The eye and its vision is the most important tool that a scout
possesses. Next is the ability to transfer those visual images into
memory as if burning them on a DVD. The better scouts have the ability
to recall a player and his attributes on command—like pressing play on
the DVD player. The best scouts can verbally describe the same player
to someone else as if projecting the image on a big screen for his
audience to see.
Looking back on my four days on the road
in Georgia watching some of the nation's best high school talent, I was
left with the following images resonating in my mind in HD quality:
In chronological order:
3:15 p.m. Friday, March 7, Cartersville HS vs. Cullman HS, Granger Park:
Cartersville catcher Taylor Hightower and his excellent mechanics and quick release throwing down to second base in between innings. His ability to receive the ball, transfer it to the throwing hand at ear level and release it, all in one blindingly fast motion makes up for his lack of arm strength. His pop times are consistently at 2.0 seconds or less.
7:15 p.m. Friday, March 7, LaGrange HS vs. American Heritage HS, Granger Park:
Joey Belviso, American Heritage's center fielder, turning on an inside fastball with a quick compact stroke, his body's rotation in sync with his hands as he was able to wait back just long enough to pull the pitch with noticeable power over the left-field wall for a grand slam.
Keeping with Belviso—the difference in two completely different paths he took en route to two similarly hit balls to deep left-center field. The first was a drive that Belviso tracked perfectly—on a direct line, catching the ball at the top of the fence. The second ball was a different story; whether it was the dark sky or the different sound of the bat, Belviso misread the play, taking a banana route and allowing the ball to land at the base of the fence.
10:00 p.m. Friday, March 7, American Heritage HS vs. Stephens County HS, Granger Park:
The noticeable difference in the velocity and life on Stephens County's Ethan Martin's 96 mph fastball on his second pitch to American Heritage's Eric Hosmer. Then later in the at-bat, the depth and plane on a sharp 81 mph slider perfectly placed, low and away, freezing Hosmer for strike three. Everything about those two pitches screamed well above-average—he pitched like a major leaguer in that matchup and for most of the game.
The very next at bat brought up Adrian Nieto and a very impressive foul tip. In a two strike count, Nieto was able to get a piece of a 93 mph fastball from Martin that started on the outer third of the plate but was tailing hard and away from the switch-hitting catcher. The life on that pitch was sharp, exploding through and out of the zone—yet somehow Nieto was able to foul it off.
Staying in the same game, a few innings later, Hosmer faced Martin again, and this time Hosmer won. Martin left a 91 mph fastball up in the zone and Hosmer displayed his blindly fast and explosive bat speed, hitting the ball on a direct line from his bat to the top right section of the scoreboard in left-center field. Everyone was in awe, even Martin, as he exchanged smiles and a laugh with Hosmer as he rounded second base.
3:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, Stephens County HS vs. Nova HS, Granger Park:
The strength in Martin's top hand as he whipped his bat through the zone with a level stroke (coming from up high to meet the ball—not uppercutting), driving a high pitch over the center-field fence. Martin plays the game with a country strong mentality and this swing reiterated that point.
In the same game, Martin showed his quick hands, defensive ability and toughness when he picked a sharp short hop hit at him while playing third base. He cleanly devoured the ball and then made a noticeably strong throw across the diamond getting the out—the day after throwing 130 pitches against American Heritage.
5:15 p.m. Saturday, March 8, Flanagan HS vs. Brookwood HS, Granger Park:
The way in which Flanagan's Rolando Gomez fielded a slow rolling groundball that was able to sneak past the pitcher's mound in one fluid and easy motion. At full speed, he charged the ball, cutting across the diamond, made the pick-transfer-and-release to get the out. Gomez made it look so smooth and effortless I almost didn't realize how difficult a play it was to make.
7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, American Heritage HS vs. Cullman HS, Granger Park
On Nieto legging out a triple after hitting a ball to the right-field fence, I noticed he runs very well for a catcher—even though it looks a little funny as his arms are stiff and don't swing as he runs.
However, most memorable about Nieto was the strength he showed in his arm and the direct path of the ball, from his hand to second base, to pickoff a runner who strayed too far from second base.
7:15 p.m. Monday, March 10, Stockbridge HS vs. Griffin HS, Griffin Field:
In my first look at Tim Beckham—the No. 1 prep player on the board for most clubs—I was able to see four at-bats, but what stuck with me most was a play in the field. Although he didn't have a ball hit to him all night, I can still see the smooth and easy way in which he turned a double play late in the game. The ball was hit to the second baseman and Beckham glided over to the bag, took the throw, smoothly transferred the ball to his throwing hand and gracefully threw it to first base with above-average arm strength. It looked routine as if he was already a professional.
Talking about professionals, on Saturday afternoon while watching one of the games with a National League crosschecker, he gave me this advice that longtime Braves scout Paul Snyder had once told someone he knew.
"You should never leave a game when there's a big leaguer on the field. What could be more important than that?" he said.
His words stuck with me and made me think—what big leaguers had I seen this weekend, and playing a common scouting game, who do they remind me of?
Eric Hosmer: You can't teach his size and bat speed. I thought I was watching a high school version of Mark Teixeira.
Ethan Martin: Imagine Eric Byrnes pitching and playing third base. His dirtbag mentality and his performance on the mound, at the plate and defense at third base, Martin impressed me in every way this weekend.
Tim Beckham: The way he carries himself and his actions are all major league. Not to mention his incredible talent. For a visual, imagine a young, maturing Edgar Renteria.
These images and more are going to stick with me a while. And they'll definitely be on my mind when I'm asking scouting directors and crosscheckers around the industry about these players going forward.