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The Scouting Department
Diary of a Wannabe Scout: Page 1

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--As the saying goes, scouting is an inexact science. Or maybe it's more art than science. Anyway, today I attended the first day of Scouting 101, along with 35 other students, as we try to make sense of this art and find the keys to uncovering future big league talent.

The Scout Development Program is in its 11th year, and of the 400 graduates, 70 percent currently work in baseball. The impressive lineup includes scouts, crosscheckers, scouting directors, farm directors, an assistant general manager and a general manager (Kenny Williams of the White Sox).

Scouting is the most important part of baseball. We go out and decide who can play and who can't.
Former MLB scouting bureau director Don Pries
Day one began with Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos introducing the 12 instructors--all of whom are experienced bureau scouts--and former bureau director Don Pries. Then it was our turn.

Some familiar names and faces are in the crowd this year, as in every year at scout school. Last year, former Royals center fielder Willie Wilson was a scout in training, hired shortly thereafter by the Diamondbacks. The Class of 2001 features several former minor leaguers, including 1991 Cardinals first-rounder Brian Barber, Derek Lee, Steve Mintz, Antonio Grissom, Stacey Pettis and one wannabe scout/writer.

Following the intros, we found out what scouting is: Judgment, discipline, conviction, communication, organization, salesmanship and intelligent reporting. And what it isn't: "Sitting in the sun putting numbers in little squares."

Of course, after we learned that (and the 2-to-8 scouting scale), we jumped in a van for a short ride to the Peoria Sports Complex to sit in the hot desert sun and write numbers in little squares on scouting cards.

But don't be fooled; it's not as easy as it sounds.

The first tool we focused on in the two-week program was throwing. Pries and longtime scout and instructor Jim Walton broke down arm strength, arm action and delivery before we scouted the Giants and Padres in an instructional league game.

"The first judgment you'll make when you walk into a park is can he throw or can't he throw," Pries said.

We focused on that single tool as we watched the two teams take infield. Broken into groups of three with an instructor of our own--mine was Arizona scout Marv Thompson--we graded the players from 2-to-8 as they threw. Actually, it was from 2-to-6 for the most part. The rare grade of 8 is reserved for cannon-armed big leaguers like Vladimir Guerrero.

The scouting scale is:

8: Excellent
7: Very good
6: Good
5: Major league average
4: Below-average
3: Well below-average
2: Poor

In order to scout arm strength, Walton advised us to look for "on-line carry"--the trajectory and carry of the ball. "Can the center fielder carry the mound from 280 feet with one skip to the plate?" he asked.

"Guys with good mechanics will become good players," he said. "We're looking for future big leaguers, not guys who are going to play in Oklahoma City. Recognize athletes and what they will do down the road."

Carry is generated with proper mechanics, strength, quickness and hand speed. "Hand speed propels the ball," he said.

Proper leverage--when the elbow is even with the shoulder--can also create the 12-to-6 rotating spin on the ball. This keeps the ball on line and aimed at the target. The key is in the release. Players who don't execute the release tend to have their throws tail or sink.

"With movement, you lose velocity and distance," Walton said.

Throwing was just the first tool that we will study, study and then study again. We also learned the importance of appearance and conduct. Pries stressed the dress code--collared shirts, dress pants, dress shoes and neat and clean hats--and that scouts are ambassadors for the profession of baseball and must act in a professional manner.

The next 11 days will be packed with insight from our instructors as we train our eyes and improve our player evaluation techniques. After all, the bottom line in scouting is to find players that can be productive major leaguers.

And while Pries emphasizes that scouts can't make players-- "They must have talent," he said--scouts are the people who find them. "Scouting is the most important part of baseball," he said. "We go out and decide who can play and who can't."

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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