What Are Baseball Scouts Looking For?

Tools are a basic building block of our coverage at Baseball America. We begin assessing players’ tools from the time they become prominent high school players, and we continue to do it through college and the minor leagues all the way to the majors. It culminates with the Best Tools feature that we unveiled last week, but we really write about tools all year long.

That makes sense because tools are a basic building block for players as well. Many other factors enter into the equation of whether a player will reach his potential in his career, but without the basic physical skills the player’s career will never get started in the first place.

With that in mind, BA assistant editor Conor Glassey spent the past  year interviewing area scouts, talking to them about specific aspects of their job, with a specific focus on the skills they look for in players and how they judge them.

Scouting Hitting

When you’re watching a hitter for the first time, what are the things you like to see? What are you looking for?

“The first thing is bat speed—whether it’s wood or aluminum—just, how fast can he swing the bat? That’d be the first thing and hopefully we get it with wood and (are) able to determine objectively what the bat speed is. And then his stance, his approach and does he have a feel to hit? Does he have a good knowledge of the strike zone? All those things are kind of objective there and you just kind of look at the hitter. Sometimes those guys will just walk up to the plate and they’ll walk up there with confidence and look like they can hit. So, you just kind of piece it all together.”

“A lot of what I’m looking for goes beyond what they’re doing at the plate. You like to see the athleticism and the sort of body that is going to continue to get better. Guys that physically are what they are when they’re 16 years old, it’s difficult to project that guy out significantly. It’s nice when a guy passes the eye test right when he walks off the bus. If I’m seeing a high school kid, I would hope that I can pick the kid out when I walk up to the field and I don’t need to get a program to figure out which kid he is. At the plate, generally I’m looking at the mechanics of their swing and the bat speed that they have. You try to get into pitch recognition and plate discipline and things like that, but that really turns into one of the most difficult things for high school hitters because they’re not seeing quality breaking balls and they’re generally not seeing velocity.”

“The single biggest thing for me, and I write it down all the time, is handsy looseness to the swing. In other words, just that little whip in the bat with the hands instead of the strength. And I know there are different types of guys with the strength swings like (Jim) Thome and (Mark) McGwire, but those guys are different types of birds. We don’t see those guys very often. And I think those guys still have the handsy looseness, it just comes through as strength because of their bodies. But that handsy looseness, I’ve never seen a guy that didn’t have that pan out and become big-time major league hitters. It’s just that point in the swing where the top hand starts to move the bat. When the top hand starts to bring the bat head through the zone, those hands right there—how fast can they whip that bat? When a pitch is on the way, only those special guys really have that little bit of whip there to really get that bat head moving and get it in the right spot to make sure you square up the ball.”

“It depends on when I’m watching him. So, if it’s pregame and we’re just watching batting practice, pregame is nice—you can learn some things about it, but it’s not everything. I don’t want to get too excited and I don’t want to get too down, either. In batting practice, I’m looking for bat speed, I’m looking at the bat path, I’m looking at his balance, I’m looking at how his hands work—do they work independently, or does he kind of swing with his shoulders? I really like guys that have good hands. I’m looking for a short path that has some pop. It also depends on the position. If I know the guy plays a corner, I’m looking bat and power. I want to see some thump and if you’re not thumping it, you better steal a ton of bases—you better be (Carl) Crawford. Once the game starts, I’m looking for a guy that can hit deep in the count, that can hit in situations and that flat-out hits the ball hard often. If you can’t make contact, what good are you? That’s the biggest thing with hitters—hitters hit. They hit the ball hard.”

“We watch how the ball comes off the bat. How much raw power does the kid generate? Does he have some lift to his swing, does he have some loft? If he has some loft to his swing, that tells you with some raw power, he’s going to hit some homers. If he doesn’t generate any loft, he’s going to be a doubles and singles kind of guy. I watch for the way he holds the bat. If he holds the bat back in his palms, then it’s going to be a little tougher to hit. It’s going to create some tension in his swing and not so much wristy action. It’s kind of a negative if they hold the bat farther back in their palms.”

Some scouts like it more than others, but what are your thoughts on watching players take batting practice?

“I like batting practice because I think your swing is basically the same as it is in batting practice. Your ability to adjust obviously comes into play when it’s game speed, but you can get a good look at a player’s pure mechanics in BP. But I think a lot of guys put too much into it. You walk out of there and the kid’s missed two or three curveballs by a foot and gets jammed with an 87 mph fastball because he doesn’t have enough bat speed and a guy’s walking out of there still talking about the batting practice and I’m like, ‘Dude, did you see the three freaking at-bats?’ It’s still about the game.”

“You see how a player approaches batting practice. Does he use the whole field to hit? Usually in a batting practice round, the batter will try and go the other way for the first round and then the second round, he’ll hit the ball where it’s pitched and then maybe the third round he’ll show his power to wherever that is, right field or left field. And then the path of the bat—does he hit a lot of fly balls? Does he hit a lot of ground balls? Is he a line-drive hitter? Does he square it up hard? Obviously batting practice pitchers don’t throw very hard and you like to see a guy square a ball up pretty hard in BP consistently. A red flag would be a lot of swing and misses in BP or a couple swing and misses and fouling off the ball in the cage. That’s a good indicator of hand-eye coordination. So, definitely how he approaches batting practice and how hard does he square it up in batting practice.”

“I think it’s huge. For me, it’s huge. Because in the ballgames, I would say 75 percent of the high school kids we go watch are not getting pitched to. So, to be able to go see BP ahead of time and multiple times, that’s huge for me. You can see how the swing works and what type of raw power he has. A lot of times, you like to go when they don’t know you’re there watching. In my area, kids take BP before the game on the field and I know a lot of places in the country, that doesn’t happen.”

How many times do you like to see a hitter before you’re comfortable putting a grade on his tools?

