Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Five Tools of Lunch

My brethren do many things to agitate me. Take one scout for example. For every afternoon game that I see him, he brings a picnic basket of sorts. It's really a cooler bag but it might as well be a picnic basket. I simply marvel at his routine. He sits behind home plate with his radar gun and then like clockwork in the bottom of the second, out comes lunch. Many would ask why he doesn't eat before the game? Good question, but then again, he's never been on time for any game I've seen him at. But at least he usually makes it before the bottom of the first. Anyhow, he slips the radar gun back into his laptop bag and then gently unzips his cooler bag.

Always on top is a printed paper napkin. He removes it and unfolds it from the right. He then places it down on the bleachers to his right. Always to his right. He smoothes out the napkin-- I'll swear to this. And then he removes a vegetable and puts it on the top left corner of his napkin. Sometimes broccoli, sometimes sliced peppers, but mostly raw carrots packed tightly inside a ziplock baggie. Then out comes a fruit. Sometimes a banana, sometimes a tupperware full of strawberries, but mostly red delicious apples (I can hear the crunch from a mile away). He puts this on the top right.

Then a yogurt appears out of the bag. A freaking yogurt. And not just any type of yogurt, but the kind with granola on top. Sometimes plain vanilla, sometimes raspberry, but mostly mixed fruit. He puts the yogurt on the bottom left corner of his napkin. Of course, the last thing he removes from the bag is a sandwich. And you guessed it-- bottom right corner. Sometimes tuna fish, sometimes egg salad, but mostly oven roasted turkey (Okay I really don't know if it's oven roasted but that's just my guess) and always on wheat! And what does he drink you ask? He takes a bottled water from his laptop bag and places it--- yep, right in the middle of the napkin. Ah . . . the five tools of lunch. He's a complete player. Takes a quick look around (probably just to see if others are noticing his masterpiece) and then starts on the carrots, finishing each course before moving to the next. Lunch easily lasts until the sixth inning. All the while, he's completely oblivious to the game. And without fail, he leaves by the middle of the eighth. Can you guess which team he scouts for?

And this is just for starters. Never mind the scouts who have no intention of signing one of my prospects but spend 30 minutes over the phone telling the kid he's the next David Wright and that they plan on taking him in the Xth round- three rounds ahead of where we were going to take him. Of course, the scout is doing this in hopes that we will get nervous and blow an earlier-than-needed draft pick on the kid thus freeing up some of the talent that should really be taken in the Xth round. Just one of the many tricks I see this time of year.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Healthy Stance


I wish I could say that I never had a problem with a parent, but I can't. It used to be where the parents were cordial, respectful, and quite helpful. Now don't mistake what I am about to say, because some parents still get it, but this is one area that has deteriorated most severely over my last 23 years of scouting. Many of the parents I deal with today are obnoxious, arrogant, over-controlling, money hungry, know-it-all's.

They are incredibly pushy at the negotiation table and take everything way too personally. When I talk about a player's deficiencies, I always make sure to couch them in a way that I am only addressing the behaviors (actions) of the player instead of the player himself. If I don't, parents tend to get fired-up. In fact, they have a more difficult time with reality than the parents of 15-20 years ago. Those parents saw the deficiencies as room for improvement and a challenge for little Johnny to overcome. Today's parents would rather argue that no deficiencies exist and tell me I'm crazy because some other scout says their little Johnny is the next Albert Pujols.

That brings me to my approach. Rule uno . . . Quickly build an expectation that I'm simply here to evaluate both the good and the bad behaviors on behalf of my organization. Rule dos . . . Keep a healthy distance. I feel the need to maintain a professional, not personal, relationship with the parents. No matter how close I get with the parents, there's going to be a point in time when I point out reality which can tend to sour the personal relationship. Of course, I've learned this the hard way.

Other scouts, however, are their best buddies. They tell them what they want to hear, no matter what. They go over to the house for BBQ cookouts, kiss the babies, hold Grandma's hand, blow little Johnny's nose . . . not me. I simply won't do it. And I can't stand scouts that do. Which brings me to the other scouts which are really getting on my nerves at this point. I cringe at some of the stuff they're saying and doing. And I seem to be getting more than an earful (regarding what this scout did or said) during all my signability calls with the kids and their parents. Much more than usual. I think I'm overdue on going Billy Martin. Let the backstabbing begin. Next post: my brethren (only the ones I don't like, of course).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Setting the Lineup

It's getting really crazy around here. And after talking with a cross-checker last evening, it looks like it's only going to get more crazy after the draft. It seems that with each passing day, the stock in our Florida and Georgia prospects keep rising. It was fortunate that I started out looking for 265 eligible draft prospects. If you remember back in December I projected 170 draftees coming out of my territory-- but now that number looks to be low. That's why I build in a cushion.

