Throughout baseballs’ history, scouting has evolved from an imprecise art to a lucrative science mixed with a still imprecise art. Simply put, evaluating prospects and forecasting future production is an arduous process filled with error and frustration. There is no crystal ball. Beyond physical injury, psychological factors are an important factor in a professional baseball career. Maybe the most important.
Baseball is a mental game full of personal success and failure. It’s incredibly demanding and competitive– and more so than ever. With millions, some times hundreds of millions of dollars in career earnings at stake, the best athletes in the world will put in everything they have to reach the big pay-off. A prospect can have all of the athletic gifts in the world, Deion Sanders speed, Ozzie Smith feet, Adam Dunn power, a Rod Carew swing and an Ichiro arm, but if they don’t have the mental strength and dedication to put it together, they’ll never make use of their talent. Josh Hamilton and Drew Henson are two examples of these types of players. Both had the tools, but both didn’t have the mental tools to put it together. Henson flamed out, while Hamilton lost half of a Hall of Fame career to drug use.
For teams, appraising a players present and future value is a complex job. Player development and scouting is a lucrative business. No team wants to blow millions of dollars on a guy that doesn’t deserve it. Therefore, there are many methods to scouting and forecasting player value– some effective, some not so effective. This encyclopedia serves as an informal introduction to some these tools and methods, as well a guide to the jargon used in the field.
There are some tools can make scouting much simpler and more digestable. On the scientific side, logging data, and researching/statistical analysis helps provide evidence-backed answers to complex questions while also opening doors for further study. Sabermetric statistics like on-base percentage (OBP) and expected fielder-independent pitching (xFIP) can tell a lot about a player. More complex statistical representations like weighted on-base percentage (wOBA), wins above replacement (WAR) and wins above average (WAA), can even be more effective at illustrating value, but can also be more difficult to work with due to proprietary laws and more complex calculations.
On the less-scientific side, the most important tool is the 20-80 scouting scale. The 20-80 scale, sometimes reduced to the 2-8 scale, is a numerical method of rating a player’s skills. While it uses numbers to rate performance, it isn’t precise, nor is it math-based. It’s simply a representation of a player’s performance, using numbers to give scouts and teams an easy reference. Below is an in-depth description of the 20-80 scale and the scouting method as a whole. Also included, at the bottom of the page, is a glossary defining all of the major scouting terms and lingo.
The 20-80 Scouting Scale
20-25: Very Poor
30-35: Well-Below Average
40-45: Below Average
50: Low Average
60-65: Plus/Above Average
70-75: Plus-Plus/Well Above Average
The skills generally rated with the 20-80 Scouting Scale are those most involved in the game. For non-pitchers they are as follows: pure hitting ability, power, running speed, defense (fielding) and arm strength. At BaseballNewsHound.com we also include plate discipline as another tool for evaluating hitters.
Using the 20-80 Scouting Scale: Scouting Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero– Montero has a (projected) 70-rated bat with 75 power. These ratings are particularly high, and translate to a “plus” bat and “top-tier” power. Scores this high are rarely found in Major League Players, and suggest tools on par with Carl Crawford speed, Adam Dunn power, Rafael Furcal arm strength. A player with Montero’s batting skills–when healthy and in his prime years– would hit .300 with a slugging percentage well above.500. Over a full season’s worth of at bats, a 70/75 batter could belt 40+ homeruns and would rack up extra base hits in general.
While Montero’s potential batting skill is excellent and exceedingly rare, his other tools (outside of his plate discipline) aren’t as promising. His defense is underdeveloped, and his large frame makes it difficult to move well behind the plate. His defense is currently rated in the 30-35 range, a good bit below MLB average– but because he has a “plus” throwing arm, rated 65, and because he’s a promising athlete who’s projected to improve and develop, Montero’s defense is rated 45 overall, in the future. In essence, when rated a prospects tools, the score takes both the present and future tools into account.
Generally, when scouting players, both a present and a future grade are included in a report, using the present/future format. For instance, while Montero’s long opposite field homeruns and pull-side bombs during batting practice suggest he’ll have plus game power in the future, at present he doesn’t carry that kind of tool in to the game. Young prospects are new to professional baseball and are therefore new to full-time physical training and a more focused nutrition plan. Those on the younger side may not even be done growing. So, taking the factors in to account help scouts project future performance. At present (Summer 2011), Montero’s power rates as a 50-55 in games, but once he improves his swing mechanics, adds more lean muscle to his frame and gains more experience against advanced pitching, his power has 70-75 potential.
Just as we can evaluate hitters, we can use the 20-80 scouting scale to score a pitchers’ ability and potential. However, when rating a starting pitcher’s overall potential, all of the starters’ pitches are accounted for. When rating a reliever however, only the best two pitches are rated (fastball and breaking pitches(s)) for instance. Because relievers make shorter appearances and only have to rely on their best pitches, it’s a good rule of thumb to practice this method in your scoring.