“For me, of course over a couple of years with a college guy and you hope to see him a couple of times per year. The most difficult thing for me is when I go to see guys out of my area and I walk in on those really good players—guys that I know are good—and they don’t have a good day or something and you have to ask yourself, ‘OK, what did I see in BP? What did I see in his swings in the game, even though he didn’t hit anything?’ and then throw a grade on him, that’s really tough. I guess the answer is at least a half a dozen times before you feel comfortable. As many as possible, basically.”

“Well, I like to see one batting practice to see his raw power, see basically how far he can hit it. One batting practice I’m pretty good with. The more times you can see a hitter, the better. It depends on the game. If you go to a game and the guy gets pitched to and he squares a ball up and pretty much shows you what you think he’s got, one game would be sufficient to write him up. But sometimes you might go to the game and he gets walked twice, or maybe he has a poor at-bat on the breaking ball, he waves at the breaking ball and he only gets three at-bats. Maybe it’s a lefthanded hitter facing a lefthanded pitcher and the guy struggles off the lefthanded pitchers, so you think he might be a platoon guy and you have to come back and see him against a righthanded pitcher.”

“Just once. I mean, you either get that fuzzy feeling, or you don’t. If you get that fuzzy feeling, then it’s on to the games to see how he takes pitches, how quiet he is at the plate—that’s huge for me. You want to make sure his hands don’t go forward or he doesn’t lunge when he’s taking pitches. If he’s quiet taking pitches, then you know he’s going to be a pretty good professional hitter. If you get that fuzzy feeling one time around, you’ve got to write him up. Pretty much, you have to, in order to start the process of getting your supervisors in to see him. The longer you wait, the longer it takes your supervisor to get in there because everybody else in the nation wants their guys looked at too. It’s a long process to be able to get a kid seen by the people who make decisions.”

“I’d really like to see the guy probably three or four games with a couple of batting practice sessions in there. You try and match those high school hitters up against someone that’s at least going to pitch to them and potentially challenge them and see them against some sort of level of competition that isn’t just someone throwing 75. A lot of the process in getting comfortable with these players is seeing them on the showcase circuit the summer before, so you have that follow number on the guy and you’ve had the opportunity to see them against some competition and then you go back in the spring and figure out if you got the guy right or you need to make an adjustment on him. With the hitters, I’d like to get as many at-bats as possible. It’s certainly easier with the college guys because the matchups are significantly easier. The high school guys, you have to figure out which ones you like and get in and see them.”

What are you looking for mechanically in a hitter’s swing? What sorts of things are red flags for you?

“A lot of guys talk about a hitch not being correctable, but if a hitch is a timing mechanism, I think it’s OK. If a hitch occurs during the swing and causes the bat to be late, then I do think you have a problem on that because that involves their hand-eye coordination when the ball’s released and when they recognize it and so forth. So, a hitch bothers me if it’s part of their swing and not a timing mechanism but, you know, we’ve all seen a million guys—the Eric Davises, the Bonds, all that—that hitch, but it’s a timing mechanism and that bat’s in the right spot when it needs to be. The arm bar doesn’t really bother me because I think you can help that if you need to help it, but there’s a lot of major league batters that arm bar but then get that bat going out there good enough. I think you can learn to help a guy develop not to do that. I don’t know if there’s any one thing that I would say ‘Wow, that one can’t be fixed.’ Other than just a slow bat. Slow bat’s a slow bat. If you don’t have bat speed, I don’t think you’re going to develop it.”

“Maybe a kid—no matter what his stance is, whether it’s square or it’s open—and he steps in the bucket, maybe he’s showing you that he has a little fear of the ball and that kind of raises the yellow flag there. Swinging at the breaking ball out of the strike zone consistently, that may show you that he can’t identify the pitch or can’t lay off the pitch and that’s tough to correct, too.”

“I generally like to see guys with fairly calm approaches at the plate. An excessive movement, be it a high leg kick or a hitch with their hands or just anything that can alter the timing and execution of the swing, I don’t like. That’s not to say there aren’t guys that do those kind of things and are extremely successful doing it, but I feel like those guys are the exception and the fact is that when you slow them all down, when their foot’s down and their hands are ready to go, they’re just about all in the exact same position. It doesn’t matter if it’s Manny Ramirez with the high leg kick or Gary Sheffield with the bat waggling. You slow down the video and they’re in the same spot when they’re ready to hit. Getting into that position consistently is a lot harder if you’re moving around a bunch. Another thing I really don’t like to see is head movement in a swing. You can’t hit if you can’t see it. So, any sort of thing where a player moves his head during a swing, it’s difficult for that player to consistently center the ball against better competition.”

Scouting Pitching

When you’re watching a pitcher for the first time, what are you looking for?

“First, it’s his arm slot. Is he sidearm or three-quarters, high-three quarter or overhand? And then his arm swing in the back. Is it clean in the back? Or is it short and compact? Is it rigid? And then arm speed coming through. Does he have a live arm? That’s really the first thing because the guy that has a slow arm, obviously, isn’t going to throw very hard. And then his size. Traditionally, you want a guy 6-foot-1 or above, because that’s going to give him leverage and create plane on the fastball to home plate. The ability to spin the breaking ball, too, especially a high school kid. He’s got to be able to spin either the curveball or the slider.” A lot of times there’s been guys with good arms that don’t have an feel to spin it, but then they get in the minor leagues and not only do they have to have success with getting hitters out, when they’re learning a breaking ball, it’s tough for them. It’s something that I’d really like to see a young high school pitcher have, is the ability to spin the breaking ball with a good tight spin and have some feel for it. A college guy, obviously he better have feel of some type of breaking ball to have any type of success at the college level and then at the pro level, too.

