College Baseball Program Institutes Ridiculous Rules For Scouts

UPDATE (2/10/14): The school in question sent out a follow-up memo to scouts. No scout will be denied access to any game. There will now be 16 seats behind home plate reserved for scouts, as well as room for more in a standing area. Cameras and backpacks will also be allowed.

Yesterday, a scout e-mailed me a list of restrictions that was sent by a college to all scouts in the area. The school is apparently cracking down this year . . . but why? And at what cost? I’m not going to publicize which school sent this out—not because I don’t think it’s atrocious, but because I think it’s probably a bigger issue than just one school. Singling this school out would be unfair, because I’m sure other schools are (or are considering) doing something similar.

It doesn’t need to be this way, and the best examples on both sides work hard to create solid working relationships, but there can be bad blood between scouts and college baseball programs. Some college coaches think scouts steal their players. Scouts believe some college programs abuse their pitchers. There are disagreements about the value of a scholarship offered by a college program compared to what MLB teams offer through their college scholarship plan. Most of those arguments are for another day. For now, let’s look at the e-mail that was sent out, with the restrictions in bold and my thoughts below each one . . .

1. Scouts have to purchase tickets — they will only have a select number of scout tickets available, so you have to arrive early.
I don’t have a problem with college teams making scouts buy tickets. Want to make a few extra bucks because you have prospects on your team? Go ahead. But what is the point of limiting the number of scout tickets—especially (as you’ll see below) when those tickets don’t really get you anything? Continue reading

Taking Lessons From Pete Carroll Press Conferences

I’m a Seahawks fan and I love head coach Pete Carroll. Even if the team wasn’t as successful, I would be a Pete Carroll fan because I love his energy and charisma, I love his passion and I love the way he goes about his business. I love how he thinks outside the box, I love his positive outlook and how he builds players up, and I love the fact that he’s willing to embrace players who may be overlooked by other teams for one reason or another.

Carroll’s natural leadership is evident. He’s the type of guy who walks into a room and demands your respect and attention. I feel like he could be put into numerous situations outside of football and he would be successful.

But, as excited as I am for the Super Bowl, my mind is never far from baseball. Listening to Carroll’s press conferences on the radio lately made me realize that there are many elements of what he’s saying that can be carried over from the gridiron to the diamond. After re-watching the past several weeks of press conferences, as well as dozens of YouTube videos, here are a few Pete Carroll quotes that I think are good to think about when it comes to building teams and evaluating players . . .  Continue reading

Big Leaguers Drafted, 1996-2013

While playing with The Baseball Cube’s Draft Tool when researching a previous article, I came up with what I think is a neat little study: Since 1996—the first year all 30 teams had picks in the draft—which organizations have drafted the most big leaguers? Obviously quality trumps quantity, and while I didn’t calculate the current WAR for each group, I tried to quantify the usefulness of each group by looking at their total big league at-bats (with pitchers removed) and innings pitched.

This is just a quick-and-dirty snapshot, but still an interesting look into each team’s draft history. The results wound up looking like a pretty standard bell curve—with a few teams swimming in riches, a handful of teams wishing for mulligans on multiple years, and most teams lumped pretty closely in between.

There is obviously more than one way to win, but having prospects is always better than not having prospects. Also note that sometimes players are drafted that don’t make the big leagues but still net wins for the organization if they’re traded while they still have value.

With the help of Baseball America’s Executive Database, I decided to create each team’s draft profile from 1996-2013. Let’s take a look at each team, in ascending order . . .  Continue reading

How Many Scouts Played Pro Ball?

On a recent Baseball America podcast (10/31/13), discussion turned to whom the hosts would like to see take over for Tim McCarver as the Fox network’s color commentator alongside Joe Buck. This was obviously before it was announced that it is likely to be Harold Reynolds.

As a quick side note, I love Reynolds. I may be biased since I have fond memories of my mom letting me skip school in third grade to instead go down to a local Denny’s, where the Mariners second baseman was signing autographs. I get the criticism of his analysis, but I can look past that because I really enjoy the passion, energy, and insight he brings to a broadcast.

