Longenhagen’s Scouting Mailbag

You had some questions, I had some answers. No more talking.

@gberry523 Where do scouts usually consider the best seats to be able to scout from during a game?

You’ll see them directly behind home plate, usually a handful of rows back or more. Lots of guys like to be elevated a little bit instead of right behind home plate. That spot directly behind home plate is the best place to look at pitch movement and pitching mechanics, it gives you the most accurate velocity readings on your gun, and you can see the entire diamond in your field of vision. I like to move around during games between that primary spot and a spot along the first or third base line, perpendicular to the line between the mound and the plate. It’s a good spot to look at hitters, and it’s where you’ll see scouts during batting practice and infield drills. I like to head over there for an inning or three during games to watch at hitters and their mechanics against live pitching. Seeing batting practice is huge, you get to see a guy’s swing several times in a row in a short amount of time, but I like to see them take swings in the live hitting environment as well.

 @Matt_Winkleman What is the best way to get the most out of sitting with scouts at a game?

If you’re going to start a conversation with a scout you need to be sitting in the section near them. That means you’re in the same row just one seat away or directly behind or in front of them. Don’t come over from your seat a few sections away in the middle of the game and stand around and talk to them. Start your conversation between innings or at least between at-bats so you’re not interrupting them when they’re writing. The conversation will often continue as they work, that’s fine, but try not to halt their thought process when you go to break the ice. If you make your initial question more advanced than, “Who do you scout for?” or “How does this guy look?” your chances of them opening up are much better.

 @FelskeFiles How deos a scout determine if a player has a “high ceiling” from those who don’t, given limited track records?

A player’s ceiling is most determined by athleticism, by displaying skills that can’t be taught or learned. I can’t teach a pitcher to be 6’5” or throw 95mph or teach a hitter to be lightning fast or have a ton of natural strength because genetics have blessed him with a body befitting a Greek god. I might be able to fix his swing and teach him how to hit or iron out the pitcher’s delivery and teach him how to throw strikes. Maybe. Players almost never reach or exceed their ceilings, it’s a perfect world projection that assumes everything will click one day.

 @JonCheddar What were Rollins’ and Utley’s five tool grades when they were in their primes.

Chase Utley

Hit: 65

Power: 55

Run: 50

Field: 65

Arm: 50

 

Jimmy Rollins

Hit: 55

Power: 55

Run: 65

Field: 70

Arm: 70

Insanity.

 @Kram209 Leandro Castro reminds me of a poor-man’s Starling Marte. Yes?

This is a great question because it allows me to address the idea of player comparisons. I avoid comps at all costs unless it really makes sense. Often, I use comps (short for comparison, for the uninitiated) just to describe the player’s body. Yoenis Cespedes is built like Bo JacksonKevin Gausman is built like Kris Benson. As far as Marte and Castro go, they have similar approaches (by which I mean they don’t really have one) but similarities end there. All of Castro’s skills are a grade or more below Marte’s but the skillsets there are similar, so I get where you’re coming from. But yeah, I always try to evaluate someone entirely on their own.

 @AntsinIN What are your thoughts on Taijuan Walker? What’s his ETA?

Yes, a non-Phillies question. I love Walker. I think he’s the best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. I like him better than Dylan Bundy, better than Archie Bradley, Kyle Zimmer…everyone who hasn’t graduated to the majors yet. His delivery is very athletic, the fastball is plus-plus and the curveball will show plus-plus at times, too. His ETA? No idea and I think it’s silly to burn mental calories trying to predict it. Most prospects arrive in the Majors because of necessity or due to factors entirely out of their control. Mike Trout didn’t mash his way to the big leagues, he was called up because Vernon Wells got hurt. Mike Zunino was called up because the Mariners had nobody left to throw out there. Just last night I was sitting with Pawtucket pitchers who were discussing why Alfredo Aceves was getting called up instead of Steven Wright or Brandon Workman. One of them explained to his teammates that they just needed someone whose arm was fresh, someone who could pitch that day if they needed him to. Wright and Workman had just pitched and weren’t fresh, Aceves was, decision made. Sometimes that’s all that goes into it. It’s not worth it to ballpark a date. Just wait. 