When we scout pitchers we look at each of the pitcher’s pitches, as well as the pitchers’ command/control and the pitchers’ mechanics/”polish.” An average (50-55) MLB fastball is one with velocity “sitting” (consistently this speed) between 89-92 and with a little movement. A slower fastball with more movement (a sinking 2-seamer for instance) can also score 50-55; the inverse is also true. The general effectiveness of the pitch is what we’re looking for here. A 95 mph fastball that rarely creates outs–or doesn’t generally find the strikezone– is rated lower than a more effective 88 mph fastball. Again, grading with the 20-80 scale is more of an eyeball/feel test for many tools. Fastball velocity is part of the equation, but if batters see a 95 MPH heater well, and can square it up, it would be foolish to rate it better than a 90 MPH sinker that hitters struggling to elevate.
Velocity and movement are a function of arm speed, torque and friction. Thus, taller pitchers, with longer, stronger fingers (grip strength), more efficient mechanics, and stronger trunks (leg and core) will have an easier time creating quality pitches. However, short pitchers can be just as effective as taller guys. If they’re athletic and balanced, can control their body throughout their delivery, then their small stature might even give them an advantage over taller pitchers that may struggle controlling their long limbs and maintaining their balance. But generally speaking, arm-speed is the number-one thing to look at for a pitcher. How fast his arm moves determines how fast the ball will move.
Scouting Breaking and Offspeed Pitches
Scouting offspeed pitches is similar to rating a pitchers’ fastball. Both the movement and velocity are taken in to account, as well as the pitch’s overall effectiveness. An average 50-55 curveball has “tight,” late break. An above-average changeup is thrown with the same arm speed and arm angle of the pitchers’ fastball with (at least) 5 mph of velocity separation and above average fade or sink (movement).
Evaluation a pitchers’ command, control and “polish” are equally important in value to his repertoire. A pitcher with average command and control demonstrates the ability to throw strikes with his fastball consistently and to both sides of the plate, and to do the same with at least one of his other pitches (when applicable). A pitcher with above-average command and control has the ability to spot his fastball (and other pitches) within the strikezone with precision. Plus and plus-plus command and control is the ability to throw your fastball to all four quadrants of the strikezone at will and to place all of your pitches within inches of your target. A pitcher with premier command (80) is former Braves’ ace, Greg Maddux.
The term “polish” is a word that describes a players’ level of development. A polished pitcher has a “plus” delivery, good makeup (mental fortitude, self-discipline) and has a good feel for the game. A plus delivery is one that features consistent and “clean” (without any body movements that could cause injury) mechanics and affords the thrower good fastball command. The best mechanics are those that offer fluidity, clean arm action and deception– hiding the ball or interfering with the opposing batters’ timing.
A polished pitcher will have good intangibles. He will have a dedicated work ethic (and is receptive to coaching), self-discipline, and the mental fortitude to succeed under pressure. A feel for the game is also important, and “smarter pitchers” will always have an easier time succeeding. Diamondbacks pitcher, Ian Kennedy, for instance, has consistently been lauded for his “polish” and uses his poise and feel for pitching to succeed despite his pedestrian repertoire. Former Yankees pitcher, Andy Pettitte, is among the most “polished” pitchers of the past decade. He not only had a rock-solid nerve that allowed him the most post-season wins in history, but his intelligent approach, feel for pitching and unmatched worth ethic make him a candidate for the Hall of Fame.
Stuff vs. Command, Control and Polish
Depending on the effectiveness of a pitchers “stuff,” a pitcher’s command, control and polish can be more or less important. For instance, because AJ Burnett throws both a mid 90s mph, darting, well-above-average (70-scored) fastball, and a hard, late-breaking, plus-plus curveball (another 70-rated pitch), his below average mechanics and fleeting command don’t keep him from being a dominant big league pitcher. Jamie Moyer’s well-below-average fastball velocity (now rated at the bottom of the scale) hasn’t kept him from effectivess and longevity throughout his MLB career. Moyers’ plus command and control, plus-plus changeup, immense feel for pitching and consistent, deceptive mechanics have given him one of the longest and most successful big-league careers of recent history.
Sound mechanics are crucial to a pitcher’s success. Efficient, clean mechanics and arm action are important for physical health, velocity generation, pitch break and most important, command and control. Guys like Chris Carpenter, with poor mechanics, are the exception not the rule– besides Carpenter has had his share of arm injuries.
The first ingredient to ideal pitching mechanics is balance. A balanced delivery requires body coordination, and a strong base–the core and legs. Pitchers should keep their heads quiet, and centered over their belt buckle throughout their delivery. Their leg-kick should rock them backwards only slightly, and they should be almost vertical when their knee is fully raised. As the pitcher prepares to release the ball, the front hip should open separately to the front shoulder– hip-shoulder separation.
Hip-shoulder separation is a crucial player in velocity and power generation. Before contracting the muscles, the body loads by lengthening the muscles. Opening the shoulders separately from the hips lengthens the core muscles and allows them to fire with more power when the pitcher releases the ball. Tim Lincecum is a prime example of ideal hip-shoulder separation.
