(Photo via CBBSN’s Twitter, seen here)
Following a season of calculating batting averages, opponent batting averages, watching body mechanics, and tracking pitches, the hard work of the scouts has paid off and their experiences with scouting thus far has revealed some unexpected challenges and development in scouting techniques.
According to the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network’s calculations, 265 players that were scouted by CBBSN scouts were drafted in the 2018 MLB draft proving the value of scouting.When the scouts first started, some of them thought they were just going to be collecting data and taking video while others thought they were just getting their foot in the door for something bigger. “I expected to just collect data and shoot videos for our clients,” said CBBSN scout Andrew Stockmann of the Southwest region.
“When I first became a scout I expected it to be pretty difficult to figure out which players I should watch and why,” said CBBSN scout Owen Mitchell of the Midwest region.
One scout wasn’t even sure what to expect because of the level and size of his school that he was scouting. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect to be honest, especially since my school is so small I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to have a chance to look at any players with real potential,” said CBBSN scout Eric Droegemeier of the Southwest region. However, Droegemeier had the opportunity to evaluate some excellent talent. “But it turns out that our conference had three of the top ranked DIII teams so I was able to see a handful of the best players at that level,” said Droegemeier.
Yet another scout didn’t even think he would be taking video or doing as much hands-on evaluation of the game. “I was expecting to write more qualitative reports on players and use of the 20-80 scale to describe their tools,” said CBBSN scout Anthony Osnacz of the Midwest region and Canada. “While we do that at CBBSN we also collect data points and video. It was something I enjoyed doing and helped improve my focus on the game.”
Surprisingly, one scout found that scouting was exactly what he had expected. “Being a scout was actually pretty close to what I expected,” said Theo Mackie of the Midwest region. He surprised himself by being able to get into the groove of grading players and being an objective scout.
For those who thought they were just getting their foot in the door, they had the opportunity to teach themselves how to handle the process. “Whenever I got hired last year I was seeking to get my foot in the door; so I knew there would be a learning curve,” said CBBSN scout Peyton Treywick of the Southeast region. “One thing I had to teach myself is that to always stick with your gut… but always listen to the words of those around you. You don’t know everything and you will not always be right.”
Some of what these scouts thought they were getting in to when they first took up the scouting position played into the challenges that they have faced including, but certainly not limited to, staying objective, holding people accountable, and being able to project a player’s potential.
Part of scouting is being able to watch multiple players at a time which can be a challenge. Mackie chooses to scout three players every game and works hard to remain focused and alert so he doesn’t miss a play. “I didn’t realize how important batting practice is until I started actually going to games and scouting because it’s really the best time to get a look at a guy’s swing and how it projects,” said Mackie. He is able to get the most important look at potential by watching batting practice.
Watching a player you are scouting hit three home runs in one weekend can influence the scout to reward a higher grade. “The most difficult thing for me was not letting the in-game production have too much affect on my grades,” said Droegemeier. “The hardest thing for me was being able to identify tools in a guy who goes 0-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Similarly, I had to train myself not to become too high on someone just because they hit three home runs in one weekend.”
Naturally, the body releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which regulates the brain’s reward center when there is an exciting play happening on the field. Having to train one’s judgement to not be so influenced by the in-game production is a challenge in and of itself. Overcoming this challenge makes for excellent scouts.
Holding people accountable makes the process a lot smoother but it can be a challenge as well. “I say the biggest challenge I have had is being able to shift the culture and to hold people accountable,” said Traywick who took over the Southeast region in mid-March. Traywick was able to find mentorship from another scout which has made the transition smoother.
Mitchell was also able to turn to other scouts for mentorship when figuring out which players to scout. “I found the best way for me to figure out which players I would scout for upcoming games was to talk to other scouts and get their input while also looking at stats to see which players were playing well and which players just rode the bench,” said Mitchell.
Pitch recognition is a skill that develops with exposure to watching the game and is even a challenge. “It can be very easy to mistake a changeup for a slider, for example,” said Osnacz. “The best remedy is just watching more baseball and familiarizing yourself with different offerings. A healthy dose of @PitchingNinja GIFs can help too.”
Oddly enough, one scout didn’t find any direct challenge within the game itself but found it with an uncontrollable force. “The most challenging part of being a scout had to be dealing with the weather conditions in the beginning of the year,” said Mitchell. “For the first few weeks of the season I could barely feel my hands while I was recording data and video. It was a challenge. As the weather improve sometimes it would be extremely hot.”
But perhaps being able to project what players will become is one of the hardest challenges of all. “I think the most challenging part of scouting is projecting what a player will become down the road which is kind of the whole point of the job,” said Stockmann. “Nobody really knows exactly how a guy will develop or if he’ll run into injuries. Scouts have to use their eyes and knowledge, as well as statistics to help them project.”
In order for scouts to remain objective with their scouting, they have certain qualities already made up in their minds as important so when they evaluate their players, they look for these traits. They then use their knowledge and techniques to evaluate players. “First, when evaluating a player, I use the eye test,” said Stockmann. “This helps to immediately see if the player’s body jumps out. I look for a good approach, athleticism, and the ability to throw or hit the ball hard.”
Specific mechanics for specific positions are also important. “For pitchers the number one tool I look for is command,” said Droegemeier. “For batters, their swing mechanics and bat speed are a huge factor.”
For one scout, it’s more than just the athleticism on the field. “In terms of overall non mechanical things.. you have to see heart,” said Traywick. “I know that sounds cliche, but if someone is invested and passionate.. those are the guys are the one that will make it farther.. every big leaguer is.. but not every college kid has the desire to play the kids game for a lifetime.”
A trait that goes above all athleticism traits is sportsmanship and attitude around teammates. “I want a guy who is a good teammate and elevates others around him,” said Osnacz. “That can be different thing for different guys, but you want someone who helps establish some unity within a clubhouse.”
The love of the game has resulted in many scouts following their own curiosities about players. “Also, mostly out of curiosity, I try and identify guys who I think are trying to take a more modern approach to power hitting because I’m curious which schools have more analytically minded coaching and are potentially tracking launch angle and/or exit velocity,” said Droegemeier.
Scouts are always learning how to be better scouts and often discover what they want to improve while in action. “I’d like to improve my technical knowledge of pitching and hitting mechanics,” said Stockmann. He looks for smooth delivery and swings with little wasted movements.
Scouting is a fluid skill that brings a variety of techniques and priorities which could manipulate the future of baseball.