Putting A Spin On Traditional Reports
I wanted to put a twist on the traditional scouting reports you can now find all over the internet. I've seen well over 75% of my top 150 players, so I'll provide video of each of them, grade their tools/pitches, give the pertinent biographical info, but also give you the multi-year perspective of what their talent tells us. In talking to lots of data types around the game about what scouts are missing most in the pre-draft evaluations, I keep hearing that the recency bias in draft rooms is maddening. "Forget that Brandon Finnegan has had three plus pitches and good command for two years, his shoulder was tender two weeks ago, move him down 10 spots!" Maybe that reactionary response is instructive in some circumstances of the momentum arrow changing directions right before the draft, but it's incredibly unlikely that fate is lining things up for you that neatly.
One instructive example: the Orioles #5 overall pick in 2009, husky NorCal prep RHP Matt Hobgood threw 88-92 for over a year, then 90-94 in the middle of the season, then 94-98 for the weeks before the draft, then was 88-92 or injured the rest of his career. Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor and Mike Leake were the next three picks and Shelby Miller would've signed for near slot. This pre-draft mirage (positive or negative) happens much more often than a new level of performance or slight stiffness leading to a major injury happening as you're entering the draft room. So, along with the standard scouting report stuff, I've expanded the reports for the top players in the draft to address the multi-year history that we now can have (thanks to showcase baseball) even on high school players, then denote a specific section to view the player in light of the 30,000 foot view of their career's trajectory.
Things To Keep In Mind
Something to know when looking at the biographical data is the importance of age, as popularized by Rany Jazayerli in two articles back in 2011. Nearly every team in baseball discusses age in their draft room now, when it previously would only be brought up occasionally in even the most stats-inclined draft rooms before the article. The average age for high school players is about 18.1 or 18.2, while for college players it's right around 21.0.
A useful concept I've been using for doing my rankings this year is, instead of projecting what a player could be at maturity (age 25 or so), projecting what I think he'll be like in 2-3 years. It's industry practice to grade tools for what they'll be at maturity, but having such a long time horizon often leads to discussions getting sidetracked by "well, yeah, technically he may never get to AA, maybe the #1 overall pick never gets out of A-Ball, maybe everyone gets hurt in rookie ball and quits" rather than focusing on things that could reasonably happen in a medium time frame. With scouts doing pro coverage of minor league teams every summer, they're very aware of what works and what they like in A-Ball and AA prospects, while they often don't scout the big leagues at all, so this frame of reference is much more relatable to their knowledge base, as well.
This helped me in the recent shuffle in the top 10 of my rankings. I realized that I think Aaron Nola could be a #4 starter next April while Tyler Kolek has at least a 50/50 chance of his elbow blowing out and isn't as advanced as most top 10 pick prep arms of recent years. That 2-3 year horizon made it clear that Nola was more valuable to me, while looking at "peak" performance in peak years made Kolek's size and velocity seem impossible for Nola to match in the long-term. I could continue working out why I shuffled the players like I did, but it basically came from looking at them slightly differently that I was trained to and talking to more scouts to fill in holes on things I didn't get to see this spring. Hopefully the reports give you the information to understand the rankings and also maybe tweak them to make your own.
The 20-80 Scale
Another thing to note is that the 20-80 scouting grades for each player are presented as present/future, with only the only exception being the hit grade. Since every amateur hitter is a present 20 hitter in the big leagues, I (along with many MLB organizations) use a peer grade for the present hit tool. What that means is you grade the player's hitting performance (not the tools) against his peers (similarly talented players of similar age against similar competition).
The use of this is 1) to think of players in terms of production and not just raw ability, as a means to be more accurate for 2) projecting players to be good big league hitters due to big league hitting tools (bat speed, mechanics, strength, etc) along with approach and results. One of the MLB organizations that was first to use this system said the scout couldn't give a future hit grade over 10 points above the present peer grade, as a way to keep a scout from projecting a hitter essentially learning how to hit after signing for a large bonus. This, along with years of history on prep players thanks to showcase baseball, is why studies have shown that teams are getting better at drafting the best players in the highest slots of the draft over time.
Some other things to know so you can fully understand the reports, include the 20-80 scale. I assume regular readers of the site are well-versed in this but the casual draft reader that wants to know who his team drafted may not, so here's a quick rundown in chart form:
This table shows the kind of player inferred by various 20-80 grades (used in 5 point increments) as Future Values (FV) to sum up a player's potential (i.e a 55 FV hitter is "above average regular"), along with the term that is used on the 20-80 scale for specific tool grades (i.e. 60 raw power is called "plus"). The WAR value means that, for example, a player with a FV of 70 is expected to have a peak WAR at maturity of 5.0 WAR. It also leaves out some numbers to be concise in some places (75, 65 are little used and obvious by their surroundings) and because they aren't used in other places (20, 25, 30, 35 aren't used for prospect ranking purposes and aren't often used for grading tools for prospects, either). Since 50 is the most common grade when dealing with prospects, I and other scouts will often use solid-average (52.5) and fringe-average or fringy (47.5) to further sort out many tools that would otherwise be tough to separate.