“It’s always been about stuff, just pure stuff. Fastball, curveball, changeup—you know, what do those things do now and what are they going to do in the future? The projection, for me, is not so much the body. We all like the big, projectable body and you know what that looks like. But it’s not so much that, it’s the arm speed. If you want to throw 90 mph, you have to make your arm go 90 mph. It’s real simple, but that’s the biggest thing I look at if I think they’re going to project and get those pitches to get better. The second thing is, and I’ll go to my grave with this one. I follow all the guys I’ve scouted with this and that’s if they are strike throwers in high school, I don’t care if they’re throwing 85 mph, but if they’re strike throwers in high school, they’re going to continue to be strike throwers. But if they’re not, they are not going to become strike throwers. I don’t care if Houdini works with them or some combination of Leo Mazzone and the other best pitching coach in the world, whoever that might be. If you don’t throw strikes at a young age, you’re not going to learn how to throw them. To me, that’s the biggest thing. I’ve drafted some big arms and they’ve made it to the big leagues as relievers or whatever, but they’re always going to give their managers headaches because they’ll be like, ‘Can he throw a strike?’ “

“You hate to say it, but velocity is kind of the first thing that jumps out at you. There are plenty of kids out here that can pitch but are throwing 80 and that just isn’t going to work. I like to see athleticism in the delivery, a repeatable delivery and a low-stress delivery—something where they’re not significantly fighting their body to throw quality strikes. I don’t like to see a lot of side-to-side movement—pitchers that either throw across their body or stride open and open their front side early. Generally, that creates a lot more stress in the delivery and it’s going to hinder their command and their stuff. The ultimate goal this guy has is getting the ball on a straight line to the plate, so if they have that side-to-side movement and creating momentum with their body toward either first base or third base, they have to then fight back to get to the plate and throw strikes. So, as much as guys can minimize that, is certainly a good thing. And you want to see a delivery that works together, the bottom half and the upper half, so a guy’s not just throwing all arm. The more athletic the guy is, the more apt he’s probably going to be to making these sort of adjustments. If you have a guy who isn’t particularly athletic and has a high-maintenance delivery, it’s going to become difficult for that guy, as he becomes physically mature, to straighten out his delivery. It’s nice when you go in to see a pitcher and then the next day he’s playing shortstop or center field or catching and hitting in the three hole. Those are the type of athletes that you’re looking for. I feel that if a kid is athletic and shows some aptitude on the mound, then a lot of those delivery flaws are fixable. I tend to think arm action is arm action—the first time you pick up a ball and throw it is generally how you throw and trying to change someone’s arm action isn’t particularly a successful practice. Most of the guys get hurt or they lose their stuff. It’s kind of a fine line where some people have to make a decision: Are they going to continue pitching in a way that is likely to get them hurt, but maintain their stuff, or are they doing to take a risk and see if they can maintain their stuff while changing their arm action significantly?”

“I look at arm action, I look at how clean and easy it is. But it depends, you know, because a lot of relievers in the big leagues throw with some effort. I think it’s hard to find starters. Number one, I’m looking for athleticism or a guy that has the ability to repeat his delivery consistently. As long as he can repeat it, there’s a good chance he can repeat it with a fastball, which means he’s going to be able to locate his fastball. And, if he’s a dude, he should be able to locate his secondary pitches also. Starters, for me, should have at least three average pitches or better with plus control. If it’s a lefthander, I’ll give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt on the fastball velo if he can paint and mix. The biggest thing though, for me, if you’re a starter—especially if you have average stuff—you better be able to command it. You better be able to have some fastball sink or exceptional movement. Because if it’s just straight or it’s just fringy movement, you don’t have a chance, dude—you’re going to get hammered. The more movement, the better. That’s why everyone wants Halladay because the movement is ridiculous.”

“The delivery: how his arm action is in the back and how the ball comes out of his hand. A lot of times we’re always worried about, if he doesn’t have the prettiest arm action, is that an injury waiting to happen down the road? If it’s a clean arm action and the ball comes out good, but the velo might not be there, well you can project that when he gets bigger and stronger, the velo’s going to be there because he has good arm action, he’s clean. I look where his front foot lands, too. If his front foot lands open—if he’s a righthanded pitcher and his left toe is pointing to the first base dugout—that’s not good. That’s muscle memory and it’s hard to get a kid out of that. You don’t want to land with an open heel because you’re losing velo and you’re losing your lower half there. I’m not saying it can’t be corrected, but pitching coaches I’ve talked to say it’s hard to get a kid out of it. Unless the kid’s blowing 92-94 (mph) already, well then you can live with it. But if he’s 88-90, well, he’s generic then.”

What do you like to see and what don’t you want to see when it comes to a pitcher’s mechanics?

“For me, as a scout, if I don’t see any major red flag areas, I’m OK with the delivery and I know our guys are good enough that they’ll tweak him to where he can do things a little bit better, so I don’t concern myself with that too much. I’m kind of a big mouth, but I go down the side like everybody else does with a righthanded pitcher—you know, down the third-base line. And when I’m walking down, I always go, ‘I’m just walking down here to BS, fellas. I’m not quite sure what to look at down here.’ Some scouts will watch a pitcher’s mechanics and they’ll go, ‘See, he got over his front leg!’ And I’m just like, ‘Let me tell you something. I don’t care if he got over his front leg or not, that curveball just went like this and their best hitter just swung and missed at it.’ You can go over your front knee all you want, but if you don’t have any stuff to get him out, you’re not going to be any good!” 

“Usually the guys that repeat their delivery better are the guys that are more athletic. For example, Tim Lincecum, who is ultra-athletic. Actually, if you’ve ever seen him golf, he’s a really impressive golfer. When we’re talking arm action, ideally you want a cleaner circle. You don’t want a stab or a jab, where they’re basically stabbing their arm back and it doesn’t come out of the glove as a clean circle, because that action, as your body moves forward, is very hard to repeat. Take, for example, Greg Maddux, who had a very clean delivery. How was his command? Pretty good. Jamie Moyer? How’s his command? Very good, right? John Lackey—really fluid, easy arm action, but it’s always on time, you never see it dragging behind, for the most part. Or a Josh Beckett—power arm, but a very clean delivery in my opinion. Everyone’s got a little flaw here and there, but the reason we want those arm actions to be like a clean either full circle, or a medium circle, or even like a Bartolo Colon who had a short circle in his prime, it’s because circles are like a timing mechanism and they end up being on time more often than a guy that stabs or stops his arm. You’ve still got your Rick Sutcliffes who actually plunge their arm down and came back up—there are some exceptions to the rule. But, in most cases, that’s kind of the ideal arm action we’re looking for and that helps with repeating your delivery and delivering the baseball. So, we can say, ‘Hey, this is what we want.’ But do you know what the reality is? Along comes a Tim Lincecum who like stabs the ball behind his back and then brings it all the way around—and he can pound the zone with three pitches—and then that goes right out the window. So, there’s an ideal model I think we’re all looking for, but we’re also not going to ignore the guy that has a great feel for repeating his delivery and timing.”

