Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Lineup Card (Part I)

With the rush of both high school and college seasons just around the corner, now's the time to layout my game plan. My approach is pretty mundane and hasn't changed much over the years. Looking at it from a numbers perspective is a good place to start.

Given my territory of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, it should be no secret that Florida will yield the greatest number of prospects. I would speculate that it would be 3 to 1 in relation to Georgia prospects and more like 10 to 1 in relation to South Carolina prospects. I expect that somewhere between 120-130 prospects will be drafted out of Florida high schools and colleges. Using my ratios, I would expect 40-45 prospects will be drafted out of Georgia high schools and colleges, and roughly 10-15 prospects will be drafted out of South Carolina high schools and colleges. Considering that I only own those prospects south of I-20, I would expect my prospect numbers to drop by half in Georgia to 20-25 prospects and by a third in South Carolina to 8-12 prospects.

So let's say that at best, my part of Georgia and South Carolina should yield roughly 40 draft picks. At best, Florida should yield roughly 130 prospects. That gives me a bit more than a 3 to 1 ratio comparing Florida prospects vs Georgia/South Carolina prospects. If I break down a monthly timeframe, I'll probably end up spending three weeks in Florida and one week in Georgia and South Carolina. We have six months leading up to the draft. Doing the math, I'll be spending roughly 18 weeks in Florida, 4 weeks in Georgia, and 2 weeks in South Carolina. Not a bad gig in the dead of winter and early spring.

In talking with Donald DeSear this weekend, he was abundantly clear that our GM wants us to focus on starting pitchers and catchers. Not to neglect the other positions, but that is our focus in rebuilding the farm system.

Of course, good pitching is always in demand. Over half of all draft picks are pitchers. In general, RHPs (right-handed pitchers) are much more abundant than LHPs by a margin of 5 to 2. You'll probably get close to 575 RHPs and 225 LHPs taken on draft day. This is where I start my approach. I've already estimated that my territory should yield about 170 draft picks. 95 or so will be pitchers. 68 RHPs and 27 LHPs approximately.

The remaining 75 or so will be position players. Knowing how the numbers usually shake out, I would estimate 17 catchers, 9 first basemen, 6 second basemen, 13 shortstops, 6 third basemen, 14 center fielders, and 10 other outfielders. I'm certainly not married to these numbers, but in my experience they should be pretty close.

Tomorrow, I'll go into what these numbers actually mean to me and how I go about using them in my game plan.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Ho Hum. Reed Signs.

After months of failed negotiations, I was certain that I'd never see the name "Reed" on the back of any jersey associated with our club. Fortunately for me, I was wrong. The kid signed last Friday. I can't disclose the terms but I can tell you that my original estimation of a seven figure signing bonus was incorrect. Apparently they worked out some perks in lieu of a cool million. Not bad for a late second rounder.

We wasted no time in getting Russell Reed down to Puerto Rico on Saturday. A flight delay caused him to get to the stadium in the fifth inning but from what I hear, he was still able to dress and at least sit on the end of the bench. I can tell you from my own experience that it's a humbling start. He's in a foreign country. He doesn't know anyone. The stadiums are beat and the accommodations are worse. His own teammates will see him as competition. Some will know about his signing bonus and hate him for it. To make matters worse, the season started on November 11th and the team's cliques have already been established. The only way to get accepted is to produce. It takes an incredible amount of mental discipline to put everything else out of your mind and focus on the task at hand.

Knowing that Reed was playing video games in his parent's palacial residence just a matter of days ago, I seriously doubted he would make an immediate impact. I was wrong. Someone told me that on Sunday he went 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs. Coach put him in right field even though Reed was drafted to play center. That little switch alone would've thrown many players into a tail spin. Pretty impressive on Mr. Reed's part. The league doesn't play on Monday's but I'll be curious how he does tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'll breakdown my thoughts on what I saw at the Disney Tourney this last weekend and give you a glimpse of how I will approach this coming high school and college season. This will be good for me to lay it all out considering I have this new territory. And without fail, Performance Scouting, Inc., has emailed me a whole new batch of college players out of Georgia. Doesn't that kid ever quit?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Choke-Up (Part III)

So, where was I? Oh yeah, I made an appointment to sign the kid. I can remember getting lost in a very old neighborhood just north of downtown Ft. Lauderdale. Not exactly a great place to be lost. Not quite the ghetto but certainly light years away from the upscale suburban lifestyle of Russell Reed. Finally getting to his house, there must have been twenty cars out front. Half of which had those crazy lowrider hydraulic systems.

