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The Scouting Department
Diary of a Wannabe Scout: Page 3

In our never-ending quest to bring readers the best in player analysis, Baseball America is sending associate editor Josh Boyd to the Scout Development Program in Phoenix. The program is conducted by the Major League Scouting Bureau to attract and prepare qualified people for a career in scouting. Or in this case, to bring BA readers even closer to the game. Josh will be filing daily reports from Phoenix, and a more extensive feature will appear in a future issue of Baseball America.

PHOENIX--Today we got a taste of what scouts are frequently forced to encounter on the road. The environment isn't always ideal, let me tell you.

After two days of focusing on a single tool (arm strength), our assignment called for us to scout a Padres-Brewers instructional league game at the Brewers' Maryvale complex. To start with, we were asked to concentrate on two players--the Brewers' starting catcher, and the Padres' starting pitcher.

Not only did the 100-degree Arizona heat add to the challenge of scouting these two players, but a green wind screen covering the backstop also prevented us from sitting behind home plate to evaluate the pitcher. Seating was limited and the view was quite often obstructed as we searched for the best angle on our players.

In the classroom, our instructors fed us more on the tools to look for. We had talked a lot about throwing, catching, fielding and running, but not hitting, until today.

"The most difficult judgment of all scouting categories will be your appraisal of who will hit and who will not," our scouting manual tells us. "Certain attributes are found in most quality hitters."

Those attributes are:

  • Strength
  • Starting the bat, generating bat speed
  • Full arm extension and follow-through after making contact
  • Head stays on ball
  • Lack of fear
  • Short stride
  • Top hand is evident upon making contact and follow-through
  • Head of bat does not lag
  • Aggressive
  • Short stroke, yet ball jumps off bat
  • Bat goes to ball

Complicating matters further, not all good hitters meet these criteria. "Some hitters are natural hitters. They may do some strange things, but they can and do hit," the manual says. "Don't be concerned with their uniqueness. They can just hit."

Trying to keep all the lessons so far in mind and the conditions out, I observed our two prospects with as much scrutiny as I have ever watched a player. We've been repeatedly told not to scout performance. Scout mechanics.

"The player who goes 3-for-4 or strikes out 12 with a little, tiny curveball isn't necessarily a prospect," the manual says.

We wouldn't be doing our job, however, if we didn't notice other players on the field. So, while I was most concerned with our catcher and pitcher, I was feverishly jotting times and observations on other players who caught my eye.

If a player shows you an average to above-average tool, you'd better find out what he can do in other phases of the game. Our instructors have told us to stick with a player until we have a read on him--whether he proves he can or can't play.

The Profiler

It's a word Baseball America readers should be familiar with: projectability. It's a favorite in the book of scouting jargon, but what exactly does it mean?

In simplest terms, it's a gauge of how much a player will improve. One of the first things we learned is that not all players improve. Those most likely to improve are dedicated, devoted and willing to listen. They often come from a baseball program with dedicated coaches, though players with limited experience are often considered projectable. Physically, they can be lean, wiry and still growing or filling out. They must have some flexibility in their bodies, and strength is another must.

How will you know when you find one of these players? Program director Don Pries often tells us how he "jumped this high" when he saw so-and-so for the first time. Instructor Jim Walton reiterates: "Tools, tools, tools, tools."

Finding tools is easier said than done, however, and the main reason we're here. The five basic tools are hitting, hitting for power, speed, defense and arm strength. And since there aren't more than a handful of legitimate five-tool players around, we have to focus on certain tools for each position. It's called profiling, and here's what to look for at each position:

  • Pitcher: arm strength, arm action and delivery, mental toughness, movement
  • Catcher: arm strength, defensive skills, durability, agility
  • Middle infielder: agility, quickness, arm strength, soft hands, instinct
  • Corner infielder: arm strength, defensive skills, quickness
  • Outfielder: agility, quickness, speed, fielding skills, arm strength

We know from watching players like Mark McGwire and Mike Piazza that you don't have to have all of the above traits to succeed. They are the exceptions. It is rare for a big leaguer to be a productive, everyday player if he doesn't have at least two grades of 5 or better on the 2-to-8 scouting scale. If a player's bat is his strong suit, to be a contributor he should also have a grade of 5 or better in one of the run, throw or field categories.

Pries refers to hitting as the great equalizer. "The quality bat will make up for a lot of defensive weaknesses, but it must be quality--meaning high average, strong home run power, or both," he said.

Tomorrow we'll review the reports we turned in on the Brewers catcher and the Padres pitcher, and head out to the yard for another look. After each of my reports is critiqued, we'll post them here.

Josh Boyd is an associate editor for Baseball America. You can contact him by sending e-mail to joshboyd@baseballamerica.com.

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