“The red flags, mechanically, are a real short arm action in the back. Maybe a low-slotted elbow, when the elbow’s lower than the shoulder and just pushing the ball toward the plate, that would tend to create problems over the long haul. And this happens with most players, most of them stand straight up and down, nowadays. They don’t get good extension out front and they don’t finish the pitch. And I’m talking about finishing the pitch with the hand outside of the knee on the land leg there. They all stand straight up and down and I believe that they do that because it’s physically easier to finish the pitch standing straight up and down. But with that, they’re not going to get extension and the ball is going to have the tendency to be up in the strike zone more. Extension is the one thing that I don’t see a lot of pitchers get out there in the amateur world. And when you do see it, he definitely stands apart.”

What kinds of things do you look for that make you think someone will add velocity down the line?

“First and foremost, if he’s a max-effort guy and he’s already maxing out, he’s probably going to go backward. It’s kind of like a four-cylinder engine on a vehicle—the harder that it’s got to work to go uphill, eventually the guy that’s a V-8 can get up the hill a little easier. Loose as in it comes out with a little less effort—it looks like he’s playing catch, right? The reason we want those guys is because if they work at a lower effort and they can maintain velocity, they’re going to probably be able to go a little harder maybe when they need to or probably be able to maintain that 92-93 mph sinkerball through nine innings without a problem.”

“First, it’s the eye test. We’re looking for tall, lean—I’m not going to say skinny kids, but non-mature kids that three or four years down the road, they’re going to get in the weight room to where you can project that they are going to throw harder. If you go out there and you already see a mature kid that’s 90-92, well I don’t know how much you can project any more in that. But if you get the skinnier kid or the leaner kid with good arm action that’s already sitting 89-91, you’re going to believe he’s going to add more velo to his fastball. As a scout, we’re hoping to project on a kid. I don’t like going to the ballpark and the 18-year-old senior is already a man and there’s no projection there, it is what it is. I think, as a scout, the worst thing a kid can have as a high school senior or even a high school junior is a beard. That’s not good. You walk into a ballpark and you’ve never seen the kid yet, but you walk in and he’s got a fully grown beard. That tells me he’s mature and there’s not projection there. It’s all about perception. Perception is 90 percent of it. Whether it’s right or wrong, if I walk into a ballpark and I see a kid with a beard and he’s just OK, well I can’t project anymore. The kid’s fully matured. That’s one thing for me, I like baby-faced guys.”

Scouting Defense

When you’re watching a player defensively, what are you looking for, and what are some of the specific requirements for different positions?

“You want a guy with a good first step toward the ball. They should be light on their feet and it doesn’t look like they’re wearing concrete shoes. Because you’ve got to go laterally to put yourself in position to field a ground ball. Some kids have got it and some kids don’t. Usually the shortstop’s got it, most of the time. If they’re a high school shortstop that can’t run and doesn’t have footwork, well, guess what—they’re moving to third base or maybe become an offensive second baseman.”

“Generally, it all kind of works from the ground up. Agile, athletic guys that are light on their feet—that’s the first part. And then their hands are second. That really plays at just about any defensive position. It’s a little less important in the outfield, but particularly with catchers and middle infielders, you want good hands and good feet. For arms, it’s disappointing that we’re not seeing the same quality of arms that we used to overall, not just in amateur scouting, but in pro ball. People have gotten away from a lot of things that help allow you to develop arm strength. Now, 12-year-olds have structured pitching programs, whereas in the past, they pitched, they played shortstop, they long-tossed and just threw a ball more consistently. Every time you see a kid on a baseball field now, he has a uniform on, and it used to be that you could see kids in shorts and a T-shirt and four guys on each side, improvising some way to play a game. Now you have two games a week and a practice and that’s all the time they spend on that. I think arm strength is the one tool that is most dependent on just doing it, just repeating the activity. You can do whatever weight training you want to do and some of that can help and some of it can hurt, but the only way to get better at throwing a baseball is by doing it. It’s such a specialized athletic motion, so that’s about it. By the time guys are on our radar for the draft, I feel most of them what you see is what you get, for their arms.”

“Outfield-wise, oh boy . . . it’s a real crapshoot. To see an outfielder do a few things, shoot, you might have to watch five games.”

“You want to get there early and watch him take groundballs and infield practice. While they’re taking batting practice, see how he shags them off the bat—if he does shag them off the bat. Maybe he’s the type of guy that doesn’t do that. That tells you a little bit about the guy, too. But maybe he’s power shagging out there, taking all kinds of balls off the bat in the infield or outfield. And then, of course during the infield practice, you really bear down on him to look at his instincts and his actions and his range and his arm strength to get a feel for the glove.”

“BP is huge to watch them take grounders before the game. We don’t get a lot of time to get multiple looks early, so what we see during in and out, is huge. We’ve got to see the actions and see the feet work. If the feet work and he has good actions, well there’s something there to work with. Obviously arm strength is a part of it too. What I don’t like as a scout is when the infielders just half-ass the ball over to first and don’t show any arm strength. We’ve got to see the arm strength. When we don’t see it, we have to project it.”

