Most of us can agree with the Cardinals problems with starting pitching in 2007 and what looks like is going to be an issue in 2008, that the long term success of the St. Louis Cardinals will be based on the success of their scouting and the development of home grown talent.
When looking at any baseball prospect you need to look at the whole ballplayer. That observation and examination can be broken down into two parts; what can be seen with the eye and what cannot be seen with the eye.
There is a scouting chart, "The Whole Ballplayer" that is a familiar icon in the world of baseball scouting that has been used over the last 20 years that is now included in most Major League Baseball Club's manuals. It was created by Jim McLaughlin who presided as the scouting director of the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds during some of their greatest talent-producing seasons.
If you take a look at the McLaughlin chart, for a pitcher, those things that you can see, that you look at, include; the pitchers arm strength, his fastball, curve ball, off-speed pitch and control. Of course then there is the pitcher's athletic ability, his stamina, durability, anticipation, reflexes, size, coordination, agility, poise, and instinct.
The things you can't see include; attitude - (desire, drive, willingness, hunger, ambition), mental - (intelligence, baseball sense, teachability, knowledge of the game), personality - (improvement, consistency, maturity, adjustment, stability, temperament, disposition), background – (family, habits) and is he a winner? (stomach, heart, competitor, pride, confidence).
Scouting for pitching is done on several different levels or fronts if you will. There is the need to seek out talent for the draft, evaluate the prospects already in the system and to look outside the organization for that Major League talent who may become available through a trade or free agency. In addition, clubs are often looking for that six-year minor league free-agent who may fill a hole at Triple-A or serve as an emergency call up to the Major League club.
The predicting of the future of pitching prospects is extremely difficult, even for those who know and make their living in the game.
Five years ago, pitchers Dan Haren, Rhett Parrott, Justin Pope, Jimmy Journell, Tyler Johnson, Chris Narveson, Josh Pearce and Chance Caple, were all considered top pitching prospects within the Cardinals' organization. Other pitchers that were projected by most scouts as Major Leaguers in the system at the time included; Justin Brunette, Bud Smith, Mike Crudale, and Les Walrond.
Can you guess the major league experience of these pitchers that were scouted and signed by the pros? (I couldn't either)
Name, MLB games, won-loss record, & ERA;
Dan Haren, (97 games, 34-35, 4.12 ERA,)
Rhett Parrott, (no major league experience, injury ended career)
Justin Pope, (no major league experience, minor league reliever)
Jimmy Journell, (12 games, 0-1, 7.43 ERA)
Tyler Johnson, (61 games, 2-4, 4.62 ERA)
Chris Narveson, (5 games, 0-0, 4.82 ERA)
Josh Pearce, (13 games, 0-0, 5.55 ERA)
Chance Caple, (no major league experience, never made it out of A-Ball)
Justin Brunette, (4 games, 0-0, 5.79 ERA)
Bud Smith, (11 games, 1-5, 6.94 ERA)
Mike Crudale, (71 games, 0-0, 2.09 ERA)
Les Walrond, (17 games, 0-3, 7.46 ERA)
You can draw your own conclusions as to what this list means. Nine of the twelve actually made it to the Major Leagues, with very mixed or less than impressive results. My main point here is, even if you know what you are doing and getting paid good money to do it, it is difficult to predict the success of pitching prospects.
That said let's give it a try.
For every rule there will be an exception, typically the first thing you will notice or look for in a pitching prospect is his size. Pitchers in the 6'2" to 6'5" range have had great success in the past. Scouts usually believe that physically, the ideal pitcher's frame should be from 6'3" to 6'5", broad shoulders, loosely muscled, large hands with a strong lower half.
Height gives the pitcher the advantage of throwing downhill, whereas broad shoulders tend to leave room to fill out as the pitcher matures and develops. Large hands will make it easier to control and throw the ball as well as developing additional pitches if necessary.
Evaluating a player's existing tools is easy to do; the hard part is projecting the quality of those tools four to five years down the road.
Scouting is an art form and not a science, meaning it's subjective; judgments and opinions will vary on any given player, that said, baseball does have a grading factor which takes place on the present and future abilities of a prospect, with the future grade being the determining factor in scouting prospects.