Arm action is important for command and shoulder health. There are three shapes to look for in a pitcher’s delivery that are red flags. The “inverted W” with the elbows extended above the shoulders after the hands break, the inverted “V” with the throwing elbow pointing across the back of the pitcher’s head, and the inverted “L” with the forearm at a right-angle to the upper-arm. For a pitcher to generate power, they’ll load their pectoral and front rotator cuff muscles by pinching their back together– scapular loading. This is common to all pitchers, and generally most obvious in power pitchers. The method becomes more dangerous when the elbows are not only pulled behind the back, but raised above the shoulders, causing hyper-extension of the shoulder and causing a timing problem. The timing problem adds length to the arm action, just as a hitch adds length to a hitter’s swing, and causes the front foot to plant before the arm is in the cocked “L” position (ball in the air). This motion in turn puts more stress on the labrum and elbow to do more work, and accelerate the ball faster to catch up with the pitcher’s body.
The inverted “V” is similar to the inverted “W” in the sense that it is often the cause of injuries. Both loading methods have drawn the ire of orthopedists, and are generally considered the culprit of Mark Prior’s, Michael Pineda’s, Joel Zumaya’s, and many other pitcher’s shoulder and elbow ailments.
The “inverted L” is the safer loading method. Guys like Greg Maddux employ the upside-down L shape with their elbow level or just below their shoulder, creating a clean arm circle. The ball is then in the proper position, facing the third baseman (first baseman for lefties), when the front foot hits the ground.
Hyper-pronation of the shoulder is an ugly problem for a pitcher. Ideally, when the pitcher’s arm is the cocked, read-to-throw position, the elbow should be shoulder-level or just below. Raising the elbow above the shoulder, a la Adam Wainwright, adds stress to the pitching elbow.
Timing, tempo and fluidity are important in determining a pitcher’s command and control. Repeating one’s mechanics and the landing spot of the plant foot is important for hitting the target. Pitchers like Tommy Hanson and Phil Hughes, who start their deliveries with slower movement only to speed it up violently at the finish, will generally fall victim to spotty command– or at least they’re more susceptible. Violent movement in general– head-jerking after release for instance– will make commanding one’s pitches very difficult. Pitchers can spot their pitches with max-effort deliveries as long as they’re fluid and efficient. Tim Lincecum and Cody Buckel are both max-effort pitchers, but both have solid command due to their ability to repeat their mechanics, finish their follow-through and generate power efficiently and fluidly.
Obviously, a pitcher’s arm-slot and their ability to repeat it are also important characteristics to consider when scouting them. Arm-slots are determined by shoulder-tilt, not by the elbow’s position vs. the shoulder at release. Pitchers with side-arm deliveries will generally enjoy more horizontal, flatter movement on their pitches, as side-spin and under-side pressure are easier to apply. Pitchers with over-the-top arm-slots and high 3/4 deliveries will enjoy more downward movement on their pitches. All fastballs rise to some degree, and much of a breaking-pitch’s visible break is actually gravity. Releasing the ball won’t add much more rise to a pitch, but instead makes rise more visible as the ball exits the hand from a lower angle.
Young pitchers often struggle to hide their offspeed pitches and repeat their arm-slot. Often, they’ll wrap their wrists or snap-off with an exaggerated pull-down motion on their breaking pitches. They’ll also tend to change their arm-slot and release from that of their fastball, therefore tipping-off opposing hitters. Ideally, better breaking pitches are thrown with fastball force, and harder-velocity. Out of the same tunnel, as the fastball, meaning they don’t pop-out of the hand, and instead leave the fingers on a fastball angle. In practice, slower breaking pitches can be effective too, but not at the cost of quality spin and a deceptive release.
Changeups are a tough pitch to learn for younger hurlers, and therefore they’re often the last pitch added to their game-repertoire’s before heading to the MLB. Arm-speed is crucial for a good change. Fans and analysts are often tied-up with the change-up’s movement, but break isn’t what makes the pitch effective. In fact, most big league hitters will tell you that better changeups have spin that resembles that of a fastball– backspin. Generally, changeups only break a little bit, most of their movement is due to velocity separation and gravity doing it’s job. Therefore, batters don’t have too much trouble squaring-up a change based on tumbling, fading movement alone.
A pitcher’s change should be only 5-10 MPH slower than their fastball and released with fastball effort and arm speed. Over-pronation, rolling over the ball or pulling the lamp-shade down (cocking the wrist back) while releasing the ball will help tip-off opposing hitters. The key is to put the index finger on the side of the ball, taking the hand’s strongest finger out of the equation. Most young pitchers will struggle to throw their changeup’s with fastball armspeed, and will often slow their arm’s down or mess with their release. A quality changeup only has a subtle velocity change, has fastball spin and is thrown like a fastball. These three characteristics fool hitters into starting their swing a split-second early, throwing-off their timing.
Changeups also tend to require funky grips– with more fingers on the ball than that of a breaking pitch or fastball. As a result, prospects often struggle to elevate the ball and get it over the plate. The pitch seems to die before it reaches the strikezone, causing a splitter-type effect. In the minors, this will strike-out batters, but MLB hitters won’t have too much trouble laying-off.