“The first thing is arm strength. If they don’t have very much arm strength, for me, you can’t do much with that. Hopefully it’s a 45 arm if they can block and have good fundamentals behind the plate—they receive the ball well and have soft hands. You look for footwork too. If their feet work on the transition—are they light on their feet to explode through second base, or do they just stand up and not use their feet to throw? Basically, if you don’t have arm strength, you better do all the other stuff average to above to offset it. If you have arm strength, the other stuff can be taught. You have to believe the other stuff can be taught.”

“An ability to be able to throw guys out is right up there with his receiving ability to be able to catch pitchers. You have to be athletic back there because you do have to move quick and have lateral range. Good size is important because that’s a wear-and-tear position over the long haul. The ability to frame and give the umpire a good look on borderline pitches. Definitely you don’t want to scout a catcher that’s going to drop a lot of balls during the course of a game. That’s going to tell you a lot about his hands—maybe he doesn’t have the best hands, and the guy he’s catching probably has below-average stuff, compared to the pro level. So, you want to see a guy catch 99 percent of his pitches that’s being thrown to him and not maybe drop but one, or none.”

“For me, I think throwing is overrated a little bit. If a guy can receive and block and handle a pitching staff, then you can live with the throwing. Guys just don’t run like they used to, so the difference between the guy that throws out 40 percent of the runners and the guy that throws out 20 percent of the runners is a difference of like eight or 10 baserunners over the course of a year. Who cares? When you’re talking about a guy that might hit .290 versus a guy that’s hitting .240. ‘Well, he can really catch and throw.’ I don’t care! If the pitchers like throwing to him and he’s a receiver and a blocker, I want the guy that can hit.”

Scouting Makeup

How much does makeup and character factor in with regard to a player’s tools?

“Makeup is the utmost . . . I know with our team, it’s a major criteria, a major category. We’ll actually take guys off our draft board if we think he’s a bad-makeup guy or a bad-character type. You better have some reasons why, you better know the kid and pound the table and say ‘This is why I know this,’ but [our GM] doesn’t care if he’s the first pick in the draft, if he’s a bad kid, we’re not taking him. It’s really vital and really hard to know, especially with the high school kids. They’re so nice to us, and the dads are so nice to us. Even psycho dad is nice to us because he thinks we can do something for his kid. Now, if we don’t draft his kid, then he screws us. But, when you go in the home and you’re talking with them or whatever, your experience kind of tells you and your gut comes into play. You can get fooled, but what I try and do is talk to everybody I can—high school coach, summer league coach, maybe another kid I know that knows him. Not just asking, ‘Tell me if the kid is a good kid,’ but conversations with as many people and make a judgment based on all of that and what you see. Because even the coaches that I’m real good friends with, they’re never going to tell me, ‘That kid’s a total turd.’ But they also won’t ever tell me a kid’s a great kid unless they believe they really are a great kid. If they give me the old, ‘He’s OK,’ that’s his way of saying, ‘Ugh . . . ‘ You’ve got to read between the lines sometimes.”

“It’s tremendously important. These kids, particularly at the high school level, they’re all big fish in small ponds. Not a whole lot of them have failed to any significant degree and they’re all going to fail in pro ball at some level. Every single guy out there. Every guy, whatever the story is behind them, is going to hit a tough spot and you want to see how he’s going to deal with adversity, so hopefully you do see him in some sort of spot in a game where you can figure out if he’s going to rise to it or if he’s going to shrink from the moment. You see how the guy interacts with his teammates and you talk to his coaches to see what kind of work ethic the player has. Everyone has to get better when they get to pro ball because the competition is so much better. If they’re not going to dedicate themselves to it and if they’re not going to be able to handle failure, then it’s probably going to be a losing proposition for them.”

“Makeup is absolutely critical. If you’ve got a bad employee with bad makeup or a bad attitude or is lazy or is non-competitive in a competitive industry, they’re just not going to make it. No chance. Whereas, if you’ve got a guy and you have to back them off and tell them, ‘Hey dude, I know you just played until October 16 in instructional league your first year. You can take a month off. You need to rest your body.’ That’s a better problem to have than calling a guy up and he’s been surfing in Southern Cal for two or three months and shows up out of shape at spring training. Makeup is absolutely critical and a lot of that has to do with how they grow up and how they were raised. We see a lot of rich kids and kids that have been pampered their entire lives that don’t know how to work hard. They don’t know what to do because they’re playing XBox or they’re driving the Mercedes or whatever. Whereas you’ll see a kid maybe from a little bit rougher background or not-as-an-affluent background that maybe had to grind a little more. Makeup is absolutely critical. Where would it not be critical—whether you’re a lazy piece of crap working at Burger King or you’re a lazy lawyer, or you’re scared to go out and make a sale for your vacuum company, do you see what I’m saying? Baseball’s hard enough, but let’s take it one step further: Screw baseball. Life is hard enough. Makeup is the separator between two guys with the same talent, or maybe the guy that’s got a little more talent but the bad makeup. You may have guys in the big leagues that are bad teammates or jerks or say the wrong thing, but they have massive passion for baseball and they’re machines—they work their asses off.”

“It’s unbelievably important. You can see makeup a little bit on the field, but you really get the makeup of a player when you have the one-on-one contact. In my opinion, makeup is huge. The makeup on a player is what I think is going to let the player achieve the highest level he can with the tools that he has. If the player has outstanding makeup, outstanding work ethic, he’s intelligent, he has the ability to retain what’s being taught to him, that’s going to allow him to use his tools and get the most out of his ability. They’ve got to be able to learn, they’ve got to be able to want to learn, they’ve got to be able to adjust. Because once they get into the minor leagues, it’s a game of adjustments. Being taught a mechanic, or a defensive play, or a hitting strategy, or looking for a pitch in a certain spot, or a pitcher trying to throw the correct pitch in a certain situation to attack a player’s weakness—all minor league coaches will teach that, but it’s up to the player to retain it and apply it between the lines. The good makeup kids will be able to do that and it goes along with what kind of student is he. The amateur players, is he a good student or a poor student? Obviously the good students, you’d think they’d have a better tendency to retain instruction better than the poor ones. Obviously there’s always exceptions, but the good students, from a scouting perspective, are going to be able to retain instruction and figure it out.”

