02/13/2003 5:11 pm ET
Take a player home with you
MLB.com's Christine Destefano attended the Major League Scouting Bureau's first "scout school" in the Dominican Republic for a week and a half. She wrote daily reports on her experiences as she attended the school as a student, learning how to properly scout and evaluate international baseball talent.
BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic -- After Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos leads us in a moment of silence for the victims of American Airlines flight 587, we get a pep talk from scouting guru Don Pries on being confident as a scout. "You need to be a decision-maker," he tells us, "not a collector of information or a conversationalist!"
He has a few phrases he likes to say when gushing over a player he likes: "He's going to the big leagues ... and I'm going with him!" or "Did we see a ballplayer today? We saw a ballplayer today!" or my favorite "I'm taking him home with me!"
So needless to say when we pack up and head to the Rockies' facility we're fired up. I am going to find myself a ballplayer today.
Every day we are given more responsibilities as evaluators. Today's addition is the radar gun, which I learn I will be running for the first inning. I have never used one before, although I am slightly familiar with them, having had one used against me by that nice officer in Arizona a few weeks ago.
My classmate Jose charts the pitches and I hold the gun. While getting my quick tutorial I'm told that the gun job is so easy a chair could do it. After a few minutes, I find that to be not entirely accurate, as would a chair be able to decide to measure bat speed? Or miss a pitch because it's too short to see over the right-handed batter ? Or run the batteries down by holding down on the trigger? Or accidently erase the reading of a nasty slider? I don't think so!
It actually wasn't that bad, and I learned a few things -- like right behind home plate is the most accurate place to get a reading. Some scouts say for every 10 degrees you move off home plate you can lose an mile off a pitcher's velocity (that's why you always see scouts right behind home plate). And it also helped me identify pitches more easily since they could be associated with velocity right away.
Our assignment today is evaluating the starting pitcher for Oakland and then the first baseman for Colorado. As the Rockies take infield practice we go with instructor Rick Arnold to third base to judge the arms on every player. I am getting better at this I think, since I am never off by two points (a big sign something is wrong) and I only miss two players.
Pries said second basemen were sometimes the hardest arms to judge since they often can make the play by just flipping the ball, or they cut their arm action short to make the quick throw. I think this gets in my head a bit as I never really am sure I see a throw by either one of them that I feel comfortable judging. My instructor suggests watching for when the second baseman takes the throw while behind or straddling second base, then throws to first, and when he is the relay man on an outfield throw to third.
As the game begins I grab the gun and set up next to my classmate Jose. We track pitches for an inning before handing off to another group. I head over to first base to begin my evaluation of my first baseman. He's definitely got a lean athletic body, and is a bit high-waisted with quick feet. He looks very alert and into the game. (These are good things).
The inning is over and I move close to the on-deck circle to watch him prepare to bat. Confirm athletic body and some physical maturity. He steps right in and turns to bunt on the first pitch. Interesting, no one is on base. This is a first baseman. Hmmm. Second pitch -- he bunts and whoosh! Off he goes. Since I haven't pulled out my stopwatch yet I ask what he was clocked at. He was faster than a speeding locomotive.
I see my instructor standing down by first base so I make my way over there. There are some interesting pieces to this guy's puzzle. We compare notes on him for awhile, and try to think of reasons he's at first base. With speed like that, do you really want him at first? Would his speed be suited for another infield position? Not really. Where would speed be a great asset? The outfield. Which outfield position? Center field. Then why is he at first?
I'm asked to think of some reasons why he would play there. Honestly the only thing I can think of is the regular first baseman must have the flu and this guy is just filling in. Mr. Arnold suggests he could have a slight injury and it's not as strenuous on him to play here. Someone suggests they wanted to try out a younger player in center so they moved him here. And he's not wearing a first-baseman's glove ... hmmmm. I want to know the answer now. This is a fun puzzle!
In the meantime, he gets on base again from the other side of the plate. A switch-hitter, I love it. He starts making the pitchers nervous (heady baserunner). I love it. He wipes the sweat from his brow with an elegant grace. I love it. He slides to break up a double play. OK, so I know it's what you're supposed to do, but I still love it ... and I think I've found my player.
My classmate Jose, a scout with the Cubs, agrees this guy is good and we talk about telling Mr. Pries how much we like him. We board the bus and head back home before filing into the classroom. "Did we see a ballplayer today?" asks Pries.
"I want to take him home!" yells Jose.
"You can't! He mine!" says Pries. We all laugh. There's probably no greater high for a scout than having a player reach the big leagues, but it's pretty darn fun getting giddy over a prospect, too.
We break for dinner and come back to write up our first official scouting report using our best Sunday pens. We have to take everything we saw today and condense it down to just a few lines on a piece of paper. I would rather write a 1,000-word essay on him with flowery descriptions and comparisons, but as a scout trainee, I am learning to express myself using abbreviated words and short phrases, while still getting my point across. It's a tough thing to do, but fun when writing about a player you're excited about.
Tomorrow: We'll see how I did on the scouting report and head over to the Dodgers facility to hopefully find us some more players.
Christine Destefano is executive producer of MLB.com.