Mining For Talent

The Scouting Bureau director explains what he's looking for in a player




As director of the Major League Scouting Bureau, Frank Marcos is quietly one of the most influential people in baseball. While the 30 major league franchises all have their own scouting staffs, the scouting bureau serves as an independent, nationwide scouting network that evaluates prospects and reports its assessments to all the teams. Freelance writer Lorraine Cwelich, on assignment for Baseball America, sat down with Marcos for a look at exactly what scouts consider when rating prospects—and how a young player can access the scouting system. The conversation with Marcos revealed (among many other things) what scouts observe that is unrelated to results, as well as how the mission of the scouting bureau differs from that of individual teams.

Baseball America: What do scouts look for—in position players and pitchers—that is not connected to performance?

Frank Marcos: We don't scout performance, like going 3-for-4 with an RBI. We scout skills, we scout mechanics, we scout how the players do those things. Sure it's nice to say that your guy hit a ball 400 feet, but what did he do mechanically to get the bat through the zone in order to hit that ball?

BA: What is on your checklist?

Marcos: First you look for body type. Watch the kids as they're walking from the clubhouse to the field or getting off the bus. You're looking at how they carry themselves.

BA: Of course the body type of a cleanup hitter is quite different from that of a leadoff hitter.

Marcos: Absolutely. But we're not necessarily looking for particular positions. When you're scouting such a big area, you're looking for the best athletes possible. We'll worry later what position they'll end up playing. BA: Now, if a player is a little slow but he's strong, for instance . . .

Marcos: Of course, a corner player, first base, third base, corner outfielder has to have a bat. The guys that can run, the center fielders, second base, shortstop, they have to run first and foremost. Then they have to have a glove; can they catch the ball and can they throw it? And then the bonus is the bat.

BA: With kids who list themselves as both position players and pitchers, do you evaluate them at both positions or do you choose one for them?

Marcos: When we go to a ballgame or look at the field, we're looking at what they're doing and what they're playing. A lot of times we're not saying right away he's a shortstop or third baseman, but body types do start to dictate, is he a corner guy, a middle-infield guy? Catchers are easy. Although sometimes you see guys in the outfield with good arm strength and you start to think right away, OK, maybe if he can catch, because he's not real mobile in the outfield or infield, so maybe he could be a catcher. So there are different things you look for. First and foremost, you want to look at his mechanics, his skills, what he does. So you're looking at a kid getting off the bus. Does he carry himself with confidence? Or is he kind of dragging, his shoulders are bent over; is he not sure of himself? If you ground out, how do you act when you get to first; that's important to scouts.

BA: Or does he show frustration when he strikes out . . .

Marcos: How do you handle failure? That's so important in baseball. Other sports, other professions it's not that way; a surgeon better not be good just 30 percent of the time. For scouts, we want to look at the confidence level, how he carries himself and then when he starts playing catch, simply warming up, you start to notice things: how does he catch the ball, how does he throw the ball, we're watching those mechanics. And when you see certain kids, you can just see it.

BA: Do the scouts observe batting practice and infield/outfield, or only the game?

Marcos: That's another thing. When they go to high school games, and if it's the only game in town, they're always watching BP and fielding practice, because when you watch the game, for instance, you may never see the right fielder get a ball hit to him and so then how do you evaluate his arm? You grade it in infield/outfield practice. That's why we tell these kids, when you take infield/outfield, don't just sort of nonchalant a throw, because someone is watching you. If we see something in warm-ups that catches our eye—you may never get a ball hit to you in the game or you may go 0-for-3 with a HBP—but if we see something we're coming back.

BA: What specific mechanics do you evaluate with pitchers?

Marcos: First off, look at his arm action. Velocity is too big and too important, to me; I hate it. You can throw away the radar gun.

BA: Yet, there are all the scouts sitting at games with their radar guns.

Marcos: It's an unfortunate part of today's game. Thirty years ago, we didn't have radar guns, so how did we evaluate pitchers? First off, how he does things, his delivery, his arm action. Then of course, is there any movement? Does he have a good curveball? Some guys throw a good, tight-breaking curveball; does it matter if he throws 95 miles an hour? No. Everybody falls in love with the guy who throws 95. But is it straight? If it is, he won't last very long. Every big league player can hit a fastball, so it's about location, command, control. Control is, are you throwing strikes and not walking hitters; command is, can you hit the target the catcher sets up, are you throwing it where you want to. You can have those things without being a power pitcher.