Different Positions Place Emphasis On Different Tools
Each position on a baseball diamond demands a different skill set. A shortstop for instance, requires an agile player with a strong, accurate throwing-arm, quick feet and the speed to cover the most active part of the infield. Because shortstops have to place so much emphasis on defense, hitting ability and power aren’t nearly as important when scouting them. The same thought process applies to catchers, centerfielders and second baseman, with catcher demanding the most emphasis on defensive ability. Corner infielders and outfielders though, because they’re involved in the defensive aspect of the game to a much lesser extent, and because they don’t have positions that require nearly as much defensive prowess, have a much larger emphasis placed on their batting ability. Furthermore, prospects at certain positions are inherently more valuable. Prospects at catcher, shortstop, centerfield, and second base– in that order– are more valuable than outfield and corner infield prospects with the same (or slightly better) ability. For these reasons, a light-hitting shortstop prospect with premier defensive ability, like Jose Iglesias, ranks higher than power-hitting corner infielder, Dayan Viciedo, who hit more home runs in his short major league debut than Iglesias has totaled in his professional career.
Below is a ranking (from most important to least) of each tools’ importance to each position:
Catcher: Defense, Arm Strength, Batting Ability, Power, Plate Discipline, Speed
Shortstop: Defense, Arm Strength, Speed, Batting Ability, Plate Discipline, Power
Centerfield: Batting Ability, Defense, Speed, Power, Arm Strength, Plate Discipline
Second Base: Defense, Batting Ability, Speed, Plate Discipline, Power, Arm Strength
Third Base: Power, Batting Ability, Arm Strength, Defense, Plate Discipline, Speed
First Base: Power, Batting Ability, Plate Discipline, Defense, Arm Strength, Speed
Right Field: Power, Batting Ability, Arm Strength, Plate Discipline, Defense, Speed
Left Field: Batting Ability, Power, Plate Discipline, Speed, Defense, Arm Strength
Scouting Running Speed
Scouting running speed is a fairly straight-forward. Generally, the 60 yard dash is used to scout straight-line speed. In games, a player’s quickness and their ability to read the opposing pitcher’s pick-off move contributes to stolen base success rates. So, scouts will use stop-watch times to determine how long it takes for a player to move from base to base.
20: 7.6+ seconds
30: 7.4-7.6 seconds
40: 7.2-7.3 seconds
50: 6.9-7.1 seconds
60: 6.7-6.8 seconds
70: 6.5-6.6 seconds
80: Below 6.5 Seconds
In baseball speed is used in short bursts, and is therefore another power tool– acceleration is the name of the game. Often, scouts will time players from home-plate (the batter’s box) to first base after they make contact. Left-handed hitters have a slight advantage over right-handed hitters as their batter’s box is closer to first-base. Therefore, righties are given more lee-way in this regard.
Home Plate to First Base (Right-Handed Hitters)
20: 4.7+ seconds
30: 4.5-4.7 seconds
40: 4.4 seconds
50: 4.3 seconds
60: 4.2 seconds
70: 4.1 seconds
80: Below 4 seconds
Home Plate to First Base (Left-Handed Hitters)
20: 4.6+ seconds
30: 4.5-4.6 seconds
40: 4.4 seconds
50: 4.2-4.3 seconds
60: 4.1 seconds
70: 4 seconds
80: Below 4 seconds
A player’s footspeed is vital in baseball, not only on the basepaths but also in the field. True, above-average speed is not as valuable as above-average power or hitting skills, but it’s an important tool nonetheless. Slow-footed players like Adam Dunn, Jorge Posada and Sean Casey will have a more difficult time turning their high on-base percentages in to run production. They’re also more prone to creating outs. Basecloggers tend to be more double-play prone and will tend to have lower BABIP (batting average on ball in play) numbers. In the field, above-average speed is almost required for up-the-middle positions, shortstop, second base and centerfield.
Like pitching, hitting is both an art and a science. Athleticism and hand-eye coordination are almost inherent characteristics, and can’t really be taught. Mechanics and fundamentals can be taught, but only tinkered after a young age. Essentially though, these are the components of hitting. Hand-eye coordination, muscle memory, strength and proper mechanics.
Physically speaking, scouts look for hitting muscles– essentially the same as pitching muscles. A strong core and trunk are essential for generating power and maintaining a firm and consistent swing path. Balance is the name of the game, and therefore, thick legs and strong ankles are extremely important. On the upper body, muscular “sloped” shoulders, and a powerful grip are key factors in bat control and acceleration. Next to his vision, a hitter’s hands are his best friend, and thick, burly fingers and a phone-book-tearing grip is ideal for a high batting average. When hitters load, they begin their swing with their hands and core, transferring power from their legs, and returning it to the core and legs as they cut through the ball. Hand, shoulder and back strength are required for batspeed and acceleration. Powerful forearms will harden a hitter’s stroke, creating more exit velocity following contact. Increased bat control will also allow hitters to drive pitches in different parts of the zone, and to turn on premium velocity.
Hitting is also largely mechanical, though there isn’t any particular stance to look for. Many modern hitting fundamentals taught in the classroom are actually scientifically inconsistent– keeping the barrel above the hands at contact for instance. In practice, scouting hitters is a difficult job due to the many fallacies concerning hitting mechanics. However, there are some characteristics to look for that generally provide strong evidence for success.
