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Scouting and The Scout's Life: Part 2

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So I think I’ve established the fact that amateur scouting is more complicated than meets the eye. I don’t think that anyone familiar with scouting would argue that it’s a glamorous job filled with star players at every turn. It’s quite the opposite. However, despite the difficulties, it’s a job that is highly sought after by thousands upon thousands of baseball enthusiasts every year.

Why is it that people think they want to scout? I always wonder about this, because I know the hard work behind the fun job title. However, no matter how much I talk about how much work goes into it, I know there will still be thousands of people who want to scout. You know what I think about that? I think that’s great! The reaction of people inside baseball isn’t necessarily the same, mainly because they get tired of being hounded by people asking them for jobs. That’s understandable, but that’s not my perspective.

The number one qualifier to be a scout is to have the passion to find players. That means doing whatever it takes, including putting in long hours and traveling long distances. If you aren’t willing to do that, you can’t be a scout. Some ex-players might be able to pull that off for a very short period of time, but it will catch up to them, just it would anybody else. However, if you have the passion and energy to find ballplayers, then you move up that one level to being picked and analyzed for your skills. If you can’t put in the time and effort, your skills as an evaluator don’t matter.

Once you’ve proven that you have the work ethic, it’s all about your ability to understand what makes a good future ballplayer. Notice I said future ballplayer. Finding a player that stands out on the field now is easy. Pretty much every team in America has a player that is their best player. He probably plays shortstop or catcher or center field and also pitches regularly. That’s not hard to find. You need to be able to tell what a player will be in the future.

This is where people that have played in the game have a leg up on the competition for scouting jobs. First, they already know people inside baseball teams, having played for them. Most scouts come from ex-minor leaguers. However, it’s not just about knowing people these days, as you can put your work in front of most teams quite easily with technology in the 21st century.

The advantage most former players have is that they know what makes up a good ballplayer, as they’ve been there. They’ve either played with those ballplayers that had that something extra or they themselves were that player. They’ve seen hundreds of games in person, been a part of the action, and they already know the minor league lifestyle. They can go into a kid’s house and honestly answer questions from him and his parents instead of making the minors seem more glamorous than they are. They’ve ridden on the bus trips for hours on end, and they can help kids become more realistic with their outlook of pro baseball. You don’t want to draft a kid, only to find that he had no idea that the minors were so much work and so much bus traveling. They’re much more likely to quit, and your job is on the line, because you recommended and signed them.

So, in other words, don’t take it personally when teams prefer the ex-players over you. Other the last ten years, scouting and player development have undergone a tremendous revolution, along with the rest of baseball. The competition is much more intense for jobs in the industry, and scouting has been touched by that as much as any other department. The way scouting has been impacted is a little unique, though.

Scouting was relatively untouched by the outside world for a number of decades. Scouting departments underwent natural changes as information and scouting itself became more nuanced. However, most scouts would agree that Moneyball changed the way their job is viewed. I don’t mean this post to be controversial, as this is pretty much undeniable in the baseball community. Overnight, scouts went from admired tradesmen to old, out-of-touch men with radar guns.

I think I should admit this now. I read Moneyball early on, and I loved it. I liked getting a glimpse into a front office that wanted to turn traditional ideas upside down. However, it made me very uneasy, knowing that scouting would never be the same. Oakland wasn’t the only team to re-organize the way they scouted amateurs. Teams weren’t the only ones changing their views of scouting. The scouting community found itself in the middle of a public debate about their worth. Some people went as far to say that scouts simply didn’t matter anymore. I think the vast majority of the baseball public didn’t feel this way, but it was out there.

I say all this to point out that scouts’ jobs are now much more difficult. Guys that used to be pretty anonymous outside of the core baseball community are now known by name by the public. That makes things a little more complicated, as you might expect.

A few weeks ago, I was at a game, sitting in the row right behind a few scouts. A couple innings in, a guy that looked to be about 18 sat in the row right in front of the scouts. I noticed he was looking really nervous, fidgeting around and turning around a few times during the inning. Apparently he was working up the nerve to talk to the scouts. He eventually turned around, breaking the ice by asking how fast the pitcher was throwing. One scout answered quickly, not really paying him any attention. The guy once again worked up the nerve and introduced himself to the scouts. This is where I started to grin, chuckling a little. The scouts simply said ok. I had to try hard to not burst out laughing. One last time, the guy tried to break into conversation by asking what team the scouts were from. Game over. The same scout that gave the velocity readings said something to the effect of, "We’re doing our job. Leave us alone." The guy sat there until the end of the inning in silence, then left, never to come back.

I’ve seen scenes similar to this play out over and over, at almost every field I’ve been to so far. Scouts are bothered a lot more than they used to be. Now they have to juggle the scouting, the talking to kids and their parents, and also dealing with that public that has much more interest in them now. They do that all in the same game. That’s why I don’t approach scouts at games. Unless they come up to me, I let them do their job. I don’t want to be that person that is the extra nuisance for them.

I guess this post is less about the life of a scout than it is about how the life of scouting itself has changed over time. Think you want to be a scout? Read through all these things first. If you want to deal with all these complications, then maybe you stand a chance. Scouts work harder than pretty much anyone in baseball. I hope these pieces have helped you understand just a fraction of that work.