Scout's Eye: Hitters

When we spoke to a member of the Cleveland Indians' organization about pitching, the scout mentioned something off the page about how much more work there was in evaluating the pitcher versus the position player. A National League Central scout disagrees, to an extent.

"It's not more work," said the veteran Area Scout. "It's just different. You are looking for different things, of course. It's not just about the pure talent. With hitters, you look for production and the tools to project it as far as it can go. With arms it's just not that simple. The physical makeup is more important."

When asked about a few of the bigtime bats in the minor leagues, the former Division I college coach immediately jumped in with the game's top slugging prospect.

"Wood," said the scout, referring to Los Angeles Angels' shortstop Brandon Wood. "What he did this year was pretty amazing. Considering his relatively moderate numbers from last year, you could call that an explosion. A break out season."

Including the Arizona Fall League, the 20-year-old Wood belted 57 home runs in 163 games played. He also smacked 57 doubles.

"Last season (2004) he was kind of disappointing," the scout said. "We all thought he'd take off in 2004, but I guess it just took him another year."

Wood hit just .251/.322/.404 in the Midwest League in '04, mirroring the success, or lack thereof, from the M's own 2003 first round pick Adam Jones. Jones went .267/.314/.404. Both shortstops hit 11 home runs.

While both players broke out this past summer, Wood's season was legendary and has vaulted the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder into the upper echelon of the game's best prospects.

"I think he's the best power prospect in the game," said the scout. "I would even take his power over Young's (Delmon, Tampa Bay) and especially since Wood can play shortstop.

"You don't often see a kid at that age getting to 100 or more extra-base hits. It's pretty nice for the Angels to have him less than a year away."

How much have you seen Jeremy Hermida?

"Not a lot. But you can see what he does in his numbers. He's a special bat."

Can you compare the types of hitters Wood and Hermida are?

"They are certainly different. Wood is more of a slugger – for now. He doesn't draw a lot of walks or make the pitcher work much, other than all of the sweating he's doing on the mound. Hermida is a pure hitter with the ability to hit in the 3-hole. If I remember correctly, he fought off injuries and did a nice job coming back big.

"I've seen much more of Wood, so If I was picking one over the other I'd lean on him. But if he wasn't a shortstop, I'd probably change my mind. But it's hard to ignore that power. His stroke is quick, very strong and consistent, and even though he strikes out, it's not at the expense of anything else he does. He still gets his doubles.

"Our guys have Hermida as their favorite (of the current crop of prospects) to win a batting title. But he does have power and he's a left-hander. Fun to watch. His approach is very sound, too."

Talk about Adam Jones a little bit

"I really like his athleticism. He's not the fastest player on the field, but he has plus wheels and he can get the job done offensively, and he didn't look too bad in center, either.

"I'd be surprised if he ever hit 30 home runs, but his power may come later as he learns a new defensive spot and polishes his approach at the plate. There was a noticable difference in his confidence this year. One of their (M's) scouts mentioned that he looked like a completely different hitter. Maybe it was the league change. But maybe he's turning the corner."

How about Jeff Clement?

"Ya know, I only saw him once up in Everett, that was the only pro game I saw him in. We were on him heavily in pre-draft stuff and he was the consensus best player in our organization, too, when the Mariners' spot came up.

"At USC, he impressed, but the thing I noticed most of all was that he was learning as each pitch was being made. If you have a catcher with that kind of power that can think his way through his ABs, wow. And the way he goes about each at-bat, and his swing, that swing is pretty short and quick. He shouldn't have any problems moving (quickly) with that approach."

While scouting a college hitter, what are some of the things you want to see?

"Tools. There are a lot of hitters that find ways to get on base and hit for average, but his physical tools will do the work in pro baseball. So yeah, phycial tools is it."

But how do you know?

"Nobody knows for sure. But each scout and each organization has their system and their criteria to work from. Personally, I would prefer to skip over the intangibles, the David Ecksteins, because you don't draft those types. You draft the Uptons, the Maybins and the Gordons."

Which tools?

"Bat speed, pitch recognition, physical makeup. If you see that some junior third baseman has 10 homers through 30 games and it's time to go check him out, I'll look at his listed height and weight and go from there. But I never want to miss out on a player because his size scared me off. Maybe I'm watching him play third, but he profiles as a left fielder or a second baseman. That makes a big difference in which tools are more important than others.

"At third, there is where you usually want a power guy. But if he has the footspeed and the on-base abilities to play second and bat leadoff, his power is a big bonus and he turns into Marcus Giles or Jeff Kent – second baseman with plus power- instead of a third baseman with average power. This happens with shortstops a lot. Great athletic ability can give a subpar defender a passing grade because he can move off the shortstop position."

How about when you are looking at a high school hitter?

"It's pretty much the same, except you kind of want to see more dominance, since the competition level isn't as high. Bat speed, raw power."

How about when you are assessing your own players for promotions?

"It's pretty simple. A player will be promoted when he's ready for the next challenge. That isn't necessarily when he starts putting up numbers, or when he begins to show dominance. Most clubs I've worked for do it the same way.

"We've promoted players with pretty stinky numbers because we felt he was getting bored. He was no longer learning. I think the Yankees did that with Duncan (Eric) last year. But you have to be careful to not move a player who doesn't have a really good shot to progress a level ahead."

Do you have tendencies as a scout?

"Oh yeah. I have a tendency to want to take a vacation in April when it's raining in the Bay Area or in Portland or Tacoma. But I do have my own preferences. Most would admit to that. But there's always someone there to remind you not to sway. Another scout, maybe. Or maybe your player struggles. It can be humbling. Ask anyone in the business.

"I do have certain types of players I file on that I prefer. But since it's not up to me, all I can do is do my job."

What types?

"From our e-mails this summer, I can tell that you like the same type of player, and I'm going to guess that is why you mentioned Hermida. I like the left-handed power bats that can draw walks. The Brian Giles' of the world. The Giambis. The Delgados. But I also like the middle infielders who can handle the bat.

"I'd give up a little bit of power to get the better on-base guy. Hermida over Wood, as a hitter. Clement falls into that, too."

The Eye

Best bat you ever saw that never made it in the big leagues: "That's a tough one. I might have to go with one of the current players. Austin Kearns. He has every tool to get it done. I also remember thinking Jose Cruz was going to win a few batting titles. But he's a quality player right now."

Best teenage hitter you have ever seen: "You are making me think back a ways now. AROD was unbelievable. I did see Tony Gwynn as a college freshman. That was amazing. Here's one – Yaz. His workouts in '57 or '58 were amazing. He may have been 21 when he first suited up, but he had triple crown written all over him. I wasn't even working in the game yet, but he was probably the best."

Toughest type of hitter to scout: "The tweener. The one where it's not clear that he'll hit for power but he doesn't have the speed or on-base skills to hit at the top of the order. There are so many of them, it's difficult to separate which ones have the best chance."

Do you have a favorite minor league hitter, other than Wood or Hermida, outside of your organization?: "I really like what Kendrick (Howie) can do. Being on this coast and seeing him quite a bit, he's going to be a very good second baseman for a long time. He looks to hit for some power and nobody has found a way to get him out yet. He's a few years from Anaheim, but he's sensational. Kotchman (Casey), too. I think Alex Gordon is going to be an all-star."

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