Balance is probably the single most important, yet often over-looked swing characteristic. A balanced batting stance allows the hitter to “see the ball” and prepare his hands and body for contact. Because swinging a baseball bat relies on almost the same weight-transfer method as throwing a pitch, balance is also vital for efficient power generation. When scouting pitchers, one looks for hip/shoulder separation once the pitcher is in the throwing (arm cocked) position. For batters, one looks for hand/body separation. The hands and body move back, the body rocks forward, then the hands fire-forward. This particular motion garners the most strength from the body’s muscles by using the lengthening-contracting method. It also allows the batter to maintain a level, smooth swing path. In order to efficiently accomplish body/hand separation, fluidity and balance are essential ingredients.
Balance also means a more “quiet” swing. Keeping the head centered above the belt buckle and focused on the baseball is obviously important for making contact. Also, rotating one’s shoulders in a circular motion throughout the swing is the most efficient method of taking the bat to the ball. Efficient shoulder rotation, starts with efficient, balanced hip rotation. Bailing out, falling out of the box and opening-up to early will pull the bat away from the ball, generating weaker contact and foul-ball angles. At the point of contact, scouts want to see the “power V” stance, where the front knee is completely flexed, the elbows are showing a “V” shape, the belt-buckel is pressed forward and the ham-string side of the back leg is making a right angle with the calf. Both feet are planted on the ground, the hips are opened but the front foot is still closed.
In order to properly accelerate the bat, hitters must take a controlled, balanced stride. The proper stride begins and ends with the front heal, and is a function of balance. The proper swing begins and ends with the proper stride. In the weight transfer/loading phase, hitters should keep their front foot closed, with toes as close to a 45 degree angle to their front shoulder as possible. Ideal stride length varies depending on how spread-apart the batter’s feet are in his set-up. The closer the feet, the longer the stride. More spread feet requires a shorter stride. Ideally, a batter starts with his feet a little bit wide than his shoulders. Again, the name of the game is balance and control.
Getting the front food down early. Hitting is timing. Generally speaking, hitters need to take a controlled balance stride, and need to sync up their hands and with the ball. In order to free-up enough time to see the ball and take a strong, level cut, the batter needs to finish his stride and get his hips and hands in to the firing position just as the pitcher releases the baseball. At the same time, a hitter that rushes, and opens up to early will lose-out on power and contact.
Watching a batter’s hands tells you a lot about his present and future ability to make solid contact. Obviously, bat control is important. Hand strength and efficient, quiet hitting mechanics afford more bat control. However, the hands aren’t there to make adjustments, they’re included to get the bat into and through the hitting zone (combined with the core and legs ideally). In order to make consistent, quality contact with the baseball, the hands need to be close to the body, with elbows firmly pulled together through contact.
If you watch the game’s best contact hitters, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols, they’re all skilled at staying inside the ball. In order to generate bat speed, a hitter must pull his hands close to his body in order to counteract the centripetal force the barrel generates. One physical rule applies here– the longer the lever, the greater the linear velocity at the distal end. Essentially, a bat is a leverage tool, used to drive a baseball. Bat speed and exit velocity are a product of hard-contact and will result in more (a great chance of) hits. Keeping the hands closer to the body throughout the cut are the only way to maximize power output. As the bat enters the hitting phase, with the barrel almost parallel to the ground, good hitters will drag it through the zone with their back elbow in an “L” position and tucked snuggly against their ribcage. The bat head should begin behind the hitter’s ear and perpendicular to the shoulder-blade, making a “T” shake as the batter fires his hips. Then, as the barrel crosses home plate, the hands should be in front of the body but close to the hitter’s belly button. At the point of contact, the hands should be just in front of the body– the further, the less power– and the barrel of the bat should be level or just below the handle for centered pitches.
Many hitting coaches and instructional DVD’s tell their students to keep the bat-barrel above the handle at contact. In practice, this is difficult, especially for achieving enough of an upper-cut to drive the ball. Firstly, for pitches below the belt, the barrel will need to be lowered at contact to make a hard-hit ball possible. Ideally, the barrel should be just below the hands at contact.
Short to the ball. In order to efficiently make contact, hitters need to take the most efficient path to the ball as possible. All bat paths will loop– as this creates the back-spin, loft effect– and all hands will circle. However, in order to minimize the holes in one’s swing, and maximize bat acceleration, the hands to need to move from the loaded position (back, close to the body) to the contact position, fluidly. A hitch or a wrap, dropping the hands before raising them or cocking the wrists creates unnecessary length in the swing. Guys like Gary Sheffield can overcome this inefficient hand movements due to brute strength but most hitters will suffer a less than optimal batting average.
Extension is often misinterpreted when it comes to hitting. Ideally, hitters want to actually stay inside the ball and keep the hands closer to the body through contact, and then extend through follow-through to decelerate the bat safely. On outside pitches, moving the elbows away from the body and extending the hands more will generate more contact, but not as strong as anything on the inner-half.
