Scouts Don’t Always Get it Right

Scouts are the backbone of any successful franchise and without these eyes, major league teams would be unable to build their all important farm systems and find the next major league star. That’s of course stating the obvious. But how does one judge a player possibly still in his late teens and project his ability several years down the road?

The recent release of “can’t miss” prospect Brandon Wood by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim serves to illustrate precisely how difficult the task of player evaluation can be. Wood was released this week, and while interest seems high from several teams, notably Pittsburgh who are desperately seeking an upgrade at the shortstop position, his career has not exactly been noteworthy to this point.

What, if anything, went wrong for Wood and why has his career up to this point been major league mediocre at best?

There are many factors which go into the evaluation of any player, many of which deal with intangibles. Physical tools, at the least the obvious ones of size, speed and coordination would seem to be relatively easy for a seasoned scout to evaluate. Yet, the vast majority of high draft picks never even make it to the major leagues, let alone become stars. Many past and present stars were very low draft picks, seemingly missed by many scouts. The life of a scout is a difficult one with low pay and long hours. Much of his time is spent driving from small town to small town hoping to get a glimpse of a player who has come to his attention either by word of mouth or a star high school or college player who has garnered national publicity. Scouts also use the scouting bureau, a data bank of prospects with reports from many organizations. Some scouts are used as cross checkers, using this data and if they are lucky and have the time, viewing a player in person. They come armed with radar guns and extensive notes.

Many prefer the information that their eyes and experience tell them and Moneyball been damned. They rely on their experience and in many cases I expect, what their gut tells them. All of this leads us to the intangibles which are difficult if not impossible to evaluate no matter the expertise and experience of any scout. Baseball players like it or not, are human and subject to the same frailties, fears and self doubt which all of us feel. Scouts must determine which athletically gifted will succumb to these human emotions, and which will not. Not an envious task and with the money at stake being in the millions, a thankless task if and evaluation turns out to be incorrect.

For teams with high first round draft picks, the success or failure of their pick can have devastating and long term effects on the future of the major league team and the tendencies of sought after free agents to sign with the club. The long term failure of teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates is a glaring example of years of first round picks which didn’t pan out. High round draft picks must live up to the expectations of the team which chose them. The pressure must be unbearable at times.

Brandon Wood may be an example of a player who was unable to perform as an elite major leaguer who could not handle this pressure. Perhaps, players such as Wood have been highly over valued by scouts and whose career would have been perfectly acceptable as an average or slightly below average performer had he not been so highly drafted. Any player who makes the major leagues is certainly an elite one in terms of baseball ability. Some are merely more elite than others but the performance of a high draft pick is put under a microscope and any failure is magnified much more so than a player thought to have the potential to be average at best.

The Angels stuck with Wood longer than they might have a player not so highly recommended by scouts. Wood has proven at best to be a very good 4 A player but nothing more. Perhaps, Wood, and others like him, are really the best they can be despite all the hype. Scouting is a difficult task and difficult tasks performed by human beings aren’t always successful.

7 Replies to “Scouts Don’t Always Get it Right”

  1. Scouts told Seaver he wasn’t big enough or threw hard emough to make it. After a brief stint in the service, he grew a few inches and added a few pounds and had a good career at USC. And then of course a stellar pro career. Source: The Art Of Pitching by Tom Seaver.

  2. I have read most of the Seaver stuff and he aid that all he had coming out of high school was a mid 80’s fastball and a slider. In college he refined the fastball into riser and sinker, added a curve and variations to the slider. At an early age Seaver had the mental make-up of a pro. Scouts are looking at physical talent first. Tom Gordon was short but had the best curve-ball most scouts had ever seen, that’s why he got signed. When I was 18, I was 5’9 and 160 and threw in the upper 80’s with a forkball, palmball and screwball for off-speed. I was told I was too small and would hurt my arm throwing that hard so I went the college track and field route from which I got hurt anyway. We live, we learn.

  3. Man, the palmball is a pitch I hardly hear about anymore (re: comment #3). As a kid I remember hearing about it (listening to SF Giants on the radio) because… I think it was Fred Breining who threw it.

  4. I think sometimes scouts put to much emphasis on physical skills. The palmball: Dave Guisti the old Pirate and Doc Ellis both threw the palmball as did Joe Boever. A good change-up is a weapon in the bigs. I have always liked the pitchers that threw the exotic stuff like Roy Face and the forkball or all the old Knuckleballers or Mike Cuellar and Mike Marshall and their nasty screwballs.

  5. I threw the screwball a few times in amatuer ball last year to tuff left handed batters. What I usually did was to try and back door the slider then throw the screwball on the outer part of the plate where it would break away from them. Then after you had them leaning over the plate looking away, throw the screwball right at them and break it over the inside corner for strike three. It worked good as a reliever. Mike Marshall pitched in 106 games one year throwing mostly screwballs and sliders. I have pretty much scraped my palmball for a split-finger pitch. I can throw the splitter with good arm speed and get sharp drop on it. The palmball I used to throw used to have some sink on it but you can overthrow it and hang it. I still through the forkball some along with a sinker and slider. Don’t know if I am playing this year, I would really like to train and run in a marathon, maybe by this fall.

  6. I kind of remember Lopat trying to back-door batters then get them to chase with his breaking pitches. That’s called being crafty, which is what they call guys that get you out without throwing hard, like Ford used to, Maddux, ect.

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