So, I've prepared both Goldie and Carson to be ready for what looks to be a robust signing opportunity for us. I normally don't get too excited when the rumormill turns to Florida, but this time it seems to be legit. Funny thing is that I haven't really noticed a pop in our region's talent level this year. That must mean that the talent level across the board is slightly lower than usual making for a sleepy draft. Of course, that'll mean the focus, as well as the pressure, will be centered on me to make the most out of what some in our scouting department are calling a lackluster draft. But understand that this draft, like most drafts, will yield a highly talented group in the first couple rounds. Beyond that, however, is the true measure of a draft's talent level.

And all I know is Florida/Georgia/South Carolina and the fact that the cross-checkers are calling me everyday with signability questions and looking for any signability updates. I had eight draftees last year. It could be as many as 15-20 this year. That's a lot of contracts. That's a lot of pressure. That's insane. Fortunately, (and I'd never thought I would say this) I'll have some help this year with Goldie and Carson. Of course, DeSear and perhaps Cooper will also be down this way for the larger, high-profile signings if they should happen in the early rounds.

And I forgot to mention that's also a lot of parents. I'm talking with them everyday now. I'll give you my approach with the parents on my next post. I have some rules I try to adhere to. Unfortunately, some other scouts in my area don't.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Guess Hitting

We had some extra time in the dug out to talk hitting philosophy with several kids in our south Florida private workout. The kids at this workout weren't top 10 round material. They mainly were in the 10-30th round realm. Or at least so I thought. The way the cross-checkers and DeSear were talking afterwards, a few might actually slip into the top 10 rounds. That blew me away since Carson and I had already targeted our south Florida kids that should go in the top 10 rounds. But then again, we don't have much of a feel of what's happening in other parts of the country.

Anyhow, out of 10 position players at the workout, I would say eight were what I call, "guess hitters." In other words, these players sit back looking for a good pitch to hit. They've been coached to look for, "their pitch." To understand this approach more fully, it might be helpful to paraphrase one of the players-- I pick up the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand, see it, decide if it's a good pitch, and then decide whether to swing or not. There are at least 3 decisions involved before contact.

The other two adopted a more concise approach. They are swinging unless they see a pitch they don't like or are basically told to take the pitch. These batters make an assumption when they step to the plate that the ball is going to come right down the middle. They know it's coming right down the middle. They're not looking for it to come right down the middle, they know it. Big difference. If a pitcher has a great fastball, you simply can't afford wait to see the ball to get started. You need to anticipate where the ball is going to be and approach that area. You can stop if it isn't close to where you anticipate.

Now I'm not saying one approach is better than the other. Johnny Bench was a terrific guess hitter. However, I truly believe that a prospect who has average hitting tools and bat speed can project into a fine prospect as long as he adopts the later approach.

Of course, there is no substitute for bat speed regardless of approach. I believe it was Whitey Herzog that once said, "Speed never slumps." But in the later rounds of the draft, you often don't get that luxury.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Draft-and-follow

What a week. It seemed like all our cross-checkers and our national scouting director couldn't get enough of Florida. Apparently, Florida talent is on the top of the food chain this year. It doesn't work that way every year, but this year seems to be one of those years. As an area scout, I don't really know how my kids stack up to other regions during the year. Sure, there are a number of publications that attempt to show the differences, but I never pay much attention to those. It isn't until a couple weeks prior to the draft that you really get to see what's going on. And it was obvious that the cross-checkers were much more impressed with the Florida talent level as well as the depth of talent that will populate the late stages of the draft.

Incidentally, we signed draft-and-follow prospect Diego Gutierrez this week. If you recall, he was the third baseman from Wekiva Community College that we chose in the 34th round of last June's draft. Diego's sophomore year did not disappoint. He developed as I expected, only with better arm strength. Other scouts were definitely high on him, but most of them projected him somewhere in between the 10th and 15th rounds. Diego knew this. As a result, DeSear and I offered him a package comparable to someone drafted in the 10th round. After he talked it over with his father, it was a done deal.