BA: Describe how you grade hitters.

Marcos: We grade hitters on a scale of 2 through 8. We always use a major league average as a standard. Five is average but it is not high school average, it's major league average. An average major league tool is a 5. Eight is outstanding.

BA: And you then project into the future.

Marcos: Yes. We assign present and future grades on tools.

BA: How do you predict?

Marcos: By how he does things mechanically, his expected physical growth. For instance, if he is young and throws the ball well, as he gets bigger and stronger, you can project that an average arm will increase to average to plus throwing ability. With pitchers, some are real easy and smooth. If you see a guy with a violent delivery, he might throw hard but you know it's not going to last long.

BA: With hitters, what mechanics are you evaluating?

Marcos: With hitters, mechanically, how does he hold the bat? How does he stand? His approach at the plate, is he comfortable and relaxed? Is he squeezing the bat? A kid who squeezes the bat will never hit. He has to be relaxed. Youkilis with Boston, he does something weird, starts real high but then he brings it down and he's relaxed.

BA: He could be making adjustments in response to how the pitcher is working him.

Marcos: Now you're getting into more advanced levels; high school kids don't usually do that.

BA: What other hitting mechanics does you assess?

Marcos: His lower half. Anybody who's out front all the time and he's committing himself. I mean, that can be corrected. If he does a lot of things good with the hands, that's one thing, but if he's always out front, he's not going to be a good hitter. There's a classic stance for anybody to hit the ball and when he goes to hit the ball, his back leg is here, his front leg is straight, his foot is closed.

BA: What about hitters with a leg lift?

Marcos: It depends where you're from. It's a timing issue. It's all right. What I'm seeing a lot of now is like Bagwell, open stance and you don't even stride, which I don't like, because you need something to get your momentum going. Because Bagwell was struggling and he tried something and it worked for him and he stayed with it. But now young guys try to hit like that and it's not good.

BA: Don't you think a little bit of a leg lift is necessary for timing?

Marcos: Yes, I think it is. If we were teaching kids, we'd always teach a little bit of a lift; not a big stride. Some guys have a wide stride, some have a short stride, you don't want to get out front. Whatever works for you, stick with it.

BA: Of course, you're also looking for players who have good zone judgment.

Marcos: Absolutely. We want aggressive hitters, but we don't want hitters who go up there hacking and are swinging at every pitch around the plate. When we filmed Manny Ramirez in high school, we filmed him when he played for the Youth Service games, and it was a bad field. I think he had a home run, a couple of triples and a double. And the thing that sticks out about Manny is that he only swung the bat four times and he only saw five pitches. Because every pitch, first pitch, wherever it was, he was swinging. I bring him up because that's very rare. That's also kind of an influence of players from Latin America; they're very aggressive, they generally don't walk a lot. Those kinds of players won't play, for instance, for Oakland because Oakland stresses patience. Take pitches, make the pitcher work. Don't swing at the first pitch, because then if it's a ground ball, he's only thrown one or two pitches.

BA: Tell us about the follow list.

Marcos: The real follow is an actual report our scouts write on a kid. If we see a kid we like, we would turn in a follow report and tell all the clubs, "Here is a kid you need to follow for the 2009 draft." Or 2010 or 2011, depending on his age. From January to the June draft, if we report on a guy it's called a selectable because he's selectable at that point. Then there's the suspect list.

BA: What is the suspect list?

Marcos: Kids will be on the suspect list who are not real follows. It's all the info about a kid and brief comments about what he can do right, and we're telling all 30 clubs he's got something you need to go see. But it won't be the full report that we normally write. And we'll turn in 3,000 or 4,000 suspect names throughout the year. Come draft time, we'll turn in only about 900 to 1,000 names.

BA: What is the next step in the process?

Marcos: Once January comes and it's the eligible year, we write a second, updated report (on real follows) and then we start doing signability info. We talk to parents, how interested are you in allowing your son to play pro baseball, et cetera. You'd be surprised how many say, "No, my son is going to college first. You could offer him a million dollars, he's not signing."