From what I could tell, his entourage included friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, girlfriends (I counted three...two of which got into a fight less than a minute after the signing), and of course, his alleged advisor. None of which had ever seen a minor league contract. I sat down at the kitchen table with Blake, his father, and the advisor who thought he was Scott Boras reincarnated. His mother was too excited to sit. She kept asking me if I wanted coffee, water, soda, or some of her secret recipe rum cake.

Blake was in a daze as I went over the terms. His father and the advisor asked a few questions but they mainly wanted to know where the contract mentioned the $105,000 signing bonus and where his first assignment would be. I showed them Addendum A which said he would be assigned to the Rookie team. Addendum B confirmed his $105,000 signing bonus to be paid as follows: $50,000 due 30 days after the contract is approved by the Commissioner's office with the balance due opening day of the 2006 season. They were a bit miffed at the payout terms but realized there wasn't much they could do about it. Blake's old man signed first. His hand could hardly settle down to sign. Sweat was dripping down his forehead. Blake, on the other hand, quickly stroked his name without much emotion or fanfare.

"Thanks Pops," he told his father as the two stood and embraced each other. The whole house went up in a loud cheer. Within minutes I had a champagne glass in my hand and was asked to give a toast. I gave my usually congratulatory speech, first to the parents for their countless hours of playing catch, washing uniforms, and driving Blake to practice, games, and tournaments. Then I congratulate Blake with a warning that it won't be easy from that point forward. Only about 20% of the players picked in rounds 6 through 10 make it to the Big Show. It will take a large degree of commitment and sacrifice to the game. But that the club was confident that Blake would be up to the task which is why we drafted him.

Two weeks later, Blake showed up at the Rookie team with a little problem. A torn UCL - ulnar collateral ligament. After a bit of questioning, it seemed he felt something go wrong after a throw to from third to first during his guest player appearance that fateful Saturday afternoon. He thought it would just go away. No need to tell anybody. The doctor with the Rookie team recommended Tommy John surgery and we voided his contract. Almost five months after surgery, his rehab was going well and on target. Although the success rate is 85% for a full recovery, he'll probably re-enter next year's draft and sit through all 50 rounds without getting a call. He apologized several times to me this last weekend. I told him to forget about it. The kid just wanted to play ball and was in complete denial. I got burned. It happens.

Anyhow, I'm traveling to Orlando tomorrow to prepare for the Triple Crown Thanksgiving Disney Tournament held at Disney's Wide World of Sports. I don't have much use for Turkey day anymore. I'll probably go to Boston Market for a turkey carver sandwich. The farther away I can get from my Thanksgiving memories the better.

By the way, Donald DeSear and Logan Copper are visiting Russell Reed this Friday evening. Since I'm going to be in Orlando, they wanted me to stop by to extend my congratulations. Rumor is that Russell Reed has agreed to sign for a cool million and that his last name is already stitched into a uniform that's hanging in a locker room down in Puerto Rico. He'll take the first flight out Saturday morning and be in the lineup for their evening game. But I'm not holding my breath that any of this will come true.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Choke-Up (Part II)

I ran into Blake Parsons at the WWBA World Championship. "Who the heck is he?" you ask. If you may recall, I had two of my eight draftees go unsigned. I already told you about one of them: Russell Reed. But just when you think things couldn't get much worse than the Russell Reed situation, please allow me to introduce you to Blake Parsons. 8th Round pick from a high school juggernaut in Ft. Lauderdale that I call "The Factory." The kid was a strong five tool prospect that could play either third base or the outfield. I even saw a touch of the sixth tool in him. More on that later.

I remember calling him the weekend before the draft. It was a Saturday morning and all was well. He acknowledged his expectation of going in the top ten rounds and was very upfront about needing a six figure signing bonus. That wasn't a problem for us. However, I knew we probably couldn't wait past the 8th round to pick him because Philadelphia and Kansas City were scouting him pretty hard.

I prodded him about college. It was abundantly clear that college was not an option. The kid was going pro all the way. I asked him what he was planning to do in the week leading up to the draft.

"Nothin' much," he responded, oblivious to my intentions.

