02/13/2003 5:30 pm ET
Refining our reports
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 turning in our scouting reports last night, we've been told to be a little more descriptive with today's assignment, as each day we work to refine our reporting skills.
So instead of saying a player has a certain characteristic or skill, we should explain why. Slow feet? Why? Long swing? Why? Not enough break on the curveball? Why not? Is it correctable with some small mechanical adjustment? That's what the scouting directors want to know.
Rather than say a tool must become better, like a player "Needs to improve his bat speed. Has athletic body but isn't fully developed yet," we could say, "Future strength will lead to quicker bat."
Instead of "good hitter" we need to say why he is a good hitter. Does his bat go to the ball? Does he have explosive power and drive the ball to all fields?
We're also taught to avoid redundancy. There's not a lot of room on a scouting report, so scouts must use their space efficiently. Remember when we went through the 2-8 tool-rating system:
2 - Poor
3 -- Well below average
4 -- Below average
5 -- Average
6 -- Above average
7 -- Well above average
8 -- Outstanding
An OFP (Overall Future Projection) chart may look like this:
Now when I filled out my report I wouldn't say, "average runner" since it's already stated above with the "5" next to his running level. I also wouldn't say "hitting will improve" since that is also already stated with the ability grade going from a "4" to a "5." I need to explain why his hitting will improve, such as "future strength gains will increase power."
|Hitting for power
So with this in mind we load the bus and head to the Diamondbacks facility where they are getting ready to face the A's. The D-Backs put on one of the most spectacular infield practices we've seen as we grade their arms. We're pleasantly surprised to see "5" and "6" arms. (Remember a "5" is Major League average, so this is fun stuff to watch).
The momentum builds as the players turn play after play, trying to outdo each other. Teammates on the bench applaud the particularly awesome plays, as the whole session looks like a well-choreographed ballet with players leaping, throwing, spinning and running all around.
Our instructor Rick Arnold says it's one of the best infields he's seen all year. "That's just brilliant," he says. "This is when it's fun to be a scout."
Today's assignment is to just write one report -- the Diamondbacks third baseman. Up until now we've been getting guidance from our instructor as we write our reports, but today we're on our own for the first time. We've nicknamed our group of four Team Internacional (with the emphasis on "cional") since Alex is from Montreal, Ron is from the Netherlands and Jose is native to the Dominican. A few times I'm asked to help them spell words like "stance" and "athleticism," which I don't mind ... it reminds me of how tough English can be. I can't imagine writing these reports in my second or third language.
Like I have mentioned before I try and add more scouting responsibilities to my repertoire each time I go to the ballpark now. After just being able to handle my bag and a pen the first day, I am up to:
Pen/notebook for notes on individual players
Line-up card and field diagram
Stopwatch, used regularly to time hitters' time to first base
Bottled water (hey, it's hot out here!)
Since we're told to move around the park a bit to check out players from different angles, I check the action from third base first (always helps to start with a physical description of your player), then I move to first to see him from the front, before settling behind home plate for the final two innings (it had shade).
I like this third baseman we evaluate, but I'm not sure if I'm going to take him home with me. Maybe we can go for a walk in the park or something. I give him a 44 OFP, which means I project him as a fringe Major League player. (An everyday Major Leaguer would be between a 50-64).
He has some average tools, but I like his confidence and aggressive hitting and the fact that he made consistent contact. He plays with aggressiveness, his head is in the game and there are no major mechanical flaws to fix. He fields with some hard hands, but softening them up is something that's coachable.
We head back to class to write up our reports and then we're free for the rest of the evening. It's a nice break after three days of 13-hour work. Not that we're complaining, but it's just nice to relax at dinner with Mr. Pries, instructor Alex Morales, and my fellow student-friends A.J. and Jose, knowing we weren't in a hurry to return to class.
About 98 percent of the dinner conversation is about baseball, which no one seems to be tired of talking -- or hearing -- about. We actually have some dessert (except Jose -- whatever!) and find the "cake"-flavored ice cream particularly interesting. It tastes exactly like vanilla cake batter -- remember when your mom let you lick the beaters? What a treat.
It was nice to chill with my new scouting amigos without having to agonize over another report. And oh, the cake ice cream has an OFP of 56. I'm sending my report to Baskin-Robbins.
Christine Destefano is executive producer of MLB.com.