There are different approaches to hitting a baseball, but generally, the above characteristics make for a good swing. Other things to look for are fluidity and effort. Does the swing speed look easy? Low-effort makes for a repeatable cut and therefore a smaller hole in the hitting zone. Guys like Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez take nice, easy swings.
Scouts generally don’t delve too much in to the linear vs. rotational hitting debate. Quite frankly, all good hitters are “rotational.” Linear hitting implies a reliance on the hands and wrists to flick the bat at the ball as quickly as possible, but virtually every big leaguer uses his entire body to drag the bat through the zone. The most linear guy in baseball, Derek Jeter is still heavily rotational. Jeter’s swing isn’t ideal, and scouts wouldn’t seek those hitting mechanics– hands too far in front of the body, hips often pulling-off toward the third base line– but he’s an example that the linear/rotation obsession is largely unfounded.
Hitting is one of the easier things to rate on the scouting scale. Swing mechanics and fundamentals are learned at an early age, and athleticism (hand-eye coordination) is largely genetic. Strength often comes with age, so power and exit velocity are crucial for a 70-rated hitter. A future 70-guy, like Wil Myers or Manny Machado, display most of the characteristics of a .300 hitter– even if the average isn’t matching just yet. Strong hands, fluid, quiet fundamentals, hard-contact in all parts of the zone. As they add strength to their build, their line drives will be harder to catch and their BABIP (batting average on balls in play) will raise. Generally, if they’re a strong athlete, with good vision and they have nice, clean mechanics– you know a plus hitter when you see it. Remember– vision, hands, stride, effort, swing path.
Strikeouts aren’t necessarily indicative of a poor swing. Pitch recognition comes with experience, and a better feel for the strikezone comes with experience. Plate discipline is tough to teach, but understanding how to react to breaking balls and offspeed is learned. Future plus hitters might not hit for a high average just yet, guys like Machado and Jonathan Schoop aren’t hitting .300 in the minors, and Robinson Cano never accomplished the feat until the big leagues. But scouts look for nice swing mechanics, bat speed, bat acceleration, bat control/strong hands and line drives all over the diamond. Hitting the ball where it’s pitched isn’t necessarily telling of a good hitter, but a bad hitter will out himself by trying to pull outside pitches or same-side breaking stuff off the plate.
Scouting hitters means giving them a look in both batting practice and in the game. Raw power is evident in batting practice, as are raw hitting skills. A good swing will generate consistent loft, will drive balls in all parts of the zone, and will barrel almost everything in BP. Game-time separates the men from the boys. Young hitters may struggle to maintain their swing and mechanics, and will generally struggle with same-side breaking stuff and off-speed pitches.
Other Aspects to Consider When Scouting
Outside of rating a prospects’ tools with the 20-80 scale, there are plenty of other aspects to consider when evaluating/forecasting. While not a perfect gauge, age and experience are highly important when gauging a players’ potential. More demanding positions like catcher, shortstop and pitcher require extended development time for prospects, while corner outfielders need less seasoning before they’re ready for the big leagues.
“Cold weather” players, those that played amateur baseball in northern states (like New Jersey or Illinois) will also be relatively more raw than “warm weather” players who are used to playing baseball in (sometimes) all seasons of the year. Generally though, by 23-24 years old, true prospects should be at higher minor league levels (AA and AAA). Teenagers and younger catching, pitching and middle-infield prospects probably won’t show their potential and ability though statistics, and will generally need more developmental time at lower minor league levels (Short-Season/Rookie, A and A-Advanced). Some top prospects will also post lackluster statistical numbers in the minor leagues as their organization consistently “challenges” them by promoting them to higher levels (prematurely). For instance, while former top prospect and Yankees All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, posted just a .278/.331/.425 slash line as a young second baseman in the minors, he’s annually challenged for the American League Batting Title and has taken home both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. Scouts could still project that Cano was going to be All-Star major leaguer despite pedestrian minor league numbers due to his tools, perfect swing and relative success as one of the youngest player (consistently) at each level he played at.
Bloodlines are also an important factor in forecasting a players’ future ability. Offspring of former Major Leaguers, professional baseball players and coaches are (naturally) highly regarded. The Blue Jays’ top pitching prospect, Kyle Drabek, the son of former Cy Young Award winner, Doug Drabek, has been scouted since junior high and has developed in to a possible frontline starter.
Finally, judging a players’ “makeup” is an useful method for predicting future Big League success. Makeup, aka maturity level, disposition and other intangibles, gives scouts and organizations a gauge on the any disciplinary issues/other difficulties a player might run in to during their development. “Makeup” also dictates a young players’ malleability and the speed at which they’ll develop. How receptive a player is to coaching is extremely important and can often be a make-or-break issue come draft day.
Arm Action: The fundamentals and mechanics a pitcher or fielder employs in his throws. A good arm action is coordinated, namely efficient, and involves fluid motion with good leverage and is clean of any violent movements.
Arm Angle: The angle with which a pitcher throws the baseball. Generally, the lower the arm angle, the more lateral movement a pitchers’ breaking pitch has. Pitchers with lower arm angles also tend to have larger platoon splits, thus, many lefty-specialists are sidearm pitchers. There are five distinct arm angles employed by modern-era pitchers.