His club team didn't have any games scheduled, so I figured I was safe. Unfortunately, he failed to let me know that he was invited as a guest player to participate in a local tournament that same afternoon and Sunday.

Draft day came around and I was rather insistent that we had to pick this kid in the eighth round or better. As the sixth round came to a close, our GM called Philadelphia and Kansas City to feel them out as to where they might go in the coming rounds. Both clubs indicated pitching. It was hard to tell, however, if this was just a decoy. We jumped on Parsons in the eighth. I called to congratulate him and as you would expect he was elated and immediately wanted to work out the details. We came to a verbal agreement and I set a time to meet with him and his family.

(to be continued)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Choke-Up (Part I)

Sigh. I know... I know. Too long in between posts. Won't happen again. Would it help if I told you that my hotel didn't have high speed access? Somebody mentioned dial up but I refused to take the plunge back into ancient history.

Let me tell you something, the Roger Dean Stadium Complex is as premier a venue as you can find for tournament play. The WWBA tournament showed a bunch of talent. It was a great opportunity for me to compare my prospects with those around the country. As a scout, you normally don't have a good feel about how your local kids stack up against those in other regions. You'd like to think they stack up better, but that's really for the national cross-checkers and the national scouting director to ultimately determine on draft day.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about some of the new talent I spotted as well as some of the old faces I was glad to hook up with. But today, I wanted to go into a couple things that simply made me sick. So sick I just wanted to barf all over the diamond.

First of all, I can't stand parents that ride their kids like there's no tomorrow. I see this high school senior who's having a decent night at the plate. His fielding, however, was a bit less than to be desired. His downfall started in the fourth inning. He was already 2 for 2 on offense when he lost a deep pop fly in the gap between center and right field. What should have been a routine third out, he bobbled it miserably and fell head over heals onto the warning track. Runners on second and third scored. When he eventually got back to the dugout, his coach couldn't even get a word in edgewise because his "jack---" father had come down out of the stands to completely belittle his son for "losing the game." Sure enough, his son, brimming with confidence, ended the day 2 for 5 and watched his team lose by one run. As he sat dejected on the end of the bench, I heard his father announce loudly, "Let him walk back to the hotel. Good for nothing."

You have to wonder if the kid would be playing baseball if it weren't for his father pushing it down his throat. It is so difficult to prospect kids with over-the-top parents. You never know whether deep down they really want to play ball or whether it's just their parents' dream for them. But it is something that I take notice of. It can hurt a prospect if I think his parents are pushing too hard. I want a kid that hasn't been pushed by anyone but himself. Because when he starts to go from hotel to hotel on the road in the minors, he's going to be tested. He's going to have slumps. He's going to have rough times. You have to be mentally strong. You have to really want to play ball. Period. Or else you're gone.

Second thing that annoyed me was the kid with red contact lenses. Talk about trying to get every little bit of an advantage. I guess it was Nike that released these new lenses to a select few. How this kid got a pair I'll never know. Maybe his folks knew someone, but it was really freaky to see him walking around with red eyes. Apparently it filters out both ultraviolet and blue light making it easier to see the ball. Although he wasn't a top prospect coming into the tournament, he attracted quite a bit of attention batting .525 with three homers. I don't quite know where I stand on this. Half of me says it's cheating. Almost like putting your eyes on steroids. If you can pick the ball up quicker, no doubt you will have more time to react and the pitch will seem slower. The other half of me says you still have to put the bat on the ball. For years, guys playing outfield have worn shades to block out the sun. What difference is this?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Wild Pitch

Today was the opening night for the World Wood Bat Association Championship held in Jupiter, Florida. Mainly just registration and I believe a couple games tonight. My main focus over the weekend, however, will be on the ten or so potential draft picks from my area that will be playing. All high school players. The tournament gives me a great opportunity to meet the parents and get a feel for what they would like little Johnny to do after graduation.

This brings me to one of the more important decisions on whether I recommend a prospect for the draft: signability. Take for example a conversation I had this evening with a father in our hotel lobby. His son is a very talented senior who plays for a high school in Jacksonville, Florida.

"So how's Chet been hitting the ball this fall?" I ask to start the conversation.

"Really good. Finally getting some decent opposite field shots. Becoming less and less of a pull hitter," answered the father, a true salesman with an eye for what he thinks we're looking for.

