On the Road: Day 13 – Pro Coverage

SAN DIEGO—Attending showcases and following the progress of amateur baseball players is not the only duty of a major league scout during the summer.

Most major league teams assign scouts to watch and evaluate minor league teams and/or big league teams in what is called “pro coverage.” This serves two purposes: It helps teams get an idea of the level of talent throughout professional baseball, and it gives the scouts to refresh their minds and see the skill levels of professional players.

During the lull in action between the end of the Area Code Games and the beginning of the Under Armour All-American Game festivities, I decided to do some pro coverage of my own. On Monday, I took a train from Union Station in Los Angeles to San Diego to catch a Padres game Tuesday evening. (If you ever get a chance, take this train as it rides along the Pacific coast and is a great way to see the countryside.) Like many Baseball America readers, it has always been a goal of mine to attend a game at all 30 current major league stadiums. Petco Park was a new one for me and brings my tally to 24.

The obsession with baseball stadiums is unlike that of any other sport. Most baseball games are played outdoors in nice weather, but even more is that every stadium is unique and has its own personality. While basketball arenas and football stadiums don’t vary much from one to the other, baseball parks are all different and have the edge in one huge category—scenery.

Take San Francisco’s park and the beautiful views of the bays and bridges, or Pittsburgh’s stadium with the city’s skyline and river prominent beyond the outfield. Petco Park has the same quality, with views of the bay from the grandstands and the downtown San Diego skyline visible from almost anywhere in the stadium. Petco was impressive, and it didn’t take long for it to make my top 10 list of new-age stadiums. Because we like to do rankings at BA, here are my top five new parks and top five classic parks. (I have not attended home games of the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Mets, Twins or White Sox.)

Top Five New Parks Top Five Classic Parks
1. PNC Park, Pittsburgh 1. Fenway Park, Boston
2. AT&T Park, San Francisco 2. Wrigley Field, Chicago
3. Comerica Park, Detroit 3. Yankee Stadium, New York
4. Petco Park, San Diego 4. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
5. Safeco Field, Seattle 5. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City

Enough of that, and on to the actual game. After watching amateurs for two straight weeks and attempting to evaluate and project their skill levels, it was exciting to see professional players who have the skills that form the basis of scouting grades. In many of my blog posts, I write about instances when amateurs make big league plays, and Tuesday night I saw a handful of those plays.

Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron put on a defensive clinic, making four plays difficult plays look routine. The most notable play was on a deep fly ball hit directly over his head. Cameron broke back on the ball immediately but drop-stepped to his left shoulder side. The ball was hit by a lefthander and was slicing, so Cameron made an adjustment midway through his route, completely turning to his other shoulder in mid-stride. He never lost sight of the ball or rhythm in his step and made the running catch against the wall in dead center field. Most of the amateurs I have watched in the past two weeks would have struggled to even get a glove on the ball in the same situation.

Also from the Brewers, J.J. Hardy showed the athleticism and arm strength needed in a major league shortstop. On a high line drive hit toward him, Hardy jumped and snared the ball. But what was most impressive was his ability to transfer the ball from glove to hand while still in the air. When he hit the ground, he made a quick, strong throw to first base, almost doubling the runner off.

I saw a few home runs, two of which were big-time shots. The Padres’ Kevin Kouzmanoff hit one to deep left-center field, and the Brewers’ Prince Fielder hit a shot down the right-field line. Both were over 400 feet and displayed true major league power.

The last thing that stood out was the way the Padres’ Jody Gerut made contact with a ball halfway through the game. Gerut, a lefthanded hitter, drove a pitch on the outer third of the plate to deep right-center field. This ball had real backspin on it and carried, almost rising, all the way to the wall. Instead of swinging up through the ball, Gerut made contact staying short and swinging down, keeping his bat head through the zone longer and in turn creating backspin.

Now it’s on to Chicago for the Under Armour All-American Game festivities. I’ll also knock out another stadium and attend a White Sox game Thursday, before the high school players arrive in Chicago on Friday. Saturday is a day full of workouts in advance of Sunday’s game.