“It’s huge. For me, if your name’s going on a kid, you don’t want that phone call from your organization that something bad happened. You’ve got to find out his makeup, you’ve got to find out his character. It all goes into the whole process of grading him out, too. If he’s got a great makeup and great character, you’re going to like the kid and you’re going to believe he’s going to succeed. If you’ve got a kid that’s just OK, but he has bad makeup and bad character, well I’m out. I can’t afford to have my name associated with a bad makeup kid or a bad character kid.

“It is like a job interview. I go to the games when he doesn’t know I’m there. I watch every move that he makes before the game and I watch him after the game. I watch how he interacts with the players, I watch how he interacts with his family, I watch how he interacts with the opposing fans and the opposing team. It’s from A to Z trying to find this out—and that’s multiple times. You’ve got to dig, dig, dig and not only talk to the kid. In your job interview, you’ve got your resume and you’ve got your five references—I’m not calling those references. Because, look, those references are only going to say good things. I’m going to go talk to the bus driver, I’m going to go talk to the cafeteria lady, I’m going to talk to the janitor—the people who are around the kid the most but have no horse in the race and find out exactly what this kid is all about. You can talk to the coach, but a lot of times the coach doesn’t want to hammer the kid, so you’ve got to find other ways to find out who this kid really is.”

The Job Of Scouting

What do you do to evaluate yourself and what do you do to improve?

“I try and look at where players went and try to figure out what I may have missed on a guy or what I didn’t like about a guy that had me have him further back than where he went or why I may have elevated someone who we passed over that went behind where I liked a guy. I try and stay on top of players from my area from previous drafts to see what they’re doing and how those guys have progressed. Is it how I expected them to? Is it better, worse or is it even in the same ballpark? It’s certainly a long-term process. It’s probably 10 years down then line when everything’s shaken out and we really know what guys are doing. But, obviously, we’re all on one-year contracts, so we don’t really have the luxury of waiting 10 years and then adjusting. So, I try to see as many games at as many different levels as possible. Because you always have to have that baseline of what major league talent looks like. When you run around and watch bad baseball for a month in a row, the decent player in the bad game starts to look like an all-star.”

“What we do is a draft review of the current draft at the end of the year. Where did you have the guy turned in versus where he went. And then, what we do that’s really interesting, is go back 5 years and look at all the guys in my area, how much they signed for, where they are right now and how they’re doing. It’s really amazing to see a big leaguer that you missed or a high draft pick that you liked that didn’t make it out of A-ball. So it really gives you a look and you’re like, you think you’re pretty smart? Well, you missed three big leaguers, these two other guys—whatever you want to say for yourself, but you pounded the table for those guys and they weren’t worth a damn. And sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey man, I pounded the table for that son of a gun in the 10th round and look at him now!’ There’s always those guys. It’s a humbling thing, if you do it honestly. It’s really helped me become a better scout, without question.”

“That’s the first thing you do after the signing deadline. You’ve got to regroup come late August and sit back and look at your list and see where you can get better, where you did do a good job and where you can get better on your list. You go back to your travel schedule and ask yourself, ‘How can I utilize my time better on the road?’ Because, honestly, you’re not going to see everybody in your area. You’re not. Most of your work is done in the fall for the upcoming season, so if you don’t do your job in the fall, it’s going to make your job harder in the spring because you don’t know where you’re going. You’ve got to have a plan and you go to these showcases and weekend tournaments. It’s a 10-month job because November and December you’re not on the road. But from June to the end of October, you better do your job better every year to get better in the springtime. Some people say you can evaluate how the draft went, but I disagree with that. Because these people that are drafted and signed, nobody’s really right and nobody’s really wrong until five years down the road. You just don’t know.”

“As area scouts, we don’t talk about this big leaguer we got or that big leaguer—because the reality is we’re lucky to even get a guy drafted. The reason is because it all depends on where you pick, number one. Just because you got a guy or you didn’t get a guy, I don’t think that makes you a bad scout or a good scout. What I do to evaluate myself, is I always look where guys were drafted—I have a spreadsheet that I’ve been keeping for several years now—and where they ended up in real life, right? I look at it and you can see a lot a guys and go, ‘Geez . . . this guy didn’t get out of A-ball, and I liked him! Maybe I didn’t see him enough.’ I think the way I gauge myself is, as long as I see the majority of guys that are drafted and I’m very aware of what’s in my area, from what I feel is right or wrong—I can disagree with all the scouts in the area, as long as I have conviction in my own mind that that guy is not going to play for my team and he’s not going to be a major leaguer. Honestly, I would rather have a guy in the 16th round that makes it to the big leagues than the guy that goes in the first round and gets $2 million, because there’s a lot more on my ass in that situation. If I don’t get a top guy, I can’t control that because the reality is that everyone else wants him too. But maybe I can get a junior college guy that’s as good as the star at a big-time school and I get him for $30,000 when that guy has a high-power agent and wants $700,000, then I did a good job.”

“First off, I want to make sure that, in my area, I’ve got all the players covered. I’ve seen all the players and I’ve gotten my crosscheckers and my scouting director to the best players and I’ve stated my opinion on players. Just make sure that my organization can see the top players in my area so, as an organization, we can collectively evaluate the players with our different opinions. Then, of course, they line them up in the pre-draft meeting. The success of an area scout, I think, should be based on his final pref list and kind of where the players go in the draft. I think if your pref list is somewhat similar to where the draft went that year, you have a pretty good feel for evaluating the players correctly, as maybe the general industry would, but there’s always going to exceptions because it’s a game of opinions”

As a scout, what do you know now that you wish you knew when you were just starting out?

