02/13/2003 5:36 pm ET
Reviewing the report
MLB.com's Christine Destefano attended the Major League Scouting Bureau's first "scout school," a week-and-a-half-long program in the Dominican Republic. 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 -- We start the day taking a group photo outside on the steps of our hotel. I look forward to seeing the picture so I can remember all of my new amigos I have met here. We file back into the classroom and talk about our prospect from yesterday, the Diamondbacks third baseman.
We like him, but do we really like him? He loves to play and he's a hard worker with enthusiasm. (I also noticed he played the first inning with a lollipop in his mouth, but it didn't make the final report). Making the Major Leagues is one tough thing to do, so it's important to find a kid who wants it -- really wants it.
Players can improve in some areas, especially fielding, with the right dedication and commitment, and since this guy has that we're off to a good start. Now we break him down.
He's intense, but perhaps in too big of a hurry to make the big play. He runs hard, but he's not exactly speedy. His tenseness may be limiting his range and agility, but he is aggressive at the plate and makes consistent contact. Would you want him on our team? Yep, I say, but I project him as more of a fringe player at the Major League level.
Here's the scouting report I turned in on him:
TOOLS PRESENT FUTURE
HITTING: 5 5
POWER: 4 4
SPEED: 4 4
THROWING: 5 5
FIELDING: 4 5
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Athletic build. Strong legs. High waist. Solid. Physically mature.
MECHANICAL DISTINCTIVES: Slight uppercut swing. Wide stance.
ABILITIES: Aggressive at plate. Keeps face on ball, makes consistent contact. Good bat speed. Good arm. Flashes above-average arm.
WEAKNESSES: Slightly stiff hands, correctable. Not a fluid runner. Better runner under way.
SUMMATION: Athletic body and no major mechanical flaws. Lack of power and bat limit future role to Major League back-up.
My instructor Rick Arnold graded my paper and pointed out that I said "good arm" in abilities. You guys should remember this one from yesterday -- "good" means "above average," yet I only rank him as an "average" arm. I just contradicted myself. Then I say "flashed above-average arm" when it should say "flashed above-average arm strength."
The final two comments are the heart of my challenge here at scout school -- breaking down what I saw. I'm told to be more descriptive about his fielding in abilities, and write more about his bat in weaknesses. This is the part where having played before really comes in handy. I mean he was fine. Nothing major to fix. He just looked fine! But that's not enough for a Major League scouting director. They want to know why he looked fine.
I've received a lot of e-mails from users wanting to know how to become a scout. And I can't say it enough -- it's not something you just decide to do as you roll out of bed one day, and it's not something you decide to do because you love the game and want to be around it. Scouting takes a specially trained eye and years of practice and experience. The only way to learn it is from the savvy veterans who have been doing it for years.
Our next lesson today is on hitting. All hitters must do things that are similar:
- have balance
- start their approach at the right time
- have some knee flexion
- move hands back before going forward to hit
- keep arms in an "L" shape as they come through the zone and make contact
- have perfect extension at point of ball contact with bat
Good mechanics means a player has a better chance to become a good hitter. This brings us back to our third baseman from Arizona. He didn't have good balance at the plate, which made him lose control and strength.
We then watch some video of Will Clark from his college days and break down his swing frame by frame. Looks perfect. Textbook. We watch a few other players and then get to this year's No. 1 overall pick in the draft, catcher Joe Mauer, who was taken by the Twins.
What are some things to look for in a catcher? One who sits up and doesn't rest back on his tail. Someone who has his feet turned outward (like a duck) behind home plate so he can have good lateral movement. Instructor Jim Walton gets up in front of the class and demonstrates good catcher's actions for us ... it's always helpful to actually see the mechanics and movements.
After our morning lesson we load the bus and head over to the Cardinals facility where we'll scout their switch-hitting shortstop and Oakland's third baseman. It's the hottest day so far since we've been here, but no one complains since going to the yard is our favorite thing to do here. (In fact, has anyone ever complained about having to go to the ballpark?)
The shortstop dazzles us in infield practice with his strong arm and lightning quickness, but he's hampered by a hamstring injury so he's unable to really let loose during the game. I'm not as high on this third baseman as I was on yesterday's, but I think he can make the average play.
One thing that was helpful today was using lineup cards that Mr. Walton made up and used. One side has room for the batting lineup and pitchers, the other side lists them by position with room for comments. There are boxes for grading the five tools, as well as noting which way a batter bats and throws. You fold the paper in fourths and voilà! You have a very efficient and organized notepad.
Today I paid more attention to the rest of the lineup than I ever have before. "The key is watching the game with one eye on your guys, and the other eye on the rest of the game," says my instructor. I'm slowly getting the hang of this as I notice the center fielder can make a mad, diving catch in center, but gets fooled with the offspeed stuff. And he's not even on my list of players to watch! How about that for multitasking?
At the Cardinals facility, which sits right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, we're reminded of how much baseball means to Dominicans. A few kids watch the entire game by climbing the trees that come up over the stadium wall. Then when we leave we're surrounded by kids in baseball caps just jumping around having a good time, trying to speak English to us. They're more than willing to pose for a few photos before we walk to our bus.
Back in class we write a scouting report on our shortstop -- I'm kind of bummed about his lack of enthusiasm and think about putting "not peppy enough" in my report, but I think of something that sounds more "baseball" and go with that. Then I write up a paragraph on the A's third baseman and think I do a little better job explaining his tools, rather than just reporting them.
I guess what Mr. Pries told us earlier today was true: With a little dedication and commitment, you can see some improvement.
Tomorrow: We visit the Dodgers facility again and write up some new players. Thanks to everyone for their e-mails, a scouting FAQ will be posted soon, so thanks for your patience.
Christine Destefano is executive producer of MLB.com.