro level. So, you want to see a guy catch 99 percent of his pitches that’s being thrown to him and not maybe drop but one, or none.”

—An American League area scout

“For me, I think throwing is overrated a little bit. If a guy can receive and block and handle a pitching staff, then you can live with the throwing. Guys just don’t run like they used to, so the difference between the guy that throws out 40 percent of the runners and the guy that throws out 20 percent of the runners is a difference of like eight or 10 baserunners over the course of a year. Who cares? When you’re talking about a guy that might hit .290 versus a guy that’s hitting .240. ‘Well, he can really catch and throw.’ I don’t care! If the pitchers like throwing to him and he’s a receiver and a blocker, I want the guy that can hit.”

—A National League area scout

Draft | #2010 #Draft Basics

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