(1) Overhand: The ball is released with the arm almost perpendicular to the ground. Nolan Ryan was an overhand pitcher.
(2) High Three-Quarters: The most common release point in the modern era, where the ball is released just below overhand and with the arm more diagonally positioned to the ground. (3) Low 3/4, where the ball is released with the forearm just above shoulder level. Jake Peavy and Justin Masterson throw with a low 3/4 arm angle.
(4) Side-arm: Where the ball is thrown with the arm completely perpendicular to the pitcher’s body, and parallel to the ground. Randy Johnson and Catfish Hunter threw with a sidearm angle.
(5) Submarine: The rarest of any delivery these days, a submarine pitcher release the ball with his arm below shoulder-level. Byung-Hyun Kim is one of history’s most famous submarine pitchers.
Arm Speed: The speed with which a pitcher throws the ball. Ideally, a pitcher will throw his changeup with an arm speed (visibly) identical to the arm speed used when throwing a fastball.
Base Clogger: An exceedingly slow runner who not only advances base by base, but also keeps those running behind him from advancing at a quicker pace. Catchers tend to be base cloggers. Possibly the most well-known base clogger of recent history is former Reds first baseman, Sean Casey.
Baserunning Reads: The decisions and reaction time a baserunner/stealer makes/has based on the game situation and after examining the opposing pitcher and catcher. Baserunning reads are an important aspect of basestealing and can make running speed play up or down considerably.
Bat Control: A batter’s ability to make contact, and control the trajectory of their hits. Important for batting average and strikeout totals.
Bat-Speed: A batters’ swingspeed. Measuring bat-speed is a way to gauge a players’ power and ability to make contact with premium pitches.
Body Control: A players’ coordination and agility. Important for making diving stops, over-the-shoulder catches, and turning the double-play.
Ceiling: A prospects’ full potential. A players’ ceiling is their hypothetical level of play when they’re fully matured and their development has gone perfectly smoothly.
Command: A descriptor of a pitchers’ ability to spot his pitches within the strikezone.
Control: A descriptor of a pitchers’ ability to throw strikes and hit his targets.
(The) Count: The tally of strikes vs. balls thrown to each batter.
Cut Fastball/Cutter: A pitch thrown with a slider grip (or with off-set finger pressure) but with fastball arm speed and motion. A cut fastball is few miles per hour slower than the pitchers’ fastball and has more lateral and dropping movement. Generally cutters are used to generate pop-ups/weak groundballs by “jamming” same-side batters.
Easy-Speed/Velocity: Another positive pitching descriptor implying that a pitcher generates fastball velocity with little effort and with an easy motion. Taller pitchers with longer arms (providing more torque) and strong pitchers with powerful legs will generally produce easy-velocity.
Explosive Fastball: A hard fastball that is thrown with violent and/or deceptive arm action that is difficult for the opposing batter to “pick-up” en route to the plate. Mariano Rivera’s coordinated, easy delivery hides the ball and causes his fastball to appear to “explode” out of his hand and reach the batter much faster than expected.
11-5/Eleven-to-Five Curve: A left-handed pitchers’ curveball that moves from the eleven O’clock position to the five O’clock position. Giants pitcher, Barry Zito, throws an eleven-to-five curveball.
Fade: A term referring to a changeup’s sinking and sailing movement away from the pitchers’ arm side. A left-handed pitchers’ changeup would fade to the left and away from a right-handed batter.
Fireballer: A power-pitcher with premium velocity. Generally, a pitcher with a mid-to-high 90s fastball is considered a fireballer.
First-to-Third Speed: A baserunners’ top-gear speed. Long-legged baserunners may merely be average runners “out-of-the-box” but plus underway, and from first-to-third. Former Yankees centerfielder, Bernie Williams, wasn’t a prolific basestealer, but was one of the fastest baserunners from first-to-third.
Foot-work: Quickness and ease of movement while fielding. Important for infielders to cover a base and turn a double play. Important for catchers to block pitches and set-up behind the plate.
Four-Seamer: Four-seam fastball. A fastball thrown with fingers across the “C” of the baseball and thrown with four-seams backspinning against the air. The fastest and straightest pitch in baseball, but can feature “cutting,” rising or “popping” movement.
Frisbee: A slider with plus lateral movement.
Gap-Power/Gap Hitter: Power oriented towards doubles, and extra base hits in general, rather than homeruns. A gap hitter is a batter with gap-power, but has more homerun power than a slap-hitter has.
Hammer: A curveball with hard, late, 12-6 break. A hammer-curve’s break is similar in appearance to a hammering-motion.
Innings Eater: A durable and/or efficient starting pitcher who consistently pitches into the late innings in each of his starts. Generally, an innings-eater adds stability to a starting rotation and is able pitch through blow-outs and difficult innings with little wear. Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez are innings-eaters who consistently lead (or nearly lead) their pitching staffs in innings-pitched.