BA: What do you advise?

Marcos: Depends. The high draft picks who are high school kids, that have a lot of ability, should sign. If he's offered $700,000 or $800,000 or more, tell me what job is waiting for you when you finish college where, when you sign your name, they'll give you $800,000?

BA: There's the theory that if a talented kid attends a Division I school and has the benefit of top college coaching, he'll be a higher draft pick than he would have been just coming out of high school with mediocre coaching.

Marcos: Depends on the kid, the college, the club interested in him. Also, what kind of student is he? Every year we select 1,500 players for the draft; 900 will sign. That means 900 have to get released. If college is remotely an option for you and you were not a premium pick, go to school. Get some education under your belt. If he's a premium pick out of high school, he has to go out because he'll get the opportunity to get to the big leagues quicker.

BA: Lower draft picks, you recommend that they go to college.

Marcos: If they have the chance to go to school. For some kids, school is not an option. No matter what, some kids, it's "no more school; I'm done." They barely got their diploma if they got it at all. Making them go to junior college to try to stay eligible to play, is not necessarily the right thing to do. They won't do it; now they're wasting time. If a player had a chance to sign and the club really wanted him, sign, go out. So it depends also on what his mom and dad want him to do. Is there a school that really wants him? Sometimes a kid is selected and no school wants him. If they don't set themselves up by getting good grades to go to school, then they failed themselves. And that's what I tell the younger kids: the most important thing is education. Hit the books so you can go to college if pro ball is not an option. Then if your athletic ability allows you a chance to be drafted, then you have an option. But if you're lousy in school and you don't get the contract, what are you going to do? Each kid it's individual, I can't make a blanket recommendation.

BA: How does what Major League Scouting Bureau scouts do differ from what team scouts do?

Marcos: Many years ago Major League Baseball realized that there are a lot of players not getting opportunities. So our goal is to make sure that we find and report on every player who gets an opportunity to play professional baseball. So we have more scouts at the area level to cover more games and make sure that no one goes unnoticed. That's number one. Number two, we don't draft players so our goal is to identify players, give the clubs an opportunity to crosscheck and then place them. First of all, opinions. You like this player, I don't; a difference of opinion, that's common. Our goal is to identify tools on players and all the things that come with it: will he sign, won't he sign, medical issues, health history, vision, psych, we do all these things on players and get them to the clubs so they're not wasting a lot of time getting those things done. We have no stake in whether he gets drafted or not. We supplement what the clubs do and we are objective.

BA: What other resources do you have that an individual club might not?

Marcos: We do things with filming players and video that no club could do in a cost-effective way.

BA: Because you're doing it for 30 clubs simultaneously.

Marcos: Exactly. If I'm club XYZ, it's really cost-prohibitive for me to try to do what the bureau does. It doesn't make sense because there's a draft. So let the bureau do what we do, all the things, the reports, the information, the eyesight tests, all this stuff, give it to me and then we'll start sorting it out and figuring out in what direction we want to go. The bureau might like this guy a lot, but we might like this guy a little better.

BA: How can parents with talented kids, who maybe have no access to showcases, make sure that their kids are scouted?

Marcos: If I knew my high school coach could help me by getting the word out to local college coaches, that's number one. Go to the high school coaches and ask, "Do you have local contacts, who do you know at colleges, that you can invite to the games and practices to see my kid?" Secondly, find out about Major League Baseball open tryout camps. We at the Bureau have tryout camps throughout the summer and they're posted at MLB.com. I recommend that kids as young as 15 or 16 years of age start going to those tryout camps, for experience and so that you see how you compare to older players.

And if you're good enough, you become a "follow." For instance, Chad Cordero, the Nationals' closer, when he was 15 years old, I took him to a tryout camp at Fullerton because I've known him since he was a kid. He was throwing 86, 88 at that age, which opened a lot eyes and he wasn't a big strong kid. Right away, he went on every scout's follow list. So get to the open tryout camps. I would not say that you have to spend a lot of money to go to showcases. If parents don't feel their high school coaches have good contacts with colleges, they can even call up college coaches themselves and say, "My kid has talent. How can I get him seen by coaches for your college?" They can even go to college games and look for scouts themselves. Between innings, talk to those scouts about getting their kids seen.