The land of radar guns & stopwatches, Part 1

This time of the year, scouts generally take up a nice chunk of the seats behind homeplate at any major league or minor league game. We spent a night among the scouts and found out some interesting things about how they view the Phillies organization.

"Curveball," said one scout as Austin Hyatt was coming to the end of his wind-up. Sure enough, a curveball broke off, resulting in a swing and a miss.

One scout, a veteran with an AL Central team, had picked up that Hyatt was tipping his curveball and wondered aloud why the opposing hitters hadn't picked up on what he had discovered. "Sometimes, you can get away with that at Double-A, but in the majors, that's not going to get the job done, because hitters will be sitting on it," said the scout while shaking his head.

"They'll fix that on him quickly enough," proclaimed another scout.

For a baseball writer and fan, there is no better place to sit than among a bunch of scouts from various organizations. Some are in their first season of work, while others have scouted the likes of Tony Gwynn and Ryne Sandberg.

As the pitcher starts his delivery, the radar guns point toward the field, looking to catch the speed of every pitch. And immediately after the pitch, their pens chart everything about the pitch - the speed, the break, the command - so they can file full reports after the game.

A runner on base, the stopwatches come out. Some are watching the pitcher's delivery to home, while others are looking to time the runner stealing a base, if they can. Even without a runner on base, the stopwatches for many scouts are put into use to time the batter from the box to first base.

Getting to the heart of the matter, I brought up the question of who is the best pitching prospect in the organization. "I like the [Jonathan] Pettibone kid," said one scout. "He commands his pitches, he's poised and I think he's going to keep getting better and better." Meanwhile, a scout from the Milwaukee Brewers didn't hesitate on his answer. "Trevor May. But, they've got to stop messing around with him and forcing him to throw as many sliders as he is. Just let him throw the ball and use what he's got. The slider will come along, but he can get by without it," emphasized the veteran scout. According to the scout, he's seen May pitch four different times this season and each time he's thrown more sliders than the time before."

Too many times, teams mess with their players, stressed another scout with 30-plus years of work in the business. "With most hitters, and I would include Domonic Brown in this group, you just tell them 'see the ball, hit the ball, run to first and turn left'. They don't need much more than that."

The topic of Brown brought up quite a discussion. The most vocal and noteworthy of the comments came from a white-haired, grizzled veteran - one who despises radar guns and sabremetrics - "Jiwan James will be a regular in the majors before Domonic Brown will." Some of the scouts agreed, but one young scout added a telling comment. "Unless he [Brown] goes somewhere else and gets a full chance like he deserves."

"His trade value is dead though," replied one scout. "They should have moved him in the Halladay deal, but they weren't going to give him up for anything. Now, they won't get much for him."

Since the name of Jiwan James came up, it seemed like a good time to get some thoughts on him. "He's one of those kids that you can tell just loves to play," said one scout, with others expressing definite agreement. "He has some holes, but he's good enough to plug those holes before too long and he'll put it all together," said one other scout.

Then, came an interesting reply from one of the quieter scouts in the group. "He's what Tyson Gillies should have been."

With a chorus of agreements, one scout noted that Gillies might be his own worst enemy. "You can't blame a kid for injuries, Gillies plays hard and I can understand that," explained the scout. "You can blame him for having an attitude that has him yelling at bus drivers and acting like he's much more than what he is. He should be begging to be back on the field and doing everything he can to stay out there."

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