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What Do Baseball Scouts Look For?

What Do Baseball Scouts Look For?

By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E and Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC

What do baseball scouts look for in players? What makes a player a prospect?  If you want to know how to get noticed and drafted by a pro team, it’s important to know what scouts are looking for. 

 

The following insights are the result of a combined 60+ years of experience in MLB, talks with coaches, scouts, directors, players, and information from Scout School. Discussions with coaches and scouts have provided a lot of valuable information, but here is one thing that really made an impression – Players who scouts consider to be “the whole package” are not necessarily the same guys who are playing on travel teams every weekend. Why?  “Those with the tools to play at the highest level are committed to the game and have the stats to prove it. They don’t need to travel around the country trying to prove themselves.”

 

Some guys stand out in showcases and perfect game outings and are good at hitting average high school or college pitching, but their swing doesn’t work on breaking balls. Remember the movie Trouble with the Curve? Or maybe they don’t know how to take a secondary lead, round the bag, hit the cutoff man, read the play in front of them, control their emotions, be on time, respect the game or be a good teammate. There are several very good players who are playing because they feel obligated because their parents paid a lot of money for them to take private lessons, attend showcases and play on travel teams. And there are guys who are very talented, but lazy. They know that they have more ability than others, but aren’t willing to put in the extra work to become the best. There are aspects to the game that coaches and scouts notice and often value higher than speed, arm strength, hitting statistics and pretty swing mechanics. These include:

 

  • Most coaches and scouts will tell you that the number one thing that they look for is athleticism. They aren’t looking for another Deion Sanders or the next Bo Jackson. They are looking for guys who know how to play the game of baseball at a high level and have speed on the bases and in the field, power at the plate or on the mound, efficient, fluid movements in the field, good hand-eye coordination, agility, balance, coordination, and body control. They are looking for God-given things that can’t be bought or taught with hitting, fielding, or pitching lessons. That’s not to say that players can’t get bigger, faster, or stronger with proper training. Look at some of the rookie cards for guys like Ozzie Smith, Roger Clemens, and Adrian Beltre. There is a lot of competition in high school, college, and professional baseball, and we know that small advantages can have a big impact on a player’s career.

 

  • Passion to play.The life of a MLB player looks glamourous from a distance, but the path to the Major Leagues is anything but.  Many highly drafted players can’t handle playing 140+ games with only 1-2 days off each month. Some have trouble living baseball 24-7, spending 10 hours or more at the field and playing 7 days a week.  Few high school and college players have had to deal with 4:00 am wakeup calls and 6 to 8-hour bus rides before starting their day on the field. Good amateur players seldom slump because they are often better than the competition. At the pro level, however, the playing field is level and everyone was the best player on his high school or college team. Even the best pro players must handle long slumps. Willie Mays, for example, went 0-12 in his first three MLB games and then 0-13 after his first hit on his way to becoming the 1952 Rookie of the Year. Most high school and college fans are friendly and supportive, many in pro ball are not. Pro players often have to deal with fans who get upset when they don’t think they got their money’s worth. And, there is little of no privacy. Young pro players share a room with a teammate, sometimes with 2-3, and must endure all of this for a small salary until they become a minor league free agent, make the 40-man roster, or make it to the show.

 

It gets better when they reach the big leagues, but it’s not all fast cars, expensive meals, and pretty girls. It takes dedication to show up and play hard every day for 162 days.  The season is a marathon that can be mentally and physically exhausting at times for those who are involved in the game, but not committed to it. As the saying goes, “the chicken is involved in breakfast, but the pig is committed.”

 

  • Knowledge of the Game.Some at the highest levels of pro baseball believe that many of today’s young players don’t have a thorough knowledge of the game. Even though you can watch multiple MLB games on TV every day, get highlights on your I-pad and phone, the knowledge of the game appears to be decreasing among all ages in the youth population. The popularity of video games has given young players other options to watching games in person or on TV. Kids can get instant, micro highlight plays from 15 games at a time via social media so many aren’t as inclined to sit down for 3 hours or more and watch and learn from every pitch, at bat and play. Even scouts in hot beds for talent in places like the DR and other Latin American countries are reporting that there is an increasing number of kids who are on their phones and a decreasing number playing baseball 8-10 hours per day. Players who don’t watch or play as much baseball are less likely to know how to battle a pitcher strategically, take a secondary lead, execute a double-cut, etc. If you don’t watch baseball, you don’t see it. Yogi said, “You can see a lot by watching.” And, because most practice sessions are limited to 60-90 minutes, there is little time to work on anything but pitching, hitting, fielding ground balls, and catching fly balls.  Success requires both athleticism and a brain.  While “There is no place on the scoreboard for IQ,” a player who doesn’t understand the strategy and proper way to play, is at risk of getting passed over for someone who does.

 

  • 5-Tool Players.Scouts see hundreds of games and thousands of players each year. Evaluating current and potential superstars like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Fernando Tatis, Jr, etc., is relatively easy. The great ones stand out. They have good size, strength and composure and they score at the highest levels on most of the items on the scout’s checklist. The fact is that most MLB rosters include only one or two super stars indicates that scouts see more average and above-average talent than exceptional talent.

 

Each player is evaluated on five different physical attributes, or tools, and given a score of 2 to 8 on each with 5 being average and 8 being outstanding. Scouts evaluate players for both present status and their potential for future development. The 5 tools are: 1) hitting for average; 2) hitting for power; 3) running speed; 4) arms strength and accuracy; and 5) fielding ability and range. Fortunately, players don’t have to be outstanding in all 5 tools. If they did, no one would have taken a chance on guys like Pete Rose. Tools are prioritized by positions. Each position has “dominant” or carrying tools. The others are secondary tools. Shortstop, for example, has three dominant tools – fielding, throwing, and running. A catcher’s dominant tools are the ability to catch and throw, while those of a corner infielder are the ability to hit and hit for power. In general, guys who play up the middle need more speed while those on the corners need power over speed.

 

  • Physical skills like strength and speed are relatively easy to see and evaluate. Intangibles like instinct, adaptability, dedication, desire and the ability and willingness to learn are harder to see but extremely important. Scouts look for players that have a “feel for the game,” i.e., those that have good baseball instincts, the ability to think on their feet and make adjustments from pitch-to-pitch. Many players with good instincts and skills never make it because they are not willing to work or accept coaching.

 

Because scouts have to rate current status and predict future potential, they are extremely interested in work habits and aptitude. They see who is first to practice and last to leave, who has high energy, who’s a leader, who’s a good teammate, who shows respect for the game, who runs on and off the field, who hustles on every play and who is having fun.

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Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FASM is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake, Website Education Manager pbsccs.org. and has over four decades in MLB with the Astros and Rangers. Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC is Special Assistant, Player Development, and was the Major League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Texas Rangers (2006-2023).

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