Many teams use a grading scale of 2-to-8, or some teams give their scouts more flexibility by using a 20-to-80 scale. The 20-to-80 scale gives the scouts an opportunity to project with more accuracy when differentiating between players of comparable skill level.
The common grading scale;
80 – (Outstanding)
70 – 75 (well above average)
60 – 65 (above average)
50 – 55 (average)
40 – 45 (below average)
30 – 35 (well below average)
20 – 25 (poor)
10 - 15 (church softball league)
Looking back at McLaughlin's chart, we see for a pitcher, those things that we can see, that we can grade, include; his fastball, his curve, his change-up, his control and his fastball movement.
To determine a pitcher's overall future potential (OFP), we grade the fastball, curve, changeup, control and fastball movement and divide that by the number of tools to come up with an overall future potential number to determine a player's value to an organization or his potential for success.
You often hear leading up to the draft that a player will likely go in the first or second round, that projection is based on the player's OFP. For the record, the St. Louis Cardinals don't draft any players that they haven't projected to have the potential of two major league level pitches (or for position players, tools).
Typically a player with an OFP of 60+ will go in the first round. Depending on the talent pool of any given year, a 58 - 59 OFP will go in the first or second round. Second through fourth round draft picks will usually have an OFP of 55 – 57 and so on.
Me personal opinion is, once you get out of the third or fourth round, there isn't significant difference in the potential of any given prospect.
The last time I checked, about 10% of players that sign a minor league contract will play one game at the Major League level.
The chances of a draft pick reaching the Major Leagues;
Round 1: 66%
Round 2: 49%
Round 3-5: 32%
Round 6-10: 20%
Round 11-20: 11%
Round 21 +: 7%
Non Drafted: 4%
Foreign Players: 7%
Grading the fastball of a prospect is one of the first things you'll want to do. It is pretty easy and consistent across the Major Leagues;
RANKING, SPEED OF FASTBALL
80 – 96+ MPH
70 – 94MPH
60 – 92MPH
50 - 90MPH
40 – 88MPH
30 – 86MPH
20 - Below 85 MPH
Of course remember, the fastball needs to have movement, or it will soon become a souvenir.
Naturally grading the curve, change, control and movement is a little more subjective.
A pitcher's durability, overall effectiveness, ability to maintain velocity and command of the strike zone is the result of his mechanics and delivery.
Mechanics is defined as; a learned behavior, the focus on technique (rhythm, balance, front foot placement when striding to home plate, compactness throughout the delivery and achieving full extension of the arm when releasing the ball) to maximize the pitcher's ability and reduce undue stress on the arm.
Whereas delivery is defined as; dependent on heredity, consisting of the release point, arm slot, arc of the arm swing and the degree of looseness in the shoulder joint.
St. Louis Cardinals' pitching coach Dave Duncan is famous for his impact on pitching staffs and turning pitchers careers around. During his playing and coaching career, Duncan has been associated with seven Cy Young Award winners. He coached Bob Welch, Dennis Eckersley, LaMarr Hoyt and Chris Carpenter, and caught Vida Blue and Jim Hunter in Oakland and Jim Palmer in Baltimore.
Most of what Duncan focuses on, is a pitcher's mechanics, because the altering of a pitcher's delivery is a very delicate and usually unsuccessful process. Changing breaking pitches or adjusting mechanics is much easier then fighting genetics.
So if you identify a problem with a pitcher's mechanics it's not the end of the world, but if his delivery appears messed up, you may have problem that may be very difficult to overcome.
Since the free-agent draft began in 1965, baseball has incorporated some science into the art of scouting, to include; psychological testing: securing professional analysis of the makeup of each prospect, by means of exams such as the "Athletic Motivation Inventory" and physical testing: insisting on thorough tests of eye sight and general health, and using the latest technology to quantify information on bat speed, reflexes, or ratios of muscle strength.
These tests are additional tools that can provide critical information to assist in the selection process.