"Give him time. Nothing wrong with being a pull hitter as long as he continues to get the same results. Most college coaches will tell you the same thing."

"Well, as you know Cutter, he's not looking to play college."

"Doesn't that depend on where he's drafted?"

"Like I said, he's not looking to play college. We've been in contact with at least six other clubs that are interested in him."

"Oh yeah. That's great. Who's my competition?"

"You'll probably see them around this weekend."

I knew he probably wouldn't divulge the different clubs but it never hurts to ask. I then followed up with a question that really cuts to the heart of the matter. "So where do you think he'll go in the draft?"

"At least the fifth round," he answered without hesitation.

This was a total lie. No doubt a negotiating tactic. The kid was closer to the tenth round in my book. The difference in money between the fifth round and the tenth round could be a very low six figure amount. So at least I know how far apart we are.

"And if he goes in like the thirteenth round?" I asked.

"That won't happen."

"But if it did?"

"Won't happen."

"How about the tenth round?"

"We'll cross that bridge at that time."

In other words, I'm not giving you anymore ammunition. He'd probably go the Juco route with anything worse than the tenth round. I quickly make a mental note of our conversation and will make it part of his file when I update his report this weekend.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Warning Track

Been out of pocket for the last five or so days. Can't quite explain other than I've got my good days and bad days. On one of my good days I was able to stop by South Georgia College this weekend to see their fall showcase. Manny had about a dozen players in his three-ring binder that were at the showcase. It was a good opportunity for me to see what they had and to scope out any talent that he either had missed or were up and coming HS juniors that he had never seen.

Fall showcases are a great place to see my prospects at work. Many of their workouts are like mini-exhibitions in hitting, running, fielding, throwing, etc. It's perfect for me. And there's always some time afterwards to talk with the players to see where they are coming from and where they want to go. Of course, college might be their aspiration and I certainly wouldn't talk a kid out of going to college if his heart was dead set on enrolling. I learned a long time ago that if the kid is leaning towards college...let him go. I'll still track him in college.

Now, don't mistake my comment for preferring a college kid over a high school kid. I'm not like my friend the "stat boy" who seems to ignore all high school talent in order to focus on his "can't miss" college wonderboys.

For me, however, they've been more like Pillsbury doughboys. Take the first baseman at Macon University that I scouted last week. You couldn't get a more pear shaped body than that kid. Short and stocky. I just wanted to poke him. Maybe I could scarf up some Toll-House cookie crumbs that he left on the basepath. What a treat for opposing hitters who get on first.

For those of you who know about OFP (Overall Future Potential) scores, he scored a whopping 36. If you just show up to the field, you get a 20. The best you can score is 80. The average major league player is 50. A fringe prospect starts at 40.

Let's start with his speed. He batted lefty (thank goodness) and I clocked him to first at 5.0 seconds. That's slower than molasses going uphill in the winter time. So, on a scale from 2 to 8, he got a 2. At the end, you add up the points and multiply by 2 to get his OFP. I also do a future OFP to see what he could become. He still got a 2 on the future OFP. I don't see him improving to a 4.4 which is what it would take to improve his score.

Next is fielding. He wasn't too fleet of foot when the ball was hit in his direction. The second baseman bailed him out on a slow dribbler that I was sure he could get to. He also misplayed several dirt balls where he failed to scoop it up properly. Present OFP for fielding was a 3. Future OFP same.

Arm strength is the next tool. It was pretty much dead center. No life. OFP was a 3. Future OFP same.

Hitting is where he had some potential. He had short arms which was to his advantage. Should get to the ball quicker. Not as many holes either. His rhythm was smooth. It wasn't like he was up their chopping down a tree. He was never off-balance either.

He seemed like he had a good strategy at the plate. He never took the first pitch and sometimes he even watched the second one. What I liked most was what he did with two strikes. He was aggressive. Not afraid to strike out. No fear. I could tell he was a survivor due to his hitting ability. This was probably why "stat boy" latched onto him.

Hitting for average, I gave him a 5 on the present OFP. A 5 on the future OFP. Hitting for power, I gave him a 5 on the present OFP and a 6 on the future OFP.

There you have it "stat boy." Read it and weap. Your "can't miss" prospect is a "no prospect" in my book.