At our private workout in Orlando, we had you know who show up. Dallas Parker. All the cross-checkers were fully aware of his walk-off episode. One had even called the Wekiva coach to get his personal report on the incident. It certainly tainted their analysis of Dallas, as none of them thought he was ready to play pro ball at any level. I could sense that they saw the raw talent, but with the number of talented pitchers available across the country, Dallas didn't fit with their plans. It also didn't help Dallas when he boasted that several scouts have rekindled their interest and have said they will take him near the 30th round. It came off like we'd better get back on the bandwagon or else. The guy continues to keep shooting himself in the foot.

Anyhow, we just finished up private work outs in south Florida today. I'll recap those tomorrow since I need to take DeSear to the airport so he can catch his 10:45 flight out of MIA.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Under the Bus

I can't even begin to tell you how infuriated I am with Goldie. Saturday's private workout took the cake. We invited Martin McGarrity, a standout LHP from East Dublin High School, to give us a taste as to why Manny projected him inside the top 10 rounds. Goldie and I had seen him pitch earlier in the year. It was like pulling teeth to get Goldie over to watch him.

Never once, however, did Goldie mention to me that he was going to throw me under the bus with McGarrity. What really ticks me off was that we both agreed on which prospects to invite to the private workout. But when McGarrity arrived, he was like, "Why's that guy here? Let's get one thing straight, it wasn't my idea to invite him."

I can honestly tell you, Goldie can be a cold as they come. But on the other hand, he insisted that we invite Shaun Bankman and his father so the cross-checker could see Shaun pitch one last time. Never in a million years would I have thought that Goldie would ever want to be in the same county as the Bankman's considering what happened at their house.

Anyhow, back to McGarrity. At first, we had him pitch all of his stuff without a batter and then we stacked him up against some talent. Fastball was in the high 80's, but he could purposely change speeds starting at the upper 70's. Same look, release point, and delivery whether it was thrown at 87 mph or 77 mph. Very deceptive if done correctly. He also mixed in a splitter to really get batters chasing. Again, same look, release point, and delivery as the fastball. And if that weren't enough, he had excellent command over his curveball. Not very fast. But very loopy and perfectly located.

I was really excited for McGarrity until Goldie called for a break in the action. The nerve. Trying to distract McGarrity and throw him off his rhythm. Goldie motioned for the catcher to come over. In front of the cross-checker and Toby Bradford, Goldie says he thinks he sees something. He tells the catcher that he wants to call the pitches for several batters. He gives him the signals (which I couldn't believe - almost like he had called signals before) and tells him to get back to the plate. For the next couple batters, Goldie has McGarrity jump back and forth between his fastball, splitter, and curve. Then Goldie calls the next batter over to him before the guy walks out to the batter's box.

He proceeds to tell the batter to watch the location of McGarrity's left elbow as he grabs the ball inside his glove after receiving the signal from the catcher. If his elbow is slightly higher than his glove, it'll be a splitter. If it's even with the glove, it's a curve. Below the glove, it's a fastball. It was all very subtle but as Goldie called the pitches, it became obvious that McGarrity was tipping from the stretch. Unintentional, of course, but from that point forward, McGarrity was toast. He was rocked from one side of the field to the other.

Three veteran scouts, all with MLB playing experience. None of us picked up the subtle movements. That's our freaking job. But then it dawned on me. Goldie set me up. McGarrity had only thrown a dozen pitches before Goldie called for a break. That really wasn't enough pitches for us to catch on (although it probably should have been). Goldie must have seen these movements when we scouted McGarrity in February. How nice of him to keep it all to himself (Of course, I really missed the boat). And he just tucked them away and waited for the opportunity to screw me over.

And man, did he ever. Both the cross-checker and Toby were totally impressed with Goldie's find. To make matters worse, the cross-checker leaned over to me and asked, "Didn't you see this crap when you scouted him?" Of course, Goldie had a free pass because he wasn't supposed to be the one finding this stuff. Goldie's the stat boy. I'm the tools and technique guy. I suddenly felt like I was on some Twilight Zone episode.

Then he asked Goldie, "So how did you pick'em up?"

Goldie looked at him and smiled. "Ever play Texas hold'em?"

[thump][thump]

Of course, that sound you hear is the bus running me over.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Glide-to-Stride

Just got back to my hotel room after standing in one of those self-checkout lines at a Super Walmart in Atlanta. The place was packed. Of course, the guy in front of me was paying with pennies, nickels and dimes. Dropping each coin into the machine one at a time. I couldn't believe it. But what got me was that after he was done putting in $15 worth of coins for $12.28 of merchandise (Believe me, I had plenty of time to look at his check-out screen to see what was going on), he gladly took his $2 in dollar bills and $.72 in coinage and off he went! Someone please help me with this?

