Cooper: Don't Leave Pro Scouts Out Of Baseball's Return
Major League Baseball is back.
Workouts have begun, chronicled by media members who have been allowed to observe from a safe and separated distance.
Coaches and trainers continue to do their work as part of the strictly limited group of tested personnel who are allowed to work with players. Media, scoreboard operators and camera crews will be there as well.
But as of right now, MLB teams' pro scouts won’t be in attendance.
Pro scouts (scouts whose coverage responsibilities are scouting pro teams) are not part of Tier 1 and Tier 2 MLB personnel who are allowed to be in contact with MLB players and coaches. That tier 1 and 2 group is strictly limited for each team and is the group that will be tested regularly for the coronavirus.
Everyone, including pro scouts, understands the necessity of this. While talking to players and coaches can be a useful part of a pro scout’s job, in a world where all contact with players and coaches is strictly limited to avoid the potential for spreading the coronavirus, it makes sense that scouts are excluded from that part of their normal job.
But pro scouts aren’t currently assured of being part of MLB’s Tier 3 group either. While social media workers, scoreboard operators, reporters and mascots will be allowed to attend games, scouts—as of now—are not allowed into the ballpark. Mascots are specifically covered in MLB’s 2020 Operations Manual. Scouts are not.
The message, whether intentional or unintentional, is that pro scouting is an unessential add-on. Maybe scouts need to dress up as mascots if they are still allowed to bring their radar gun and stopwatch.
Coaches are vital, so are trainers. Reporters and social media producers also have a need to be at the ballpark, but pro scouts? Well, they might as well stay at home.
“We are the forgotten group,” one pro scouting director said.
Examined from a variety of aspects, the decision to exclude pro scouts seems to make little sense.
Anyone working in the current coronavirus pandemic is taking on some health risks, but of all the people at the ballpark, scouts are among the group that can do their job with the most minimal human contact. A scout arriving at the ballpark will need to have their temperature checked and their scouting credential confirmed (the same process as any media member or any other Tier 3 worker).
After that, they can do their job without ever coming within 6 feet of anyone. Scouts could be required to wear masks. They could be required to space themselves out in the (largely empty) seating bowl to ensure that no scouts congregate too closely together. They can be banned from communicating with any player or coach. And there can be strict penalties to any scout who violates those rules.
A pro scout can do their job by sitting in a well spaced-out seat behind home plate for most of the game and down the lines if he wants to get open-side views of players, without contact with anyone else. When the game or workout is over, scouts can simply get up and exit the stadium. Very minimal human contact, but in doing so, they can gather a wealth of scouting information.
When it comes to numbers and travel, pro scouts can be restricted for safety reasons. Multiple pro scouting directors said they could see rules restricting each team to one scout per MLB stadium. One suggested that scouts could also be prohibited from flying and limited to driving to do their coverage. The pro scouting directors we talked to are very open to such suggestions.
However, it’s also worth noting that team’s amateur scouts (scouts who scout amateur events) are currently free to roam the country with very few restrictions. Teams are limited to sending a maximum of three scouts to any event, but otherwise, they are free to do their jobs much like they did pre-pandemic. Some teams are trying to limit the flying their scouts do—but there are no MLB prohibitions on methods of travel. And amateur scouts are free to scout any event, whether or not it is following social-distancing guidelines and requiring masks.
It’s equally illogical from a team perspective.
The 2020 Minor League Baseball season has officially been canceled. There is hope that there will be an expanded Arizona Fall League and potentially an enlarged instructional league. There’s also a likelihood that teams will be more willing to let their players head to winter ball this year.
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But all three of those possibilities are very contingent on the status of the coronavirus pandemic. No one is 100% confident that any of those three developmental options for younger players will be possible this fall and winter.
Without guarantees that any of these events will happen, it’s conceivable that the only opportunity to scout minor leaguers this year may be the workouts at the alternate training sites. No team came close to getting total minor league coverage during spring training (minor league spring training had just really gotten rolling when everything was shut down). So it’s possible that the only significant scouting coverage of prospects from the end of last year’s Arizona Fall League until next March will be the workouts of the pool players.
Why does that matter? Trades are still going to happen. According to pro scouting directors, because MiLB players contracts are currently suspended, no minor leaguer can be traded right now—they will have to be traded after contracts are no longer suspended (which is expected to happen after the season ends). But MLB rules (unless they are altered later because of the pandemic) require trades to be completed within six months—so these may be the only scouting looks teams get before trades have to be finished. Without a chance to scout, teams may be relying on 14-month-old looks at players for evaluations.
And this is a case where teams can’t just rely on analytics. Teams’ alternate sites are not required to have Trackman or Hawkeye (and there’s little expectation that teams will share video or analytical information they do compile).
But there’s one larger reason. Pro scouting matters, but omitting them from the plans for the 2020 season may send the exact opposite message.
For quite a while, pro scouts have long been looking over their shoulder, worried that they are being underappreciated and pushed out of the game. A number of them shared that they don’t feel like Major League Baseball’s offices in New York really appreciate what they do. They feel that some owners and general managers see them as an anachronism.
And right now, that paranoia seems justified. If MLB holds a 2020 season with pro scouts sidelined, it will send a message to MLB owners looking for money savings that teams can survive without pro scouts.
A number of pro scouts say they don’t feel like MLB fully understands what they do and the value of it.
That needs to change. But more importantly, pro scouts need to be allowed to do their jobs.