Fyi...the 17th starts the HS Wood Bat Championship in Jupiter, Florida. I'll be there with about a million other scouts.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Change Up Cluster

What a fiasco. The Russell Reed situation keeps getting worse. Our illustrious GM, Logan Cooper, decided to stay in Indian Wells, California, and listen to Bud Selig address the GM's at their annual meeting. Probably not a bad idea to stick around for Bud's speech but he never should've hinted to Reed and his advisors that he might take the company jet to Orlando for a half-day to personally discuss the boy's contract.

Can you imagine Reed and his father's delight to find out that Donald DeSear was there to save the day because they weren't important enough to get the GM who originally said he would be there, but later backed out! Think that you, as a parent, would have a bit of a problem with that? Damn, I know I would. From what I heard, DeSear practically got ran out of the house. The only thing that bought him more time was having Logan call during one of his five minute breaks in between meetings.

Logan apologized for not being able to make it but announced his confidence in Donald DeSear as being fully prepared to bring our organization's best offer to the table. He also said he looked forward to getting Reed down to Puerto Rico for some winter ball as soon as the AFL ends. Reed's father and their agent were livid. Perhaps something will happen tomorrow before DeSear leaves town. But I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Three Total Plate Appearances

If I see another Cracker Barrel on I-75 I'm gonna puke. I swear there's one at every exit. And the sad thing is, I've eaten at three different CB's in the last three days. Sunday, I was in Winter Haven checking out a handful of players at the Florida AAU Fall Classic. Had the homestyle chicken dinner special that night. Monday, I headed up to Tifton, Georgia to have dinner with a high school coach that Manny was tight with. He had something that resembled meatloaf and I had Momma's pancake breakfast...for dinner. And this afternoon, I had a half-pound bacon cheeseburger with steak fries dipped in mayo. Now that I've blown my budget, it's back to Wendy's. Dollar chili and dollar frosty.

Anyhow, after lunch I headed to Warner Robbins, Georgia to watch Middle Georgia State workout. I was there to check out five players. The two outfielders that Manny was tracking and the three senior position players that "stat boy" sent me. I wasn't impressed with any of them. The three recommended by "stat boy" lacked so many tools. One was so fat that he . . . on second thought, some things are best not said. Forget I even mentioned it. Now, if my sport's psychologist buddy were reading this (and he just might be) he'd probably go looking for my cell phone number so he could get on my ass for holding back. I must admit that I've held back entirely too much over the last several weeks and be perfectly honest...I'm overdue. Maybe tomorrow will be your lucky day and I'll go "Billy Martin" on something or someone.

Incidentally, "stat boy" emailed me four junior college players on Monday. Two from Perry, GA and Two from Milledgeville, GA. Where ever the heck they are? All of which failed to grace the pages of Manny's 4 inch, three-ring binder for Georgia and South Carolina prospects. I was about to delete the reports from my inbox when curiosity got the better of me. I printed these out as well as his other reports and added them to the back of Manny's binder. Proving somebody wrong was like hitting a walk-off homer.

I emailed "stat boy" to let him know that I'm going to visit Macon University tomorrow to see what his "can't miss first baseman" actually looks like. I didn't tell him that I was really going to look at the pitcher that Manny was so impressed with. If I read "can't miss" one more time in his scouting reports, I'm definitely gonna to puke.

Damn, I almost forgot. I have to call DeSear tonight. He left a voice mail for me right before stepping on a three hour flight from Denver to Orlando. Both he and our club's GM, Logan Copper, were headed for Orlando to meet with you know who-- Russell Reed and his entourage. Let me just put it this way, the GM doesn't go flying around the country visiting second round draft picks unless something big was about to happen. I should have some news tomorrow.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Forget Uncle Charlie

Now I had two smelly overweight scouts crowding me behind home plate. Dallas glided his 6’5”, 230 pound frame into a cadence that was ready to eat innings. Although he was sluggish in the pen, his arm began to look more lively and fluid which each new pitch. On the surface, his mechanics were smooth, effortless and consistent from one pitch to another. His delivery was at high three-quarter angle with pretty much the same release point every time

Through two innings of work, I could tell he had about five pitches: Heater, cutter, sinker, curve, and splitter. His heater had a tendency to ride high in the zone from time to time. Both his cutter and sinker painted each of the corners nicely. The splitter was extra special since it came out looking like a fastball until it dropped off the table causing the batter to contort in ways you thought were humanly impossible. His curve, however, was very unpredictable control-wise and needed the most work.