6'2/195, R/R, 17.96 on Draft Day
Fastball: 55/60+, Curveball: 55/60+, Changeup: 50/55+, Command: 40/50
Scouting Report: I saw Toussaint all the way back in his sophomore year at Coral Springs Christian, when word was circulating around Florida about his low 90's velo, loose delivery and ridiculous curveball (click on his name to see several more videos). His coming out party was the fall before his junior season, at age 16, when he hit 97 with a curveball that flashed 70 on the 20-80 scale. His command wasn't good then, but you didn't care with that kind of electric stuff at that young of an age. Over the summer, his arm speed was down at times (90-92, hitting 93), his curveball was more of a 55 flashing 60 at times and his command was below average at every stop on the showcase circuit.
This spring, he's made some adjustments. In the middle video at the beginning of the spring, he started and ended the game with a 65 fastball-curveball combination, a new splitter than was solid-average at times but below average command. The different was that in the middle innings, when he was pacing himself in an outing longer than any he'd had over the summer/fall, he dialed down the arm speed a notch and located at 91-94 mph with life and a 60 curveball. In the top video at NHSI in March, Toussaint did more of the same and the changeup flashed above average to plus potential in front of a lot of high level scouts. He isn't that projectable and the delivery can get a little sloppy at times, so there are some negatives still in play, but the bad body language, poor command spirals some saw over the summer is now gone.
Toussaint has all the making of a frontline arm and is young for the class, not turning 18 until after the draft. It's rare to see a prep arm flash two 70's and a 60 along with average command if you put all of his best days together, but the trick is for the development folks to get something close to that sort of stuff consistently with the command to stay in the rotation. My 20-80 grades reflect a reasonable, #2/3 starter upside that's basically the dialed-down version of Toussaint that had some success this spring. The team that pops him in the top 15 picks, likely Toronto at 11, will hope to start with that dialed-down version and coax that 70 stuff to come back out once he can consistently command the 60 stuff.
Take A Step Back: Rare combination of stuff, athleticism, age and precocious arm speed that has improved this spring when pressure was high. Never been hurt and appears to be a total freak, so I can't rule out anything, including a true #1 starter.
Projected Role: #2/3 starter, 60-65 FV
14. Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford
6'5/240, L/L, 20.98 on Draft Day
Fastball: 60/65, Slider: 50/60, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 40/50+
Scouting Report: Newcomb was lightly-recruited and lightly-scouted out of high school and wasn't even a standout his freshman year at Hartford, as he hadn't played that much baseball in high school, also playing tight end. He took off in his sophomore year at Hartford, with one northeast scout texting me after he ran into Newcomb in a matchup with a draft eligible prospect: "I just saw Jon Lester pitching for Hartford." Buzz got around the northeast pretty quickly and Newcomb had a spot in the Cape Cod League. Mono held him out of much of the summer until he squeezed in a few starts late (video above).
When he's right, Newcomb pitches at 91-94 and hits 96 mph with above average life and plane, though he threw a tick harder last spring. Newcomb is deceptive because his delivery is so easy, you assume he could just throw harder with a little more effort. His breaking ball was a definite plus last spring and still flashes 60 now, but is more of a solid average pitch that can get slurvy. Newcomb's changeup has made progress this spring and is now flashes above average, while his command is also better and could be solid-average due to his athleticism and easy delivery.
Take A Step Back: A big, athletic lefty that throws three above average pitches with easy plus velocity and has thrown less innings than many prep arms, so a good development team can mold him as they want. He'll show you #3/4 starter stuff today but there might be #1/2 starter stuff in there a few years down the road.
Projected Role: #3 starter, 60 FV
6'1/220, L/R, 21.26 on Draft Day
Hit: 55/55+, Power: 55/60, Run: 35/35, Field: 45/45+, Throw: 50/50
Scouting Report: Conforto is more athletic than most prospects of his size, with plus bat speed and raw power which likely has to do with his athletic parents: a dad who played linebacker at Penn State and a mom who won a few gold medals in synchronized swimming. Conforto wasn't drafted out of high school but has produced since he stepped foot on campus, hitting the ground runnig thanks to his above average plate discipline. He needs the bat to keep playing because Conforto doesn't offer much on the bases or on defense, with an average at best arm, well below speed and fringy instincts in left that lead to some interesting adventures out there. He may eventually move to first base, but is fine to leave in left field for now.
Conforto's swing was a little long for Team USA and he looked to be guessing at times to get the pitch he wanted, but he's been more relaxed at the plate this spring, with the gaudy numbers to prove it. The 7 homers are a little below expectations, but good development coaches should be able to help him make the adjustments to put it all together in pro ball. The 50 walks and 12 HBPs in 191 AB make you feel better about the lower power output as that's easier to work with than a hacker that was feasting on mistake pitches.
Take A Step Back: An advanced, productive bat with the bat speed and plate discipline to give confidence in a 55 or 60 bat projection and enough to get to his 60 raw power in games. Teams understand more today than ever the value of this sort of player; no margin for error and if he hits his upside, Conforto is still less valuable than many league average bats in the middle of the field. Low risk pick you can feel good about in the short-term but could make you look bad 5 years from now.
Projected Role: Solid Average Regular, 50-55 FV
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