When scouting and or ranking pitching prospects you need to ask yourself;
Does he look like a major league pitcher, the physical stature etc.?
What is his overall future potential (OFP) rating?
Does he possess at a major league fastball? The average MLB fastball being 86 MPH.
Does he possess at least two major league pitches?
Mechanics and delivery, are they clean and smooth?
What results can you expect from his psychological and physical testing?
Add it all up and who knows, you may find the next Bob Gibson or Dizzy Dean playing in a ballpark near you.
Now for this week's questions.
QUESTION - How to evaluate from a scouting (visual) standpoint and how to balance the use of stats and visual evaluation? Include some insights you might have gained in regard to evaluating some specific Cardinal prospects.
Ray – "I made it a point this season to spend five weeks at spring training observing and scouting the St. Louis Cardinals prospects. Basically early in the stage of a player's career you evaluate tools and potential with very little consideration given to stats. For the draft, high school stats, throw them out the window. College stats might attract some attention, but regardless of your stats, if you don't possess the major league tools and for the St. Louis Cardinals that means at the minimum of two major league tools, you are not going to make it to the majors or even get drafted.
Early in spring training, RHP Adam Ottavino, the Cardinals' 2005 first-round draft pick was having a terrible time with his mechanics on the backfields of Roger Dean Stadium.
His footwork was off, he was landing all over the mound, his arm was all over the place, his pitches were consistently high and outside of the strike zone and trust me he didn't look anything like a first-round pick.
Now this is the guy who did well in his pro debut, finishing the '06 season with a combined 3.31 ERA in 14 starts, striking out nearly a batter an inning while holding opponents to a .211 batting average. Yet watching him in Florida, you would have written him off, if you were focusing on results and not his potential.
By the way, Adam went on to post a 12-8 won-loss record this past season, with a 3.08 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .239 batting average, for the Palm Beach Cardinals. Not bad.
Now scouting for a trade at the Major League level, stats naturally play a very significant role in these deals. Stats will also carry more weight in the signing of a minor league free-agent and selecting someone in the Rule Five Draft."
QUESTION: How can you tell if a pitcher is losing his edge and when should you take him out of the game?
Ray – "There are a lot of variables involved when making a decision to change pitchers, to include but not limited to, the schedule, who is available in the bullpen, how rested is the bullpen, the opposing lineup, who's on-deck, who can pinch-hit, the score and the overall situation of the game.
Now as to how you can tell if a pitcher is losing his edge.
Legendary Baltimore Oriole's manager and Hall of Famer, Earl Weaver, who managed a pitching staff better than anyone I've ever seen before of since, used the following guidelines in making his pitching change decisions;
1. Pat attention to foul balls. When a pitcher gets in a good groove, the hitters will usually foul his deliveries straight back.
2. Watch the catcher. The catcher will often look for the manager in the dugout to give him that look, letting him know that the pitcher in not throwing as well as he has been.
3. Time between deliveries. See if the pitcher continues to take the same amount of time between deliveries. If he starts taking longer pauses as the game progresses it's probably a sign that he's tired.
4. Beware of leadoff walks. You know this drives Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan nuts. If a pitcher has a three-run lead in the latter innings and walks the first batter on four straight pitches, it is probably an indication that he's tired. Every pitcher knows that this is the worst time to issue a walk. Therefore, he did it because of fatigue or a flaw in his motion.
5. Watch the guys in the bottom of the lineup. If they start pulling the ball, it's a sign of trouble.
6. Watch where the pitches are going when they miss the strike zone, wild and high, odds are that he is not destined to spend a lot of time on the mound. But if he's wild and low, there is probably little reason for concern.
7. Finally, watch the pitcher's delivery. If it seems out of synch or if the pitcher appears to be falling down during the follow-through, there is probably something wrong.
That's it for this week's "The Baseball GM and Scouting Series", I'll see you at the ballpark.
A LOOK BACK
Week Three, (Monday, November 19) - Evaluating position players
Week Four, (Monday, November 26) - The World of Baseball General Manager
Readers are encouraged to submit any of their questions about next week's topic "Scouting Position Players".
Send your questions and requests to Ray, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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