Anyhow, I'm in Atlanta with my old boss, Toby Bradford, (who as you may or may not remember is now the area scout responsible for the metro-Atlanta area and everything north of I-20), and one of our national cross-checkers ( yes, the same one who looks like Tom Selleck). The two held a private workout this afternoon in order to get a better look at several local JC and HS players. I decided to join them, along with Goldie, to see what Toby had compared to what we were seeing in central/south Georgia. Of course, the kids that were invited weren't necessarily the cream of the area but rather those who, for one reason or another, didn't get scouted by the cross-checker when he was doing his rounds earlier in the year.

Tomorrow, the cross-checker will be joining Goldie and myself for our own private workout in Macon. We've invited a select group of JC and HS players that we wanted a second look at. Again, these aren't necessarily our best players in the central/south Georgia area (the cross-checker already knows what they can do) but rather those kids who are likely to go between the 8th and 20th rounds. Many of them are Goldie's (i.e. Manny had nothing on them). But a few are Manny's which, of course, have more credibility with me and will most likely show better in front of the cross-checker. It should be an interesting afternoon because the cross-checker, unlike DeSear and Logan, hasn't been too warm and fuzzy over Goldie's stat-induced, scouting reports.

Monday, the cross-checker will be with me in Charleston, South Carolina. Tuesday afternoon, we'll be in Orlando joined by a second cross-checker and also DeSear himself. Wednesday morning, the two cross-checkers, DeSear, and myself will travel to South Florida. With the exception of a few one-offs, these private workouts should be the final work outs in-front of the cross-checkers. After these workouts, I'll be focusing primarily on signability issues. Of course, during the three days leading up to the draft I'll go back to having private workouts for my top prospects. I'll bring in a former player or two to organize a light workout. This is mainly to keep the kids occupied - so to speak (i.e. away from the other scouts trying to contact them).

Needless to say, 25 days before the draft is an extremely busy time and it's only going to get more hectic from here on out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Delmon Young Suspension

They can't be serious. 50 games and 50 hours of community service? Is that all? Kid was lucky I wasn't the Int'l League president because he'd be riding the pine for the rest of the season. And to say that it's only 50-games because the president couldn't prove "intent" is a complete joke. Young could probably throw his bat at the shortstop from home plate and hit him 9 times out of 10. Look, if I shoot a bullet in the general direction of someone because I'm angry with them but because of my bad aim I end up blowing a hole in their chest, I'm going down for murder or at least involuntary manslaughter. What if that bat connected with the ump's head and killed him? Is Young's lack of "intent" argument going to hold water?

A person "intends" a consequence when he or she foresees that it will happen if the given series of acts or omissions continue and desires it to happen (Wikipedia). You be the jury.

If you haven't seen it by now, here is Young's "lack of intent":



"I sincerely regret my actions in the game yesterday," Young said in a statement released by the office of his agent, Arn Tellem. "Regrettably, in the heat of the competition my emotions got the better of me.

"My behavior was completely unacceptable. I want everyone to know that I recognize that it is never right to throw a bat and I certainly never intended for the bat to make contact with the umpire. Nevertheless, I owe an apology to my team, the fans and most importantly to the umpire, for the incident. I am sorry."

Young was suspended three games for bumping an umpire while playing for Montgomery of the Double-A Southern League, and he nearly was ejected earlier this season after flinging a bat in the air and having it land about 20 feet from a pitcher who had just hit him with a pitch.

And to make matters worse, the regular umpire crews for the minor leagues have been out on strike. Many of the replacement umps have college and high school experience but Young wasn't ready to cut them any slack.

Understand that Young is back in Triple-A to get a better grasp of the strike zone. Some would also argue that the Ray's depth in outfield is another reason he's in Durham. Maybe so, but a lot has been said recently about his inability to see the strike zone. I'm sure those comments were echoing in the back of his mind when the ump called a third strike. You can only imagine what he was thinking. Awe &$%#. I've got to deal with another strikeout because this turkey can't see.

Taking a called third strike goes right to the heart of his "strike zone" problem. All of his frustrations had to peak at the moment of decision. Only one problem, 99.9% of the players are able to suppress their actions at the moment of decision. Young on the other hand, could not.

