Inside Pitch Magazine, Winter 2013

Quick Pitch: MLB Talent Evaluators – Understanding the Professional Baseball Scouting Process and Grading Scheme

By Eddie Comeaux

Eddie ComeauxOver the years, I have attended my fair share of little league and high school baseball games. And if I had a dollar for every time amateur players, parents, and novice coaches ask about the professional baseball scouting and evaluative process and how players increase their exposure to scouts, well, I would indeed invest in an independent scouting bureau that renders services to aspiring pro players and the baseball community.

Ok, I probably wouldn't initiate such services for various reasons, but you get my hyperbolic point.

In reality, absent is a tested formula for predicting baseball player success and value to an MLB organization although proponents of Moneyball or sabermetrics – a radical method to manage and to assess baseball talent statistically – would say otherwise.

I am of the school of thought that scouting is not an exact science. Rather, scouting baseball talent is a subjective process that requires trained scouts to make evaluations based on observations, intuition, and robust information exchanges with coaches, other scouts, and the prospect.

Individual scouting perspectives will vary from player to player; in other words, two trained scouts can arrive at different opinions and conclusions on the same amateur player.

Nonetheless, there are analogous minimum standards employed by most, if not all MLB organizations, and carried out by scouts to create profiles, draw conclusions, and make informed decisions about prospects. MLB organizations generally have basic evaluation guidelines that are particular to both position players and pitchers.

Position players generally are graded on the following categories: hitting ability, hitting for power, running speed, arm strength, and fielding. Of course, each position requires a skill set that is most important for that specific position. For example, it is more valuable for a center fielder to have running speed than arm strength.

Of the aforementioned categories, it is somewhat difficult to forecast the future hitting ability of an amateur prospect, as an MLB scout, who wanted to remain anonymous, said "the biggest challenge is believing that they [amateur prospects] will hit at the big league level."

When evaluating an amateur hitter, another veteran pro scout said that he tends to focus on "the player's hand speed, contact consistency on the 'sweet spot,' and how the ball travels at contact."

For pitchers, they generally are graded on arm strength, quality of breaking pitch (i.e., curveball, slider), "other" pitch (e.g., change-up, knuckler, split-finger), delivery and arm action, and body type and frame. If a pitcher doesn't throw an "other" pitch, scouts generally grade them on current pitch types. In this scenario, trained scouts rely to a significant degree on their intuitions to determine whether a pitcher with only two pitch types can develop an "other" pitch based on his arm action and mental make-up.

Evaluation of a player's personality and character or mental tools can be a particularly strenuous process for MLB scouts considering that most top amateur prospects have rarely failed or faced adversity during their amateur careers.

A veteran professional scout of 21 years said that the most glaring challenge when evaluating both position players and pitchers is to "figure out their 'makeup' and how much they love the game of baseball." He went on to say, "I can't look into their heart."

Intangible qualities assigned to both position players and pitchers can include 'coachability,' mental toughness, intelligence, perseverance, aggressiveness, instinct, and work ethic.

Without question, makeup commonly separates great ballplayers from successful players.

So what is the grading scheme for amateur players?

In an attempt to quantify the "projected" professional baseball potential of amateur players, scouts use a scale of 2-8 in each category to assign a current and future grade. Grades in each category are added and multiplied by two to calculate an Overall Future Potential (OFP). The OFP number for Major League prospects range from a total of 40-80. The higher the OFP, the better the prospect is considered.

Interpretation of final grades is similar for most organizations. Amateur players with OFPs of 60 + generally are drafted in the 1 st round, OFPs of 58-59 are considered 1st and 2nd round players, and OFPs of 55-57 generally are 2 nd to 4th round draft picks. And after the 5 th round, the OFPs and draft slots can vary significantly because of "signability" issues and organizational needs to name a few.

How do you gain the attention of MLB scouts?

An MLB scout once told me, with some humor, that aspiring professional baseball players can be categorized as prospects and suspects.  

If you consider yourself an MLB prospect, there are ways to appropriately position yourself to gain exposure to MLB scouts. Recommendations for amateur baseball prospects to maximize their exposure to professional scouts include, but are not limited to: (1) playing on high-level and competitive winter and summer league teams ; (2) attending open amateur tryouts that are generally held by all MLB organizations; (3) attending at least one invited showcase camp; and (4) sending an informational package about yourself (including a highlight video) to the amateur scouting director of all MLB organizations.

Above all, amateurs can dream about and prepare for a professional baseball career. The truth is there are not enough MLB uniforms to pass out to every dreamer and every gifted and talented athlete.

This is not to say that we should not support and encourage the dreams of our youth; we should, however, be mindful of the competitive sports landscape and the more achievable career possibilities in other professional areas such as education, engineering, and medicine. Sociologist Harry Edwards firmly asserted: "Statistically, you have a better chance of getting hit by meteorite in the next 10 years than getting work as an athlete."

There is some truth to that claim as roughly 7% of the players who sign a minor league contract will play in the major leagues.

During a time where the United States ranks 23rd in science and 31st in math in standardized tests and 27th in college graduates with degrees in science and math among developed countries, let's make sure that we are encouraging the development of high-achievers as both student and athlete.

Dr. Eddie Comeaux received his B.A. at Cal-Berkeley, where he also played baseball. In 1994, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers and spent four years playing professional baseball.

Dr. Comeaux is currently an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, where his research interests include student engagement, intercollegiate athletics, and diversity competence and leadership in defined social systems.

Dr. Comeaux can be reached at [email protected]

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