The recipe for predicting baseball player success includes a dash of conjecture mixed with a hefty portion of evaluative expertise, topped with a big helping of luck.
A foolproof formula for guaranteeing a favorable career for an unproven prospect does not exist. Scouts observe players and make evaluations on what they see. Instinct also plays a role. Two scouts watching the same player in the same game may reach different conclusions. The same two scouts may not have a similar appetite for what their senses convey.
While they may reach different conclusions on the same player, scouts use similar standards to form opinions.
The overall skill set demonstrated by the player creates the template for evaluation. Those "tools" are viewed and reviewed, and conclusions are reached in preparation for the submission of a written report. Once the scout's opinion is in writing, the scout has officially "weighed in." Decisions are considered on the recommendations of scouts.
Scouts evaluate hitting ability, power, running speed, arm strength and fielding for position players. Pitchers are evaluated on their fastball, curveball, slider and a fourth pitch like a changeup. Command, control and mechanics certainly are considered in pitcher evaluations.
Grades are provided for each "tool" or pitch type. The grading scale escalates from a low of 2 to a high of 8.
8 = Excellent
7 = Very good
6 = Good
5 = Average Major League talent
4 = Below average
3 = Well below average
2 = Poor
To realize a final "grade" for a position player, the five grades for each category are added and multiplied by two. Placing a grade on each pitch category, adding a zero to the sum and dividing by the number of categories determines pitching grades.
The final grade for a player dictates the projected organizational role for the player.
Most organizations use the same interpretation of final grades.
65-80 Star player. Should appear in multiple All Star Games.
50-64 Regular Major League player.
40-49 Fringe Player. Should be used in utility role.
38-39 Organizational player. Minor Leaguer called up in emergency.
There are specific metrics to determine a hitter's grade for three tools:
.320 and above = Grade 8
.300 to .319 = Grade 7
.286 to .299 = Grade 6
.270 to .285 = Grade 5
.250 to .269 = Grade 4
.220 to .239 = Grade 3
.219 and below = Grade 2
35 and above = Grade 8
27-34 = Grade 7
20-26 = Grade 6
15-19 = Grade 5
10-14 = Grade 4
05-09 = Grade 3
00-04 = Grade 2
Running speed, home to first base for right-handed hitter
4.0 = Grade 8
4.1 = Grade 7
4.2 = Grade 6
4.3 = Grade 5
4.4 = Grade 4
4.5 = Grade 3
4.6 = Grade 2
Running speed, home to first base for left-handed hitter
3.9 = Grade 8
4.0 = Grade 7
4.1 = Grade 6
4.2 = Grade 5
4.3 = Grade 4
4.4 = Grade 3
4.5 = Grade 2
Subjective grade based upon:
Online carry of the ball
Accuracy of the throw to the target
Transfer of the ball from glove to hand
Release of the ball from hand
Position of body when throwing
Subjective grade based upon:
Range to front, back and both sides
Footwork and quickness of first step
Approach at ball with glove (soft hands? Not stabbing at ball)
Route used to track fly balls
"Reading of the play" off the bat
Positioning when receiving the ball
Agility and flexibility
There is also one specific metric used to evaluate pitchers:
96 and above = Grade 8
94-95 = Grade 7
92-93 = Grade 6
89-91 = Grade 5
87-88 = Grade 4
85-86 = Grade 3
83-84 = Grade 2
Curveball, slider and fourth pitch
These grades are subjective. Scouts evaluate the following:
Amount and type of tilt and break on the ball
Ability to locate and throw strikes (control, especially strike one)
Ability to repeat the pitch (command)
Variation of speeds and tilt/break of the pitch
Ability to change eye level of hitters
Ability to throw pitch to both sides of plate
Ability to pitch to both right-handed and left-handed pitchers
Command, control and the ability to repeat the delivery are crucial components of pitching. Those subjective considerations enter the equation for the final grade. Mound mechanics, mental toughness, agility, the ability to defend the position and arm action are considered. Points may be added or subtracted for the subjective items.
Arm action refers to the release point and mechanics of the pitcher. Pitchers release the ball from different locations according to their comfort level. Successful pitchers repeat their delivery and "finish" their pitches by extending their arm properly and moving their bodies properly in the throwing motion. While pitchers may tire, it is less likely they will hurt their arm if proper mechanics are used.
A player's attitude or "makeup" is a crucial component of the evaluation process. Scouts try to determine if a player will bring energy, commitment, willingness to be a team player, a history of good citizenship and a love of the game to the team. Negative aspects of a player's history can often deter the team from either signing or trading for the player. Attitude and energy for the game often separate winning organizations from those that go through the motions.
When attending a Major League or Minor League game, look behind home plate and there will be a scout with a radar gun, stopwatch and clipboard learning everything possible about a player. Without question, the player will become the subject of a written report for review and scrutiny by the scout's front office. In reality, there's much more than meets the eye. The player's "tool box" will be evaluated and then evaluated again and again.
Articulating one's true feelings in writing and/or verbally in an honest and concise manner is crucial to the player, the scout and the team. That's the ultimate challenge for the scout. It isn't easy.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.