Make-up: A players’ maturity level, self-discipline, poise and receptiveness to coaching. Prospects with good makeup are highly preferable and will develop at a much faster pace. Legal and other off field issues taint a players’ makeup.
Max-Effort (Delivery): A violent pitching delivery that exhibits full-effort on every pitch. Smaller pitchers and relievers often employ “max-effort” deliveries in an attempt to maximize fastball velocity and depth of break on their secondary pitches. Max-effort deliveries drain stamina and make pitchers more injury prone.
Mechanics: The fundamentals a pitcher or batter employs in their delivery, swing, or throw. Pitching mechanics are important for generating velocity and break, are an indictor of injury risk and dictate a pitchers’ command and control.
Opposite Field (Power): The section of the playing field on the batters’ “push” side. Opposite field power is the ability of a batter to generate extra base hits and home runs to their push side, as opposed to their “pull” side. A left-handed batter’s opposite field is left field.
Out of the Box: Out of the batters’ box. Generally used to refer to runner’s acceleration from the batters’ box to first base. Ichiro is one of the fastest players out of the box, getting to first base in just over 4 seconds.
Outfield Routes/Routes to Fly Balls: The paths an outfielder takes to fly balls. Important for gauging an outfielders’ range. An outfielder with premium speed may still be a below-average defender if they take bad “routes” to fly balls.
Pitch Recognition: A batters’ ability to recognize a pitches’ type, velocity and placement. Develops with coaching but premium vision is genetic.
Plate Discipline: The ability– as a batter– to judge the strikezone as well as differentiate hittable pitches from unhittable ones. Plate discipline is distinct from patience, albeit related, as it shows selectivity– not just a willingness to take pitches early in the count.
Plus, Plus-Plus: Above-average and well-above average, respectively.
Pop Time: On a stolen base attempt, the time (in seconds) it takes a catcher to get the baseball from his glove and into the base-covering infielder’s glove is referred to as the “pop time.” While pop time relies heavily on arm strength and accuracy, the speed with which a catcher moves from his crouch into a suitable throwing position is the major determining factor.
Quick Arm: A “quick” arm is a positive descriptor of a pitchers’ throwing style; showing little drag in their throwing motion, fastball velocity is generated easily, explosively and with less risk of injury.
Quickness/Quick First Step: The speed with which a fielder of baserunner can react and begin running.
Range: A fielding descriptor. A term used to describe the amount of ground a fielder can cover on a play. Particularly important for middle infielders and centerfielders. While related, range is distinct from speed, and is more tied to quickness, agility and fielding prowess. For instance, while Braves’ outfielder Jason Heyward has plus speed, his range falls short of centerfield because of his large size and lack of seasoning in the MLB.
Raw Power: The potential power in a prospects’ swing. Raw power consists of bat speed, loft-generated in swing and/or the batters’ strength. Distinct from game-power, raw power is often showcased in batting practice and is the un-utilized potential that should show up in a prospects’ game with more development.
Release: A release is refers to the quickness/fluidity that a fielder/pitcher throws the ball with. A catcher with a slow release will take more time throwing the ball, than a catcher with a quick release will.
Release Point: The final segment of a throwing/pitching motion when the ball leaves the pitcher/throws hand.
Running Fastball: “Run” when referring to pitching, is rolling lateral break. A running fastball is a moving fastball that shows angled, rolling lateral break. Often, pitchres can add arm-side run to their fastballs by dropping their arm angle letting their fingers “roll” off of the ball.
Slap-hitter: A batter that emphasizes contact-making and shows little power in their swing. Their isolated power (ISO) is low and they’re generally singles hitters.
Slugger: A power-hitter who posts above-average homerun and extra-base-hit totals.
Split-Finger Fastball/Splitter: A pitch thrown with the fingers “forked” around (not resting on) two seams of the ball. The resulting decrease in finger-tip pressure on the baseball’s seams puts far less spin on the ball and causes a “tumbling” sink or (sometimes) knuckling action. Only pitchers with larger, stronger fingers (Dan Haren, Roger Clemens) throw the splitter and the pitch’s grip can cause elbow injury.
Submarine: See “arm angle.”
Sweeping Curve: A curveball with heavy lateral movement. A sweeping curve has loser, slower, more vertical break than the laterally breaking slider.
Tilt: The diagonal angle of a slider’s (or lateral breaking ball’s) movement.
12-6/Twelve-to-Six Curve: A curveball with heavy drop and little lateral movement. its break moves from 12 O’clock to 6 O’clock.
Tommy John Surgery: An elbow surgery named after former All-Star pitcher Tommy John. While the surgery is invasive and involves replacing an elbow ligament with connective tissued harvested from other parts of the body, it has become relative common place among modern era pitchers.
Two-Seam Fastball: A fastball thrown with fingers on the two vertical seams of the ball. The backspin generated in the fastball motion causes the two seams passing throw the air to “drag” and cause sink and arm-side run/screwball movement. Often pitchers will pronate further when throwing the 2-seamer, causing more sink and screwballing action. Because of the increased drag, a two seamer is slightly slower than a 4-seamer.
Wheels: A players’ running-speed. Commonly used to suggest baserunning speed, but be used on defense.