This week we are going to take a look at scouting and evaluating position players. It is very important to remember that scouting focuses on tools of players, not performance.
In review, remember 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.
For a position player, those things that you can see, include; the arm strength, use of arm, speed, hands, fielding, range, hitting, power, speed, stamina, durability, instinct, coordination, agility, reflexes, size and poise.
The things you can't see, again 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).
In baseball, scouts evaluate what is known as the five tools of a ballplayer, the tools being;
· hitting for average
· hitting for power
· speed, baserunning skills
· fielding abilities
We'll cover the five-tools of a ballplayer, what to look for when scouting those tools and then finally how to grade them and then wrap up the scouting portion of this series.
Evaluating the existing tools for a position player is the easy part, the difficult part, as it is with pitchers, is projecting the quality of tools four and five years into the future.
Two things you need to note right off the bat is; all tools can and usually improve with the exception of speed and arm strength which both are natural gifts. Secondly, there are only two reasons a player will improve his physical skill level, that is through, physical maturity, gain of strength or the adjustments to minor mechanical flaws.
For the basis of this article, we are going to refer to the five tools as, hitting, power, speed, fielding & arm.
A five-tool player, which is rare, is a player that excels at hitting for average, hitting for power, has plus speed and base-running skills, with Gold Glove type fielding abilities and a strong arm.
In Major League Baseball, players considered five-tool players have included in the past, Hall of Famers; Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, and one of my favorite players, borderline Hall of Famer, Andre Dawson, and current players like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr.
For what it is worth, one of the last widely considered five-tool player to play in the St. Louis organization (1998-2003), was Boston's, J.D. Drew, which brings up a very good point, possessing the five tools does not necessarily guarantee success on the star or superstar level on the field.
Knowing what the tools are, we need to look at what it is a scout is looking for when evaluating a player's tools.
HITTING – Hitting the baseball is perhaps the hardest thing to do in sports, that is, next to trying to project the hitting tool, three to four years down the road.
Hand-eye coordination is probably the main ingredient in a player's makeup. The ability to pick up a ball in a split-second, followed by hand speed, flexibility, aptitude, athletic intelligence and a good work ethic will give young ballplayers a chance to develop into good hitters.
Some of the things a scout will want to look at is, the batters; strength, bat speed, lack of fear at the plate, does he keep his head and eyes on the ball, etc. Some of the faults you'll find in a lot of young hitters include, fear of the ball, wrapping the bat, too long of a stride, upper cutting or a hitch in the swing.
POWER - You look for bat quickness, strength and potential body growth. You can see young players and project they will get bigger-with bone structure and the way they carry themselves.
Bat speed is critical in providing power at the plate, home run legends like, Hank Aaron (6' 180LBS), Mickey Mantle (5'11" 198LBS) and Willie Mays (5'11" 180LBS) were of average stature. Not all home run hitters are going to look like Mark McGwire (6'5" 250), Ken Griffey Jr. (6'3" 228) or Barry Bonds (6'2" 228), of course it doesn't hurt.
If you spent last season scouting the Cardinals minor league system, you may have gotten very excited watching Memphis outfielder Joe Mather (6'5" 210LBS) step up to the plate, as well as you should have. One of the most exciting sluggers in the minor leagues last season, Mather hit a combined 31 home runs between Springfield and Memphis. But you if you didn't know it, you might overlook the smaller player, Colby Rasmus (6'2" 195), who because of his bat speed, hit 29 home runs at Double-A this past season.
SPEED – Because of it's effectiveness as an offensive and defensive weapon, speed is the most valuable tool of a position player's five tools. It is the easiest thing to scout, all you need is a stopwatch or a good eye, yet speed is the hardest thing to find.
It's possible for players to improve their speed, but rarely with substantial gains. Players with speed are counted on to make things happen. The advantage of players with plus speed is that their speed can contribute in all phases of the game to include; hitting, fielding and, of course, baserunning.
We've seen in St. Louis Cardinals' history how the speed of players like, Lonnie Smith, Vince Coleman, Ray Lankford, Delino Deshields, Edgar Renteria and Lou Brock, can significantly impact/disrupt a game and help lead their team to a National League Pennant and or a World Championship with their blazing speed on the bases.