Anyway, when they were talking about the subject, Managing Editor J.J. Cooper said he would be in favor of Orel Hershiser.

“I like pitchers in that role,” Cooper said. “Generally, I think they make very good color analysts. Because, as a hitter, you’ve got stories and all that, but the reality is that, unless you’re a catcher, there’s a lot of positions where you’re involved with your thing more. Where as a pitcher, I think you pick up some things that are more interesting to share.”

Editor in Chief John Manuel agreed with that sentiment and said he would choose Ron Darling.

“You have more time to watch the game,” Manuel added. “You watch more as a pitcher than you do as a hitter. I think that’s one part of it. I also think the other part of it—and I tend to agree with you—is that maybe the pitchers can discuss the game more. Also, it goes back to how we like to talk about evaluating prospects . . . there’s more to it with pitching. There is more subtlety and adjustments that can be made, where as hitters either hit or you don’t. You either have that natural timing or you don’t. That maxim carries over to broadcasting.”

These comments got me thinking: How many scouts played professionally? How many played in the big leagues? Of those who played professionally, how many were pitchers?

First, a few notes on the study: I looked at each team’s amateur scouting staff from the 2013 season. While I know there have been some changes since then, that was the most recent listing I had, thanks to the Baseball America 2013 Directory. That gave me 705 total scouts. I searched for each scout’s name on Baseball-Reference.com and didn’t give a scout credit for playing professionally if their only experience was in the independent leagues.

At first I was skeptical about how comprehensive Baseball-Reference’s minor league data was, but I checked with Sean Forman, who asked Ted Turocy, and this is what he said . . . Continue reading

Baseball America’s Blind Spots

After the surprising news of Robinson Cano signing a 10-year contract with the Seattle Mariners worth $240 million, it got me thinking: Did you know that Robinson Cano never cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list? You probably did because Larry Stone wrote an excellent article about Cano that mentioned it. After realizing that fact about Cano, I decided to take a look, position-by-position, at who else can make that claim.

Click here to buy the 2014 Prospect Handbook!

By no means is this me being critical of BA’s rankings (some of which I was lucky enough to participate). Dating back to 1990, Baseball America’s Top 100 list is the cornerstone of the industry, with the clout to back it up. Player rankings of any type aren’t easy to put together, but I have always felt (before, during and after my employment there) that Baseball America has the best process for their rankings. In many ways, BA’s annual Top 100 list is the culmination of the entire season of work—an exclamation point on another great year of covering amateur baseball and the minor leagues better than anyone else. But everyone can always improve and I’ve always felt that you learn more from mistakes than you do from success. This is an article I wanted to do during my time at BA, but never had the time.

Of course hindsight is 20/20 and this list isn’t about pointing out individual players that didn’t make any of the lists. Rather, I’m just trying to determine if certain player profiles are slipping through the cracks . . .

Continue reading

A Fun Look At Regional Talent

As I was doing draft research a couple weeks ago, an idea struck me: What if MLB teams were only allowed players from their specific regions? Alternately, what if there was a WBC-style tournament for MLB teams and their regions? I love thinking about fun stuff like this, so I decided to put the teams together to see what they might look like.

In instances where it’s different, I’m going more off of where a player grew up or went to high school, rather than where they were born. But there has to be some flexibility in an exercise like this—whether it be bumping a guy up the defensive spectrum a spot or two to squeeze him into the lineup or borrowing a player from the state next door to make the team better.

While I tried to be as realistic as possible with these teams, the goal is all about fun. So, for example, if there were players available from a certain area (pitchers from Chicago, let’s say), but there were better options available from a neighboring state without an MLB team, sometimes I chose to go with one of those players, placing emphasis on value over proximity. After all, this is just a silly exercise for an event that will never happen and the teams only exist in our imagination.

Let’s take a look at all the teams, from worst to best . . .

