Sunday, December 04, 2005

Batting Practice

On the Friday before Thanksgiving the 40-man rosters were set. Our club had one of my prospect/draftees become a "newbie" to the roster. Let's call him "Riggs." Whenever that happens it's kinda like a proud papa moment for me. He probably won't make the opening day roster for the Big Show but you never know what can happen in spring training. A couple injuries here and there, you get on a hot streak, and voila, you're off the porch and runnin' with the big dogs.

Anyhow, Riggs called me this afternoon to chat. It had been a long time. We drafted the left-handed hitting sensation four years ago right out of high school. 18 years old. I never will forget the first time I saw him. A skinny HS junior that looked like a puff of wind could blow him over. The "real" prospect that I was scouting was getting ready to take BP (batting practice) but I had to wait for this lightweight kid to supposedly knock a couple grounders to second so my guy could take over to show 'em how its done.

I wasn't even going to pay attention at first. I figured I would go take a quick drag or do something meaningless for the next five minutes. But what suddenly intrigued me was that the kid reached for a wooden bat. I thought that he surely picked up the wrong bat (ala Sammy Sosa). I whispered to another scout close by, "Let's see how fast he goes back to get his aluminum stick." The scout shrugged as if he knew something that I didn't.

Of course, what happened next was as pure of a hitting clinic that I had ever seen by a HS junior. His bat speed was incredible. No wasted movement whatsoever. None of this dropping or raising of the hands as the pitch was being delivered. The coach pitching BP changed his delivery, speed, and location on almost every pitch to Riggs. It didn't matter. Riggs was just as smooth with change-ups as he was with fastballs.

I was also impressed with his quick hips and hands. He would just go with the pitch and drive it to all fields. His arm-extension was excellent and his follow-through was textbook. Even more impressive was that he was driving it over the fence. A good 400 feet. And this was with a wood bat. The scout who had earlier shrugged at my ignorant comment then turned to me and said, "So now I guess you know who I came to see today." I could do nothing but shake my head. Fortunately, a year later we were able to draft Riggs in the eighth round.

When we talked today, it was evident that he was just happy to be playing baseball. Yeah, being selected for the 40-man roster was an important milestone for him, but ultimately Riggs has developed a steady, consistent approach that will serve him well over the long-term. He couldn't stop telling me how much he has learned over the last four years and how much more he still has to learn. I couldn't help but think that his desire to continually study and learn about the game would soon pay-off in a big way.

You need to understand that he went from batting .500+ in his senior year to .250 in rookie ball. And only 3 HRs as compared to 20 HRs. Riggs had never been away from home. He admitted that he simply wasn't prepared to handle the endless number of long bus-rides and playing conditions that weren't nearly as good as his old high school field. He recalled one night game that the lighting was so poor that he lost the ball in the stars instead of the lights!

But he put aside the numerous 0 for 4 appearances and pushed on. Determined to turn it around and improve, he worked his butt off. Sure it was slow and painful. But he did it. His AAA coach recently told our GM that he wished he could have 9 players just like Riggs. What more could a player ask for in terms of a compliment?

Are you starting to get the picture of what the sixth tool is? With all the talent Riggs had coming out of high school, I would've never recommended him for national cross-check if I didn't think he had the sixth tool. Over time, I'll give you more detailed examples of the sixth tool. We'll even get to see a couple college players this week in Georgia that have it. I'll have some extra time to spend with these prospects to really drill down into their mental approach to the game. The type of stuff that signability questionnaires don't capture.


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