FIELDING - There isn't standard to rate fielding, though fielding percentage is widely used, (divide the total putouts and assists by total of putouts, assists and errors) can be misleading. As a scout you'll want to keep an eye on the player's hands, footwork, range, arm, accuracy of his throws, quick release, quickness, athleticism and judgment of fly balls, especially for outfielders.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a long history of having some of the best fielders in the history of the game to wear the Birds on the Bat. In 2003, Jim Edmonds, Edgar Renteria, Scott Rolen and Mike Matheny each were 2003 Rawlings Gold Glove award winners.
One thing a scout can do is compare a prospect with current and past major leaguers, as Cardinal fans, most of our readers have had the opportunity to see some of the best in the game, play in St. Louis. You have to ask yourself, does a player remind you of one of the Cardinal greats.
ARM – Considered the least important of the five tools, having a great arm often is considered a bonus because it doesn't necessarily equate into making a player a better fielder. You look for a looser arm and good mechanics. It's clear that defensive execution relies on each player's ability to make strong, accurate throws to the proper base or relay man.
It is widely considered that St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, Rick Ankiel has a plus arm, but I would add that the injured, Juan Encarnacion has a very good arm in right. In spring training workout sessions in 2007, Encarnacion appeared to me, again evaluator's perspective, to have the best and most accurate arm in the Cardinals' outfield.
OVERALL FUTURE POTENTIAL
As we begin scouting players, we need to grade their tools to help determine their Overall Future Potential (OFP). The OFP formula for position players is similar to that for pitchers that we looked at last week. For the position player you use this formula;
OFP = (Hitting + Power + Speed + Fielding + Arm) divided by #of Tools
In review, grading this tools 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)
Here is a couple of grading scale examples that you can use as a guideline for position players;
|Hitting Grade||Projected BA|
|70||.300 - .329|
|60||.285 - .289|
|50||.270 - .284|
|40||.240 - .269|
|30||.220 - .239|
|20||.000 - .219|
|Power Grade||Projected HR|
|Speed Grade||60-yard dash|
|70||6.6 - 6.5|
|60||6.8 - 6.7|
|50||7.0 - 6.9|
|40||7.2 - 7.1|
|30||7.4 - 7.3|
Remember there isn't a standard scale for rating arm strength and fielding.
One thing that you have to take with a grain of salt when scouting position players is that the position that player is playing. A prospect will often be scouted, drafted and signed at one position only to move to another, better suited position, once they begin their professional career.
Deciding which position a player's tools are best suited for is the first step after evaluating a player's tools, so let's break it down what tools scouts look for, for each position.
Most important tools (hitting, power, speed, fielding & arm) for position players;
Catcher - fielding, arm, hitting, power, speed
First baseman – power, hitting, fielding, arm, speed
Second baseman – fielding, speed, arm, hitting, power
Third baseman – hitting, power, fielding, arm, speed
Shortstop – fielding, arm, speed, hitting, power
Leftfielder – power, hitting, fielding, arm, speed
Centerfielder – fielding, speed, arm, hitting, power
Rightfielder – power, hitting, arm, fielding, speed
In closing remember that scouting is an art form and not a science, meaning it's subjective; judgments and opinions will vary on any given player, depending on the skill and experience of a scout.
We have just barely touched the surface of scouting in this series. I would recommend readers who are interested in learning more about scouting in baseball should consider the Baseball GM and Scouting course offered by Sports Management WorldWide Management or Baseball University's "Scout Like the Pros" course.
Review of The Baseball GM and Scouting Series
Week One, (Monday, November 5) - The Sports Management Worldwide Baseball GM and Scouting Course
Week Two (Monday, November 12) Scouting – Evaluating Pitchers
Week Four, (Monday, November 26) - The World of Baseball General Manager
The Baseball Winter Meetings (December 3 -7), Ray Mileur will be reporting live from the Winter Meetings in Nashville.
Readers are encouraged to submit any of their questions about next week's topic "The World of the Baseball General Manager" or the Winter Meetings and Rule 5 Draft in December to Ray, via email at email@example.com.
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