You simply cannot count on Young to be there over the long-haul. What good are his five-tools if he ain't playin'? Give me a two or three-tool player that has the sixth tool over any five-tool player that doesn't. Young could learn a thing or two from Jonny Gomes.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Passed Ball

Just when I thought the Dallas Parker project was finished, I received a call from Doc this morning. Doc had just hung up with one of our cross-checkers who still had Dallas on the outer edges of his radar screen despite the walk-off incident (I had the same cross-checker watch Dallas pitch in February). As it turned out, Dallas called Doc last night for some advice. According to the Doc, it was a productive call. I was just thrilled to hear Dallas had contacted someone about his problems. I had left a ton of messages for Dallas, but never received a return call. Doc told me that Dallas said he was too embarassed to call me back.

Come to find out, Dallas eventually went back to class but never returned to the team. The Wekiva coach was understandably upset at Dallas's sudden walk-off the mound and from what Diego told me, the coach lit him up all the way into the clubhouse and practically out to the parking lot. It was clear that Dallas was not welcomed back and Dallas wasn't the least bit disappointed at that particular moment.

I'm sure I could've mediated Dallas's return but I certainly wasn't going to make any effort until Dallas proved to me that he really wanted to play. Although his coach could use him right now in the FCCAA State Tournament, Dallas's playing days for Wekiva are over. And what a shame. It's not like his year was a total disaster either. He dominated for the most part but when he did get hit around, he lost his composure and the bottom fell out. More importantly, several other scouts told me that towards the end of his season, his velocity was holding constant when he needed a strike. If you remember when I saw him, he'd drop his four-seamer to the high 80's when he needed a strike. According to them, however, he was throwing 93-94 mph when he needed a strike. That told me that his confidence was where it was supposed to be.

Somewhere down the road, however, the Giant eventually took control of Dallas. But from what Doc tells me, Dallas now recognizes that he must take back responsibility. And although he very much wants a career in professional baseball, Dallas readily admits that he must control his fears in order to be successful. Time is running out on Dallas Parker. With the draft only 33 days away and not much opportunity to pack up his family to play ball at another community college, he knows he's in a desparate situation.

Monday, May 01, 2006

On Deck Circle


You should know by now that I try to look at everything. I'm the type of scout that arrives at the field early just so I can watch a player step off the bus. How does he carry himself? Does he look like he wants to be there? Is he loose? Tight? I take it all in.

But something I noticed last week stuck out like a sore thumb. And this wasn't the first time I've seen this either. It's been getting progressively worse over the last couple years. I was in Ft. Lauderdale watching several HS district tournaments when I saw it happen. Carson was pretty high on this particular shortstop and I figured I would check him out to see if he warrants a spot on the short list. His team was up to bat in the bottom of the first with two outs, a man on second and a man up at the plate. As the kid wandered onto the on deck circle twirling his bat, he immediately started talking with some of the students behind the fence. It was real meaningful stuff like, "Did you hear who Jimmy was taking to the prom?" and "Deana really wants you to ask her to the prom."

With a 3-2 count, the kid at the plate knocked a ground ball causing the shortstop to dive deep towards second. The runner easily advanced to third and the batter beat the throw to first. Now there were runners on first and third with two outs. The Prom King was forced to break off his social session and head to the plate. It was a great opportunity for him to put his team ahead early in the game. He had the pitcher in a hole.

The first pitch was a decent four seam fastball over the outside half. The RH Prom King took a mighty long swing and barely caught up to it just over the back part of the plate. The ball lumbered off the barrel slicing in the general direction of the right fielder. A can of corn. The pitcher couldn't hide his emotions as he jumped off the mound with a Tiger Wood's fist-pump and sprinted back to the dugout.

Thinking back, I can remember Pete Rose kneeling at the on deck circle. And a number of other players would do the same as well. It was such an important part of their batting routine. The on deck circle was a place where they would analyze the game situation, plan their at bat, get loose, and get their emotions under control. This mental preparation allowed them to simply react at the plate rather than having to think at the plate.

Sure enough, during the Prom King's next on deck appearance, Deana and her friends were standing there waiting for him to look their way. Of course, having nothing better to do on deck, the Prom King blew Deana a kiss and asked her to the prom. How ridiculous. A mockery of the game. Only this time, however, he stepped to the plate and pulled the first pitch down the third base line for a stand-up double. His next three on deck appearances gave him enough time to completely plan his social calendar for the next two weekends. He ended up going 2 for 4 with 1 walk.