I was happy to see Diego giving him fits. Dallas eventually struck him out but not before a nine pitch battle. I’ve known for a long time that Diego had a hole on the inside about waist high. Dallas finally threw enough pitches to find it with a sinker. I guess you could say that Dallas had won the battle but Diego won the war.

After just two innings of work, it was obvious that Dallas had thrown way too many pitches. 48 to be exact. He was routinely falling behind in the count which put added pressure on him to throw strikes. At first, it looked like he wasn't going to handle the pressure. He would punch the ball into his glove, kick the rubber in frustration, and blow off several choice expletives. But after a while, I noticed that his anger was a source of motivation. It also seemed to intensify his concentration. He was able to deliver the strike when he needed it. There was no question that he got better instead of worse under pressure.

Unfortunately, my radar gun told a slightly different story. Dallas was taking something off his pitch to get the location he needed. His heater dropped to around 87 MPH. In essence, he was trying to place the ball tentatively instead of attacking the plate with confidence. The two other scouts noticed it as well. A certain kiss of death at the next level.

But at this level, he had only given up two hits, two walks, and no runs. The third and fourth innings were pretty much a repeat with slightly less pitches thrown. Nevertheless, Dallas had thrown a total of 91 pitches through four innings. His coach did the right thing and sat him down for good when he came back to the dugout. No sense wasting his arm. Through four innings, he had given up four hits, three walks, and one run. It was Diego who actually lined a curve ball to the right field corner scoring a man who had previously hit a single but stole second.

To me, the catcher called too many curve balls early in the count. Dallas should have called off the curve and thrown his heater. All four hits came off his curve ball. He had plenty of motion but zero deception. In fact, I’ll have the check the video to confirm this, but I believe he was raising his elbow causing a higher release point. If a batter sees a different release point and knows a curve is coming, it’s a huge advantage.

The good news is that movement and secondary pitches can be tweaked and taught. Velocity on the other hand, is something you’re born with. Fortunately for Dallas, his genetic code registered a 94 MPH fastball. Unfortunately for me, the name “Dallas Parker” will be spreading much faster than that.

"It is better to throw a theoretically poorer pitch whole-heartedly, than to throw the so-called right pitch with feeling of doubt..." --Sandy Koufax, in A Thinking Man's Guide to Baseball by Leonard Koppett.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Caught Looking

I believe it was Yogi Berra that once said, "Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical." That brings me to Dallas Parker. Yesterday afternoon I arrived at Wekiva Community College not knowing what to expect. The coach and I spoke on Thursday about getting Dallas at least five innings of work so I could see what this kid could do. I peeked over at the bullpen and saw Dallas warming up. Whew. At least he made it to the field.

I walked over to the pen to get a feel for his pitches. For those of you who don't know, I'll let you in on a little secret. When a pitcher warms up, he sometimes signals to the catcher what is coming next. If he waves his glove forward, it's a fastball; pulls it back for a changeup; moves it side to side for a slider; turns it over for a curve; and pushes it down for a splitter or forkball. Makes it easier for me to understand what I just saw.

He looked a bit sluggish on the hill. Not quite the pop when I first saw him. Still some good movement though. The forkball totally fell off the table and plugged itself in the dirt. A couple more pitches and the coach signaled Dallas to the mound. I took off to find my seat behind home plate. Of course, I had all the weapons with me: Jugs radar gun, notepad and pen to record each pitch thrown, and a video recorder.

Making my way over behind home plate, I was horrified to see two scouts from opposing teams sitting exactly where I was going to sit! It was too late for me to turn around when they spotted me.

"Hey Cutter. Diego gonna pitch?" one of the scouts asked, pointing to my radar gun.

Dammit. They came to watch Diego at third but now they're going to find out about Dallas. Gone are the days when top talent goes unnoticed until draft day. In the back of my mind, I sorta hoped that would be the situation with Dallas. I should've known better. If you're really good, you're not a secret for long.

"Well look who it is. Dumb and dumber. Don't you guys have some expensive talent to watch elsewhere," I replied, knowing each of their team's payroll was significantly higher than my club's. "You're in my damn seat. Move it."

"Why? You lookin' at a pitcher?" the other scout asked as he spit into a cup. It was a courtesy to give up the seat right behind home plate if someone needed to clock a pitcher and you didn't.

