The Science of Scouting

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dp logo1By: Austin Alexander – October 16, 2011

Topic: The art of evaluating and the science of projection. Any scout worth his salt will tell you that experience certainly helps and it is not an exact science at all, most evaluators recall their “misses” over the years more than their finding “diamonds in the rough”.

There is no question that the more baseball one sees, the more you understand the game… also how to ‘project’ a player’s future. But there are several things that I want to address here for the layman that are sure that he/she has it all figured out.

Definition: First, there are the several aspects of the term “scouting”. What are you looking for? Are you trying to replace an infielder, find the next superstar in Omaha, the next first-rounder or the next perennial MLB all-star? Or are you attempting to create a game plan against an opponent through citing weaknesses? Perhaps you are doing a lesson with a player or working an instruction camp. All require different scouting binoculars.

Pro Scouts: For example, take the same scout that is evaluating a high school senior or college junior prior to the draft. When it comes to projection, you need that collegian to be much more polished at the present time, whereas the prep guy can be a little more raw, but has similar, or more, upside. During the summer, that same scout may be assigned some minor league games to follow up on players he once saw as an amateur or that may be the conversation in future trade talks for his organization. A week later, this same scout may be at Major League games eyeballing players in “the show”. His aim on that trip is to detail tendencies on players to put together an “advanced scouting report” in the event they match-up against that given club in the post-season.

To recap that scenario, same scout, four different assignments, four completely different sets of eye adjustments that he must make to fulfill the requested task.

College Coaches:  High School stats don’t matter, even if your scorebook person is “really tough”. Bottom line, too many outs land for extra base hits, too many double play balls get through the infield for singles, and most line-ups may have minimal (if any) college hitters in them. Each of these aspects skew prep stats for hitters and pitchers. College coaches must project whether that slider will miss DI barrels, if that swing path will turn around quality fastball’s in the Peach Belt Conference or if that shortstop will be good enough to win in Grand Junction.

College coaches are safe in assuming that a prospect will put up good numbers, their knowledge comes into play when looking into their crystal ball on his own education in the game.

With all of the things that college coaches must juggle, they also have to determine their need, their financial availability, the prospect’s grades, roster spots… and of course, if the player is good enough to play in his program.

Diamond Prospects: When we attend high school games, we do not evaluate a freshman, like you do a sophomore, a junior, a senior. The age of the player largely affects our estimation as to how that player “projects”. That’s why having rosters present are so imperative but that a topic for another day!

Here at DP, our guys pride themselves on seeing plenty of higher level baseball beyond high school. If one is going to safely put their name on a guy and predict his future, then you better know what baseball looks like past high school.

AA’s Soapbox: Over my history of dealing with ‘xyz’, way too many prep coaches and parents deem a player as a DI, DII, JC, pro guy, etc. How can you honestly make a remark of that magnitude when you have not seen a college or pro game with any frequency? And not just watch the game, dissect the breaking ball, examine the swing and watch the game with a radar gun and/or stopwatch? In other words, see on-field action through more than just a fan’s eyes, which are very result-oriented.

During the spring I am unable to see as much college baseball as I’d like to. During the fall I make an effort to see as much as I can, be it a practice or scout day for every level of college baseball.

Even though most of my background is in college baseball, if you see as much prep ball as I do now, it’s real easy to be lured into the world of pseudo-talent. With some regularity, I find it necessary to clean up my eyesight and be reminded of what wins in college/professional baseball. I do it simply by making a point of leaning on cages during BP, hitting fungos to very good infielders and bearing down behind the plate to see quality arms.

Another important thing that I always walk away with is seeing kids that I have been watching for 6-8 or more years. I think back to how I projected that player once upon a time, then self-grade myself on how he has turned out. Sometime you nail it, sometime you miss. But I will always maintain that educational misses are a little easier for me to accept.

Beware: I caution anyone offering his (or her) opinion to classify a player as a “definite” DI, DII and JC prospect. It is true that some guys just ooze of tools and talent but I hear the above expression at nausiam. Bottom line, there are DII clubs that are more talented than some DI programs and JC’s exist that could win games against DI teams.

When we write up a player, we don’t pigeon-hole them into a certain level of the college game. That can become a dangerous and foolish proposition.

Don’t Say This: When talking to a college coach/pro scout, refrain from these comments…

“Well, he can’t play at University X, but he can play for you”… Pretty ignorant statement if you are not very familiar with their roster and present needs. Plus it is perceived as an insult.

“He’ll start for you as a freshman”… Ditto on ignorant statements above.

“I saw/coached so-and-so back in 1980-something, this kid is better”… If so, how? You better break them down with some intelligence, the game has changed.

The most popular – “The boy throws 90+”, “His POP times are below 1.9” or “He’s a sub-6.6 runner”… Be careful with these three phrases, they are the best way to lose credibility quickly. A very small percentage of players land in those categories, don’t flippantly throw around hearsay or inaccurate information.

Do Say This: “I feel like there is a place in college baseball for this player, but it’s up to you to determine if he is good enough for your program and how he may fit in.”… You have made the recommendation, let them make the call.

Most Important Thing: The coolest thing about baseball over time is that we can all debate the best hitter or the best pitcher, etc. We try to compare different era’s and tell stories about yesteryear. It’s what we love most about the National Pastime, myself included. But when you look toward the future of our game as it pertains to how scouting has evolved, DP just wanted to help people have some perspective as to how evaluations operate in this decade.