Spring Training scouting a whole different ballgame
Upon occasion, I like to share some of the components of scouting and what I look for when I scout a player.
I will be scouting and evaluating players in both Arizona and Florida during Spring Training this year. For the most part, I will watch a player's mechanics as opposed to his performance.
Spring Training is different in both locations.
Florida may allow a pitcher to get more spin on breaking balls due to higher humidity. Those same pitches in Arizona may flatten out and get clobbered. Players in Florida may be able to sweat and lose weight a bit easier due to that same humidity.
I graduated from the Scout School run by Major League Baseball's Scouting Bureau and have put into practice the theories, concepts and best practices as illustrated by seasoned, veteran scouts. Their methods are tried and true.
It doesn't matter if the players being evaluated are in the Major or Minor Leagues. Scouting in Spring Training is different in many ways from scouting during a championship season.
To begin, there are several categories of players in spring camps. For everyone, however, the major goal is the same -- get in shape for a long season.
Veteran players on a 25-man roster who have secure positions may use the time to regain their swing or their pitching mechanics. They use the time to get in top shape to carry themselves for an entire season. Their statistical performance means little.
Veteran players who are in camp on a Minor League contract may be trying to win a spot on a 25-man roster. They may be pressing and/or trying to catch the eye of the front office or another team's front office. For them, statistics may matter more.
Players "on the bubble" during Spring Training are in a similar situation. Their position on a roster could be in jeopardy. Their statistics and performance really matter.
Prospect players may use Spring Training as a time to say, "Hey, look at me." And I will be looking. But I won't be concentrating on statistics and outcomes. I'll be concentrating on talent, capability, execution and potential.
Position players are evaluated on their 1) hitting ability, 2) power, 3) fielding ability, 4) arm strength/accuracy and 5) usable running ability/speed.
Pitching evaluations do not have the same types of tool factors. There are a number of components that make quantifying pitching "tools" challenging.
For me, the most important component of a pitcher is very simple. Can he throw strike one early in the pitch sequence? Does he have the ability to get ahead in the count?
That's all part of determining if he can repeat his delivery, command and control his pitches, and get guys out. It's great if he throws with high velocity, but a pitcher has to get guys out. Period.
Good pitchers know how to use their defense.
I will look at a pitcher's velocity at the beginning of a game and again after every two or three innings he pitches. Basically, I want to know if he loses, gains or stays at the same velocity as the game progresses. Although his velocity is important, command, location, and changing the eye levels and balance of hitters is of great significance to me.
In any order or combination, pitchers are evaluated on their 1) delivery mechanics (arm and body action), as well as arm angle; 2) fastball velocity and movement; 3) breaking pitches (types and rotations); 4) command and control; and 5) intangibles, including mound presence, competitiveness, aggressiveness and fielding ability.
In general, each non-pitching position has different tool priorities. In the system I was taught, there is always room for case-by-case differences. Although not written in stone, here are the general priorities:
Catcher: fielding, arm, hitting, power, speed
First base: power, hitting, fielding, arm, speed
Second base: hitting*, fielding, power, speed, arm
Shortstop: fielding, hitting**, arm, speed, power
Third base: hitting, power, fielding, arm, speed
Left field: hitting, power, fielding, speed, arm
Center field: fielding, hitting, speed, power, arm
Right field: power, hitting, arm, fielding, speed
(*Some organizations prefer fielding as the top 2B priority; **Some organizations prefer arm strength ahead of hitting.)
Intangibles comprise a major portion of my evaluations. Attitude and the manner in which a player carries himself matter. It goes beyond hustle. Does the player use his natural instincts? Does his game flow? Is he engaged in the game? Does he know the situation at every point of the game?
It doesn't show up in the box score, but I look for a hitter who is willing to give himself up to help score a run. Can he move a runner with a ground ball or hit a sacrifice fly? Will he take enough pitches to work a count and increase the pitch count of the pitcher? Can he accept a walk instead of swinging for a home run? Does he have the instincts and ability to take an extra base when practical? Does he throw to the correct base? Does he hit the cutoff man? Does he make good, unselfish baseball decisions?
I'm looking for the pitcher who can escape a jam.
I'm looking for a pitcher who knows pitch sequencing and has the ability to recognize what is working that day and what isn't working and make adjustments.
I'm looking for a catcher who takes charge, one who knows every hitter's weakness and his own pitcher's strengths. I'm looking for a catcher with solid defensive mechanics and arm strength/accuracy.
I'm looking for a center fielder who wants to catch every ball hit in his area code and serves as the "quarterback" of the outfield.
I'm looking for guys who don't mind getting their uniform dirty or don't mind the taste of dirt.
I'm looking for a guy at the plate who can make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat if necessary.
Even in Spring Training, I'm looking for players who want to win.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoffon Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.