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The Third Eye: What The Best Scouts In The Game See. 

 In Eastern philosophy, the third eye is a mystical invisible eye, usually depicted as located on the forehead, which provides perception beyond ordinary sight.

In the baseball evaluation world, possessing the third eye is one of the game's most coveted skills. Some would say that both the elite player and elite scout see things most others don't.

Call it a gut feeling, the intangibles, the non-measurable skills. What do the best talent eyes in the game focus on to determine when and if a player goes up on the draft board?  

As we know, drafting players is a risk-reward challenge—get as much intel as possible and then place your bet. All in, hold or fold. The higher the pick, the greater the reward, and risk. And yes, the stakes are high, both in dollars and job security. Projecting high school players compared to college players and organizational needs against the best prospect all play into the decision and determine the amount of risk.

The unknowns are plentiful, such as predicting how a young hitter will deal with adversity and major league breaking balls. Will the projections be accurate? Will the young arm stay healthy? Will their velo and breaking balls improve enough to get major league hitters out? Is their confidence and body language real or will doubt and fear of failure creep in once they sign? These are all unknowns that clubs attempt to predict. It's not an exact science. It explains, partially, why most drafted never get to be major assets for the big club.  

High-speed video and measurement metrics have made it easier to quantify the tools of players. We know what good and advanced bat-to-ball skills look like and with measurements we can now quantify and improve future performance. With advanced tech equipment now, we can define a tight breaking ball and explain why some fastballs and secondary pitches are easier to hit than others. For most clubs, projecting hitters starts with kinetic efficiency. Others see timing and pitch selection as paramount in ranking hitting prospects. No matter the philosophy, data exists to make better decisions. The elite eyes, however, see the results of the data play out in front of their eyes as a starting point.

What else goes into the decision to sign a player?

I went scouting for some of the best Third Eyes in the game, hoping they would share their insight and thought process when evaluating talent.

The elite scouts agreed on many things. A blended scouting approach was key. Boots and eyes on the ground along with video and skill measurements lead to a good draft class. I heard repeatedly from experts to trust their eyes and to use the data to confirm what they saw.  

Clearly, the days are gone when clubs select players based solely on a scout's opinion.  Teams today have the luxury to get backup information for the scout's "gut feeling" with tangible proof.

Scouts today either understand and accept that, or they don't survive.

What intangibles do the elite evaluators look for that weighed in on the "take him or don't take him" decision?

The lineup I surveyed was impressive, with a total of 125 years of scouting eyes:

  • Jack Bowen, Pittsburgh Pirates national scouting supervisor, 38 years
  • Bill Pintard, New York Yankees  West Coast scout, head coach Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League, 25 years
  • Bill "Yogi" Young,  major league  scout, Chicago White Sox, 32 years
  • Bill Geivett, former MLB front office executive, farm director and scout, 28 years

Below are some of the best quotes received from the experts.

Bill Geivett

"He needs to pass the initial eye test; his physical characteristics, size, potential size, the way his body moves."

"Are his movements smooth and coordinated?"

"Does he look comfortable at the plate; how he walks to the plate, slow, not quick or anxious."

"Does he show signs of adjusting?"

Comfort level with two strikes: "Does he have a two-strike approach, does he tense up?"

"A swing and B swing. Can he barrel up and hit different pitches and different locations?"

"This is the game of baseball, not javelin throwing ... hit it as far as you can is not always the goal."

"In double leverage counts does he stay comfortable and focused?"

"In BP rounds is there a progression? Does there appear to be a plan?"

"I like hitters on the plate, are they comfortable?"

"How clean are his take pitches?"

"Are his routines consistent and not rushed?"

"Does he anticipate? Does he show good situational intelligence?"

Hitters: "Does he have clean separation?"

"Does he have the foundation of a body for more strength?"

"Will his body be able to handle the workload of pro ball?"

Defense: "Can he go in multiple directions?"

Jack Bowen

"I define makeup this way ... Does he demonstrate grit ... are his actions and decisions with purpose ... does he have the right intent at the right time?"

"With hitting, I look for a simple, efficient action."

"Projecting Pitchers—frame, body ... trying to find the next Verlander or Strasburg before they become the next Verlander/Strasburg."

"Do they look like they can control the strike zones (hitters and pitchers)"?

"It comes down to trusting your eyes."

"I want athletes ... Can they hit the ball with intent, also run and throw?"

"On deck and BP habits tell a lot about a hitter's approach and body control."

"Does he know the speed of the game?"

"How good is his vision, as a hitter and in the field?"

"Is there a certain calmness, an internal clock that fits the situation?"

"The higher the investment, the more ABs I want to see (25-30)."

"Are the slight hitches and barrel wraps in the swing fixable?"

"High school hitters are sometimes harder to predict with the level of pitching they sometimes face."

Bill "Yogi" Young

"I want to always be the first guy at the park. That's where you can see who's getting in their work."

" I define makeup as dedication and work habits."

"I need to move around  the ballpark, watch from different angles."

Hitting: "Is it fixable?"

Pitching: "Does he throw strike one?"

"First impression is crucial. Then the evaluation starts."

"Is his attention level high and locked in pitch to pitch?"

"Can he spin it?"

With pitchers: "Does he miss bats but his stuff isn’t great, hitters can't pick up the ball, sneaky arm action?"

Bill Pintard 

"I want hitters that know the strike zone."

"What pitch do you want to hit? Pitch selection is key."

" We have hitting coaches, not missing coaches. He needs to show bat-to-ball skills consistently."

"Don't get caught up on all the negatives. Are you able to minimize what he can't do? Focus on what he can do."

"Young pitchers better have arm speed and clean arm action to project velo jumps."

Defining makeup: "Ego is bigger than doubt. Confidence. Doubt doesn’t come in to play."

"Be careful of the tooled-up kid ... (if he) can't play."

Evaluating talent today has a whole new level of intel for teams to hedge their bets. The clubs and scouts that patrol ballparks across the world are better for it. Developing and trusting the Third Eye will always have a place in the scouting tool box.

Tony Abbatine is a Performance Coach for several NCAA baseball programs in the area of vision and mental skills and lectures across the country on the same topic. He has consulted with over 12 MLB teams and hundreds of players over the last decade in the area of visual psychology. 

Cam Cannarella Photo By Eakin Howard Getty Images

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