"No, I've got my radar gun just to see how fast your new GM fires your candy ass. Of course, I'm looking at a damn pitcher."

They both eyed each other and smirked. I could see what they were thinking. Old Cutter's lost his mind. There's no pitchers around here. They vacated their seats and started to move down third base line.

"How's Russell Reed?" one of them asked, knowing whole-heartedly that he was putting my face into a pile of crap. I immediately flipped him a bird. Jerk. He would've killed for the opportunity to take Reed but he knew damn well we hadn't signed him yet.

As the players took the field, Dallas stepped into his office and began to throw his final warm up pitches. I looked over at the two. Both had stopped talking. I think I even saw some dribble coming down one of their chins as Dallas delivered a four-seamer that topped 93 MPH. I had to admit that it was comical to watch the two overweight scouts practically knock each other down trying to get out to the parking lot. Seconds later they returned with you know what-- their freaking radar guns.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

0 for 4 and One Error

No takers on the scouting report? Maybe some other time. Before I go on though, understand that most of my brethren believe that the kid I watched tonight will go in the first round. I counted seven scouts in the stands. Of course, I knew all of them, but many if not most of the parents didn't have a clue. To their credit, however, it's not like we go around with our team's logo on our chest. It just works better that way. They don't need to know us, but we know them only if we need to.

Anyhow, the kid went 0 for 4 tonight and kicked a ball while playing short for one error. My friend over at Performance Scouting, Inc., is probably writing this kid off as I type. On second thought, he did have one walk. That should count towards his precious on-base percentage. And did I mention that I received another email from my friend today? A statistical batting analysis of every catcher that plays college ball in Georgia. Can you believe that crap? I tried emailing to mention that he's wasting his time. I'll let you know if he responds. FYI...his email address had the name of a law school in central Georgia after the @ symbol. There went my Harvard theory.
The fundamental difference between me and "the stat boy" is what I can see this kid becoming. I could care less that the kid went 0 for 4. It's how he went 0 for 4 that concerns me the most. Compare these two extremes. On one hand, let's say he grounded out on the first pitch thrown to him on each of his at bats. On the other, let's say he caused the pitchers to deliver over 35 pitches in his five plate appearances. Which 0 for 4 performance would you take?

As a scout, it's actually valuable for me to see a talented kid go 0 for 4. How well does he handle the disappointment of going 0 for 4? He better handle it well because when he gets to the minors, I can guarantee he will have dry spells. Most kids coming out of high school aren't used to dry spells. They are used to dominating. But if he throws his helmet, utters a buffet of four-letter words, fails to re-focus himself, and drags his teammates down with him, I'm looking elsewhere.

Does he run out the play at full speed or dog it down to first? I've got my stopwatch going from the moment the ball makes contact with his bat until the moment his foot stomps the bag at first. If he dogs it, I can't get a good read on his speed and that is extremely frustrating for a scout.

How does he carry himself after kicking a ball into the dirt at shortstop? Is he visibly shaken. Does his anger carry over to the next batter, or worse -- the next inning. I've seen talented kids strike out on their first two at-bats and become so distraught that it's a gimme they're going 0 for 4 that night. A player's ability to put things behind him and move on is an extremely important skill in baseball and cannot be overstated. Maybe "the stat boy" can get me some numbers on kids who start the game 0 for 2 and end up 2 for 4?

Seriously, tomorrow I go back to northern Orlando to watch Dallas Parker pitch. Hopefully he can stick it out for five innings and not cause a bench-clearing brawl beforehand.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Foul Territory (Part II)

Driving across Alligator Alley this morning on my way to watch South Dade Community College, I figured I would call the company that emailed me those three scouting reports yesterday. Of course, a machine picked up. I wasn't surprised to hear some punk who's voice was still crackling from puberty. "Ah, thanks for calling Performance Scouting. Please leave a message and I'll call you back. Bye bye."

Sad to say, his voice did seem somewhat familiar. Too familiar actually. In fact, I was sure that I had heard him before but I just couldn't place when, where, or who.

After listening to his message though, I'd bet all my chips that he was just some pencil pushing, Harvard grad who's never faced anything faster than the pitching machines at his local batting cages. I didn't bother to leave a message. But that didn't deter him from emailing me two more scouting reports this afternoon. These two players were from Macon University. Again, both seniors. And again, my territory. One was a pitcher and the other a first baseman. Manny had been tracking the pitcher but not the first baseman.