“You’ve got to like players. If you lose your like for players, then you’ve got to get out of this game—the amateur stuff. But I was so rollercoaster on guys based on what I would see. I’d see a guy my first time and really like him and then go back and be like, ‘Nah, I don’t like him.” I wish I was a little bit more middle of the road and not so crazy on the guy I liked and so adamant on the guy I didn’t like that I didn’t want to change my mind. That’s probably the biggest thing, being a little bit more subdued. It’s like our scouting director always says: We don’t need to get them all right on March 10th, we need to get them all right on June 10th.”

“Scouting the games at times is the easy thing. All of the organization and communication that goes into effectively doing the job is just a huge workload—from before the season starts, running down schedules, talking to coaches and making sure your follow lists are in order so that you’re seeing the guys at the right time and making sure the guys are ready to be seen right out of the gates. If I waste the first weekend of the college season because a guy isn’t at full strength, that means I have to go back. Maybe it’s a situation where I would want to go back anyways, but it could be a wasted weekend. And, at this point, with the condensed college season, the weekends are indispensable and you can’t throw one away. Really, communication and organization are right at the top of the list, making sure you’re in the right park seeing the right players. But, if you’re not at the right game, then you’re going to miss.”

“What I know now that I wish I knew when I started probably was a better idea of how the minor leagues work, not only from a player standpoint, but from a player development standpoint and what the coaches really like and dislike or what our manager likes or dislikes and just, in general, the overall lifestyle of the minor leagues. The one thing I like about us is that (our scouting director) will send us to the minors to coach and make us stay there for weeks and get a feel for it. Then he’ll send us to instructional league. I remember my first draft, I went to instructional league and I’m seeing all these guys roll out and I’m going, ‘Holy crap, I can’t believe I turned that guy in. There’s no way he can play for us.’ So, I think a lot of it is just a perspective on minor league baseball and the caliber of talent in professional baseball.”

“I wish I would have known the history that I have from the time I’ve been scouting to see where the players went to make comparisons that you don’t get when you first start out scouting. When you first start out scouting, it’s a brand new world there and it’s very fast-paced. You can open a book and see the history of players and where they went, but it’s nothing like going out there, looking at the player, making a comparison to that player and then actually seeing where he goes in the draft. I’d say the first five years are a big learning process for an area guy, where he’s finally able to see where he had  guys on his list and, in five years, hey, has that guy gotten to the big leagues, or not? You can’t go out as an area scout in the first two yeas and think you’ve got it. Maybe some guys do, but you’re constantly learning. I’ve been doing this over 10 years and I’m still learning. You learn from the people that you work with that maybe have more experience than you do or have a different perspective than you do, or maybe they’re better at evaluating than you are—they see things maybe a little different that maybe you didn’t see. It takes about five years for an area guy to start getting a feel for players in his area and how the draft works. The more you do it, the more history you have and you can start making comparisons. There’s no shortcut for scouting than actually being out there and doing it. Obviously, if you played, those are the intangibles that can’t be taught. They can’t be taught in an office and they can’t be taught in a book. Those are what scouts that have actually been through the grind, when they talk to the player, that’s where a scout will have an advantage over a guy that doesn’t have a playing-career background because he can feel that player out a little more. There’s no substitute for having played, that’s for sure.”

“I wish I knew just how much agents play a role into these kids’ future. If the kids would realize the agent works for him and the kid doesn’t work for the agent, it would be a better industry. I don’t deal with the advisers until the very last second. I want to hear it from the kid’s mouth, from the family’s mouth. Sometimes they tell me to revert everything back to the adviser, but guess what, sometimes when I tell the agent stuff, I don’t know that it’s getting back to the parents. The kids have to understand—they work for you, you don’t work for them. If you know your value and you know you’re good—you play a ball game you know who’s in the stands and you know you have an opportunity to play professional baseball, why in the heck would you want to give an adviser five percent of your money? It makes no sense to me. Zero. You’ll need your agent when you get into minor league ball or the big leagues, but you don’t need an adviser right now if Major League Baseball is what you want to do. These agents want to say how much money they made their clients, but what they forget to say is how much money they lost their clients by not allowing them to sign and by the time they’re juniors in college and it’s not the same. They forget to say how much money they lost by holding their clients out.”

We know what it takes to be a good ballplayer, but what would you say are the five tools of scouting?

“I would say number one, first and foremost, is evaluation skills. You can be organized, you can look nice, you can wear nice clothes, you can be professional and all that crap—and it’s not crap, it’s part of the game. You can run around like a crazy man and put 80,000 miles a year on your car—you can do all that, but the bottom line is, you’ve got to know what the hell you’re looking at. I think sometimes we lose track of that. It’s like, well this guy looks good, he’s a nice young kid, he’s a hard worker, he’s gung ho, he’s organized and all that stuff. But then you go, ‘Well, wait a minute. Can the guy evaluate Mickey Mantle from Mrs. Mantle?’ For me, evaluation’s number one. Number two is building relationships in your area with the baseball people—college coaches, high school coaches, summer coaches. And that takes time. Being ultimately organized would be number three. Know where you’re going, what your backup plan is, what the backup-backup plan is. You’ve really got to be on top of it, or you’re just going to be drowning. For every week I lay out, it doesn’t get two days into it before it changes because of the weather. We watch the Weather Channel like we’re part of it. Next, you’ve got to be a self-starter. Let’s face it, you can get by in this game being lazy. With the way things are now, with the way guys talk and everything, you can be a lazy prick and not earn your money. If you want to work that way, me I couldn’t live with myself to do it that way, but guys have been doing it for years, especially if they’re putting miles on your car. Five would be just professionalism. Knowing that you represent a major league team. Everyday I walk out there, how I look and how people perceive me and how I talk in the stands, that’s how they see my team. That’s a big responsibility that I take very seriously.”