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MLB Draft Breakdown: State-By-State

I have always been fascinated with origins. When I meet people, I like to ask about where they grew up. Whenever I’m watching an NFL game, I regularly find myself Googling players to see where they went to college. I always need to know where bands or musicians are from and when I see a movie I like, I look up the writer and director on IMDB to see what else they’ve done.

Needless to say, covering the draft for Baseball America was right up my alley.

To help relieve some of the downtime this winter, I decided to take a look at where Major Leaguers come from, focusing my study on the draft—a baseball census, if you will. The sample for this study is comprised of any player who got at least 130 big league at-bats, or pitched 50 innings or more at any point over the past five years (2009-2013). It’s a group that includes 1,247 different players spanning from established and retired players like Jamie Moyer, John Smoltz, Garret Anderson and Jim Thome to recent first-rounders like Michael Wacha, Mike Zunino, Gerrit Cole and Jose Fernandez.

First, let’s look at a state-by-state breakdown of where these 1,247 players were drafted from . . . Continue reading

Calling Strikes Takes Balls

Being an umpire is hard.

Umpires have one of the few jobs where many observers naively believe they could do better. They’re right there with politicians in that regard.

For the past few years, it seems there has been a growing number of complaints and snark toward professional umpires. I blame PITCHf/x and Twitter.

If you actually think umpiring is easy, get off your couch and try it. Umpire a high school game and I think you’ll be surprised how quickly the game moves and how difficult it can be to make split-second decisions on the spot, without the luxury of multiple TV angles and slow-motion replays. I’ve done it—and while I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t stick with it for very long, it certainly gave me a new perspective and appreciation for those who do it at a very high level.

Don’t get me wrong, I disagree with umpires from time to time and have honest questions about the jobs they do. Mainly, how often (if at all) are they required to have their vision tested? Even if they are tested regularly, is 20/20 vision acceptable? We know that the average (AVERAGE) Major League hitter has 20/12.5 vision—meaning what someone with 20/20 vision could read from no more than 12.5 feet away, an average Major League hitter could read from 20 feet away. Continue reading

Taking A Swing At Minor League Strikeout Numbers

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Joey Gallo.

After all, his season was fascinating. He hit .251/.338/.623 with 40 home runs mostly for low Class A Hickory. Those home runs led the minor leagues—even though he missed about three weeks of the season. Baseball America named him to their second team postseason Minor League All-Star Team and put him on the cover of the Oct. 1 issue.

But the power came with a price. Gallo was third among minor league qualified hitters this year by striking out in 37 percent of his trips to the plate (165 strikeouts in 446 plate appearances). Only Rockies first baseman Harold Riggins (39.8 SO% over 482 plate appearances with high Class A Modesto) and White Sox outfielder Courtney Hawkins (37.6 SO% over 425 plate appearances with high Class A Winston-Salem) fared worse.

The feast-or-famine approach didn’t surprise me for Gallo. That was his report coming out of high school. I saw him a lot prior to him getting picked 39th-overall and wrote this just before the 2012 draft . . . Continue reading

The Vision To Succeed

Here’s one from the cutting-room floor. I wrote this article for Baseball America leading up to the 2011 draft, but it never got published. I have always been fascinated with vision, as it relates to MLB hitters, and with the information teams are trying to gather to gain a competitive advantage…

At its core, amateur scouting is the process of information gathering and data collection. Some of that data is objective, like height, weight, radar gun readings, 60-yard dash times and statistics, while other information is subjective.

Teams have been working to collect as much information on players as possible, especially with the increase of signing bonuses over the past couple decades.

One relatively new source of data some teams are using is from a company in Vernon Hills, Ill., called Vizual Edge.

Dr. Barry Seiller, an ophthalmologist, first started the Vizual Fitness Institute in 1989 to combine two of his passions—vision and athletics—and help answer the question of how vision impacts athletic performance. Seiller started working with Olympic athletes—mostly lugers, bobsledders, skiers and snowboarders—but the company has grown and now helps evaluate and train athletes in nearly every sport. Vizual Edge started in 2000 as a sister company to Vizual Fitness. Continue reading