Of course I read the reports, word for word, stat for stat. The audacity of someone trying to do my job for me. And I didn't like his style one bit. He had so much to learn about writing scouting reports. There were way too many statistics. Not enough words. Not enough description about the player and his tools. No comparisons to other MLB players he's seen. No vision about what this prospect could become in the future. To make matters worse, the guy threw in his own commentary. For example, on the first baseman's report, he'd write, "Burke's on-base percentage of .505, the most important isolated offensive statistic, is the best in his conference and quite frankly-- insane." I couldn't give two craps about an isolated offensive statistic.

At first base, I want a bat that can hit in the top half of the order with some definite power potential. Give me someone that I can see evolving into a Todd Helton or Eddie Murray type hitter. But I also want some nimble footwork, soft hands, and a laser accurate throw. That's what makes my first basemen different from the others. Some scouts, especially the lazy ones, will trade or even sacrifice a first baseman's defensive tools in favor of their offensive firepower. Granted, top hitters are at a premium, but bad defense at first can lose championships. Just ask the 1986 Red Sox.

Tomorrow I head up coast to St. Lucie JC and then catch an U18 AAU scrimmage in Vero Beach at 7:30pm. I'll probably get back to my hotel at 10pm, so look for my post sometime after that. The U18 scrimmage will feature one of the nation's top five-toolers. I would imagine at least a half dozen scouts will be there to watch this high school phenom. Maybe I'll post my own scouting report on the kid just to show you folks what I'm talking about? If you're interested, post a comment and I'll put my scouting report up for show tomorrow night; otherwise I'll move on to something else.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Foul Territory (Part I)

I'm down here in southwest Florida trying to catch some JuCo workouts. I watched Venice Community College and Ft. Myers Community College yesterday. There were four potential draft prospects that I wanted to touch base with. All sophomores. Two pitchers, one shortstop, and one center fielder. Not outstanding ball players but all should go in the bottom third.

Today, I was able to see Golden Gate College and Naples JC in their afternoon workouts. There were two freshmen for Naples JC that I would consider to be draft and follow material. Both were drafted out of high school in the 40+ rounds but neither signed. I actually scouted them in high school and had them both projected to go somewhere near the 35th round. That's why it didn't surprise me to see several of my scouting counterparts watching them too. No doubt there would be some competition for their services in the coming draft.

Back at my hotel at the end of the day, I opened the old laptop. My routine is to update my reports on the players that I'm following for the upcoming draft and to submit new reports for kids that I'll be following for the draft in 2007. Each evening, these reports are automatically sent to Donald DeSear, our national scouting director and to our 35-year old GM, Logan Cooper. Occasionally, I would get an email back from them wanting additional information on particular players.

Checking my email for any such requests, I noticed one that didn't quite have the look of SPAM but I also didn't have a clue who sent it to me. As I opened it, I saw several scouting reports, or rather attempted scouting reports, for three position players. The trio were seniors at a small four-year college in Warner Robbins, Georgia. My territory. But what stood out the most was the amount of statistical data in the reports. Different types of statistics too. For example, there was one stat that measured the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that the player swung at. There was also a heavy emphasis on walks, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Blah. Nonsense.

It just wasn't how I looked at baseball. To me, the foundation of baseball was and always will be embedded in the five tools: Hitting for average, hitting for power, fielding, arm strength, and speed. My job is to evaluate and project what a player can become based on his tools, not his statistics.

I looked over at the large three ring binder lying on my bed. It was the scouting reports for my part of Georgia and South Carolina that Manny had completed. Just for kicks, I walked over to it and flipped it open to Georgia. I thumbed my way over to Middle Georgia State College. He was scouting two outfielders. Neither of which were the three players mentioned in the email. That bothered me. Did he even give these guys a look? If so, what did he think of them?

The reports came from some company that I've never heard of before. The person who sent the email wrote at the bottom that if I was interested in getting more of these reports for prospects in my territory that I could call the number below. I was curious more than anything as to why they chose to look at three different players than what Manny was looking at. Did they not look at the two that Manny was tracking? Or perhaps they did take a look but didn't like what they saw? If so, why?

I can't believe I'm even considering calling that company tomorrow. I really don't need any help. Especially from some punk who probably graduated from Harvard with a math degree and never played a lick of ball in his entire life.