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Scouting and The Scout's Life: Part 1

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Amateur scouting is a complicated subject. I think the general baseball public takes advantage of an idea that scouting is as simple as going to a baseball game, taking a seat, and then watching kids play baseball. I’ve probably perpetuated this thought at times. However, it’s much more complicated than that. This post will give you a more realistic view into amateur scouting, including its difficulties and complications. When you see the whole picture, you realize that being a scout isn’t as glamorous as one would think.

Going to games is only a tiny piece of the puzzle, and scouts spend a lot more time doing other things. To begin, let’s think about the life of scouts during the spring scouting season. There is an assumption in the general baseball public that scouts live in the same area they work. They can simply get out of bed at a comfortable time in the morning, sip some coffee, and then head out to games after reading the morning newspaper. That’s about as misleading as it can get. Though some scouts live in the same area they work, a large number don’t even live anywhere near their area. They spend almost their entire season in hotels, usually of the extended stay variety. A lot of scouts spend as much time talking with each other about how nice the hotels in an area are as they spend chit-chatting about baseball. It’s an uncomfortable reality of the job. If you have a family, don’t expect to see them very often.

Now that you know that scouts aren’t living a nice life in the comfort of their own home, now you need to understand that a large amount of their time is spent in a car. Take Georgia for example. If an area scout covers just Georgia (which isn’t always the case), that means they cover an area that takes roughly eight hours to drive the state corner to corner, and that’s without traffic, which isn’t a reasonable assumption, since you have to drive through the Atlanta area to get anywhere. That’s before you add in North Florida or Alabama or Tennessee or South Carolina, all states that can fall in a Georgia area scout’s area, depending on the team. As a result of this life in a car, the vast majority of your time is spent alone, using car chargers for radar guns and cell phones and making a lot of calls on the road. A lot of scouts use that time to make their calls to their sources in the area or to check in with their crosschecker or family. If you don’t like driving, being an area scout is not for you.

So now we’ve checked into our hotel and stretched our legs after a five hour drive. What do we do now? A lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the game you’re about to see. Scouts are always planning ahead, some more meticulously than others. They constantly check the weather, check in with their associate scouts or pure informants, all for the reason of getting quality views of the players in their area. Knowing the pitching schedules of collegiate players is easy, but what do you do when you’re scouting a high school arm? The answer is that you create a network of informants. A parent, coaches, associate scouts (who are often coaches), and pretty much anyone else in the know on high school teams can help scouts out with who will be pitching, how many pitches they’ll be throwing, and practice schedules. Little of this information is available online. Position players are much easier to plan for, as most pure schedules are online, but pitching schedules are not. So when you check into that hotel, you may be working the phone or checking the weather all over the state, also thinking about that pitching matchup you want to see in a couple days. If that matchup is on the other side of the state, you probably want to plan to see another game that’s on the way tomorrow. This is all part of the plan, but you must also be incredibly flexible, as prep players have some of the most volatile schedules out there. They get hurt, they get pulled for a matchup later in the week, they get suspended for a game, or you flat-out can’t get the info you need on their schedule. It’s a continual chess game, and handling those issues is a big part of becoming a successful scout. If you’re sitting around in a hotel room not scouting anyone on a Friday night because you didn’t plan ahead, you’re not doing your job.

Now that I’ve covered the basics, it’s time now to head to the field. That’s easier said than done sometimes, because if you’re not intimately familiar with your area (say you’re new to Georgia), it’s pretty easy to get lost headed to some fields. Directions aren’t always the best, and it really depends on the info you have on getting there. However, I’m going to assume you’ve now arrived at the field safely and with plenty of time to spare. If you’re interested in a hitter on the home team, you want to leave plenty of time to see batting practice. That’s a given. I’ve gone over the particulars of where scouts sit and how they move around in previous posts, so I’ll leave that out now.

Getting on towards game time, scouts have to deal with a number of factors, and this is where I answer the questions from the suggestions thread yesterday. Depending on the player, and how familiar you are with him, there are a number of things entering your mind on what you want to see. Since weather was a suggestion, let’s tackle that issue. Say I’m going to scout Robbie Aviles, a right-handed pitcher from Suffern, New York, where my wife lived for a couple of years. Let’s contrast that to what I would be focusing on when I scout Cam Bedrosian. Most scouts don’t have to think about this contrast, since they’re confined to a single area, but this is a question crosscheckers continually have to answer. Where is the focus? Can you really compare those two pitchers?

I know these are two well-known names, but the thought process is the same for less well-known players. If I’m scouting Aviles, I need to keep in mind a few things. First, he’s not even close to being a finished product. He hasn’t received the instruction that Bedrosian has, hasn’t had the number of innings to get a feel for pitches, and he hasn’t faced the same competition. There are a lot of places to improve, though that also means that he’s farther away from the majors and might run into a few more bumps along the way. There’s a lot of projection to be made. If you see that Aviles is very mechanically sound, has a solid pitch mix already, and has a projectable frame, you want to project more room for growth compared to Bedrosian, all other things being equal. Makeup matters, too. With a player that’s received a lot of instruction and logged a lot of innings like Bedrosian, you know that he’s pretty committed to working on stuff, and you have more time to evaluate his makeup during a season. In cold weather situations, that’s not the case. Once Aviles jumps into the grind of minor league baseball, with it becoming his 24/7 focus, will he still have the same desire? Players in warm-weather environments with a lot of experience have already found themselves in that 24/7 environment during summers with well-known travel teams. The transition will be easier. So you have to be more careful when evaluating the cold-weather players like Aviles, because you need to be 100% positive that he’ll transition well on the mental aspect of pro baseball. Performance doesn’t necessarily matter as much, because there’s a lot of room to grow, but it’s not irrelevant, either.

That’s a lot to think about when evaluating. It’s a complicated process. I’m going to continue my story on the life of a scout in a later column, as I’ve only scratched the surface. Hope you enjoyed the read, and there’s more to come!