“Work ethic. You’ve got to have a great work ethic. Second, you’ve got to be able to have conviction on what your opinion is. You can’t waver. You can’t be on the fence—either you like him or you don’t. People skills are huge. You’ve got to be able to be a chameleon. You’ve got to be able to operate on each kid’s or parent’s different personality. You can’t just be a bull in a china store. You have to find out what makes that student athlete tick. What makes that family tick? So yeah, you’ve got to have people skills, conviction, work ethic and you’ve got to be able to set family time aside. In order to make your job work, you also have to be able to take a step back and enjoy your family and take family time when you need to. You can go, go, go, go, but when it’s all said and done, the only people that matter are the ones back home. When you have kids and a wife and a family, you better make sure you take care of the home front first, because that will enable you to do a much better job on the road, when you leave the house. That’s one of the big things I think scouts get away from. A happy wife is a happy home, you know.”

“One would be work ethic. Because, if I’m on one side of the country and my employer’s on the other side of the country, what do they know I’m doing? Do they know where I’m at all the time? I think these two go together—you’ve got to have work ethic, but you can’t have a guy that doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing evaluation-wise, either. You have to have a guy that has a feel for evaluating and knows when to project and when not to and what plays and what doesn’t. Some people feel you have to play in the minor leagues to get that feel, but I’ve seen guys that have played in the big leagues that don’t know what the hell they’re doing from a scouting standpoint. So, I disagree with that. I think also communication, or you could call it marketing. I have to sell my organization just like a college recruiter sells his college and really, really convince that player that this is why you want to come play professional baseball, blah blah blah blah blah. So, I think marketing and communication is critical because when you go into a house and you’ve got a kid that’s got a full-ride to UCLA, I’ve got to be able to sell that kid on professional baseball and be able to look at his mom and dad and say, ‘Look, your kid is going to be okay if he comes here.’ So, I would say marketing and communication goes for the prospects, but that also goes for the college coaches. Because we steal a lot of their players before they get there and then we also take their juniors or draft-eligible sophomores, or if you’re a junior college, we can take your freshman. So, I think we’ve also got to be willing to understand that we can’t just take their players and we’re not just a major league team, so we can do what we want. I don’t agree with that. I think you also are responsible to help that college coach find another player and keep that relationship building. And for marketing, that also has to do with image. You can’t dress like you’re homeless—for some of these scouts it’s embarrassing. We’re representing a billion-dollar company. You should look good . . . because that’s the only contact they have with the teams is with that area scout. The last one is organization and that means organization in terms of schedules, making sure your crosscheckers are very in tune with what’s going on in your area. It’s so critical to be organized. Organization is also with the offseason, when you do your in-home visits and interviews with all the kids. Because that’s when you really find out what you’ve got and what they’re like.”

What is the biggest misconception about scouting?

“I think the biggest misconception is that you just go to games and watch them and if you like a guy, you draft him. That’s the biggest thing that you’ve got to get people away from thinking that happens. Little do they know how little power I have, and I’m a full-time scout. Obviously birddogs have it worse because they’ve got a small area and see the same guys playing 10 times. I’ve been around a long time and the real power I have in the draft room, I know it and I’ve accepted it—it’s very little. And I’m okay with that. I understand the process. As long as we get the best players, I’ve got no problem.”

“I think people think it’s a lot easier job than it actually is. You can run into a dozen people at every park you go to that tell you, ‘Oh, I like to travel and I love baseball, so I think I’d be a good scout.’ I don’t quite think that the magnitude of the travel really hits people and the constant life on the road. You see the scouts for opposing teams more than you see your family from February through the draft. It’s just a constant grind. There’s a true excitement when you find a player that you like and you want to go to bat for. That’s the really exciting part of the game and of this job. But I think that a lot of people think that we’re just going to baseball games and you can sit there with a beer and a bag of peanuts and enjoy the game when, really, it’s constantly working, constantly traveling to get in the right spot and get the right players and stay ahead of the weather to make sure you have your territory covered. It’s not just a leisurely night at the park when you’re working.”

“I think the common-folk parents think we make money off the kids that we sign. ‘Oh, you get five percent of their big league contracts if they make it, since you found them?’ No. That’s a big myth. There is no extra money being made on these kids when we sign them. We get a pat on the back and get told, ‘Good job, now go do it again.’ You’ve got to prove your weight in gold to the organization in order to keep your job. They pay you for your opinion and that’s basically how you keep your job. If they like your opinion, then you keep your job. If not, then you’re on to your next organization or your next job. But kids have to understand that if they’re signable, they’ll be drafted where they’re supposed to be drafted. Once they say they’re not signable, then they slide and they’re not going to be taken where they should. Obviously we want guys that want to play but, honestly, if you say you’re signable, you’ll probably get drafted higher than you should because we’re not going to lose a pick when you’re signable. The kids today are very misinformed, especially with these agents, but oh well. Kids haven’t changed. Parents have changed. The parents are more of the problem than the kids. Bobby Knight said it best when he was asked what’s wrong with kids today and he said there’s nothing wrong with the kids, it’s the damn parents. Parents are way too involved with the kids. I would say 90 percent try to live through their kids’ dreams and they think they’re the ones that are going to sign. The parents have false expectations and a lot of times they don’t understand a lot of times that agents work for them, not the other way around. Agents screw kids out of more money than the kids even realize because they end up not signing and the agent never told them that this was the offer. It’s getting out of control and hopefully MLB will take care of this money thing here soon.”

“The misconception of not being treated fairly, I see that a lot. When you go in and you’re talking to players, they’re a little apprehensive, maybe because they don’t know who the scout is and they think we’re trying to pull a fast one, or something. But, we’re just out there to meet the player, if the scout chooses, to get the information the organization needs to properly evaluate the player. And, if it’s an area scout, just trying to find out who the player is by talking to coaches, talking to parents, talking to the player themselves. Because, in the top 10 rounds, it’s an investment and the organization wants to know who they’re getting. If the area guy can’t get to know that player, you really don’t know what you’re buying. You look at that car in the lot and go, ‘Man, that car looks great. Can I sit in it?’ Well, no, you can’t sit in it, but do you want to buy it?”

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