 @Ut26 What are some of the best resources for info on scouting/prospects?

Keith Law and Jason Parks are at the top of my list. Baseball America is exceptional, but if you’re just getting your prospecting obsession off the ground, their stuff runs so deep and their website is so hard to sort through that it feels overwhelming. Start with Law and Jason and his staff over at Baseball Prospectus. Clint Hulsey is also really, really freakin good but his stuff is non-traditional, research oriented a lot of the time. And he writes a ton of stuff. If prospect writers are ice cream flavors, Keith is vanilla (not vanilla as in boring, vanilla as in essential), Jason is mint chocolate chip (the package is odd looking but the flavor is incredible), Baseball America is Moosetracks (fantastic in sections but a little too busy at times) and Clint Hulsey is Butter Pecan (different style, really good, should be more popular). That’s where you want to go to learn about prospects.

Now, if you want to learn all you can about scouting then I suggest two things. First, read Jason Parks’ chapters in Baseball Prospectus’ Extra Innings book. It’s pretty comprehensive essay on the foundations of the scouting process. Next, go listen to every episode of the Up and In Podcast from start to finish. Go to some minor league games during that time and take some notes, whatever you want to write down. When you’ve done all that (it should take you 3-6 months) then you’ve completed Amateur Scouting 101.

 

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15 comments

  1. hk

    July 09, 2013 03:06 PM

    Eric,

    This is great, thanks. I didn’t have a chance to ask this question in the mailbag, but I hope you’ll answer any way. Did you read Keith Law’s recent write-up on Maikel Franco and, if so, what are your thoughts about Keith’s thoughts?

  2. Eric Longenhagen

    July 09, 2013 03:15 PM

    I did, as I always do, read Keith’s thoughts. He sees the same issues I do. He’s just mroe concerned about them than I am. I understand where he’s coming from and know his conclusions are drawn from sound logic and analysis. I just don’t see eye to eye with him on the end product there. It’s happened before and will happen dozens of times to come.

  3. mratfink

    July 09, 2013 04:04 PM

    i believe i understand the mechanical issue that some scouts are worried about with Franco, but i’m not sure how it translate to a lack of success in the major league level. Is that they believe he will be susceptible to good big league breaking balls? fastballs inside? just trying to get a sense of how we can expect this issue to manifest itself should it do so

  4. WayneKerrins

    July 09, 2013 05:52 PM

    Eric basic question. Can you explain why it’s 20 to 80 as opposed to say 0 to 100 on the ratings?

  5. Larry

    July 09, 2013 07:02 PM

    @ Eric,

    You posted that Jroll has better defensive tools than Utley. Who do you feel is the better defender?

  6. Ben

    July 10, 2013 02:22 AM

    Fascinating stuff, thanks Eric.

    One follow-up to the Utley/JRoll question, if those were their grades at their respective peaks, how would you grade them out now?

  7. MattWinks

    July 10, 2013 08:24 AM

    @Wayne

    The 20-80 scale comes from statistics and is used in many fields. It treats skill sets as part of a curve with each degree a standard deviation from average (50). The reason you only go 20-80 is because after 3 deviation you have a probability that ~99.7% of all example are encapsulated within your system (in other words you could go 0-100 but you would have a 100 grade-5 deviation tool on 1/1.7 million players).

    Since the system was started, the average and deviations have changed but that has truly affected the scouting scale on many tools because there are known metrics, especially on the quantifiable tools such as speed and velocity.

  8. Eric Longenhagen

    July 10, 2013 08:58 AM

    fink,

    The one thing people have been taking issue most often with Franco’s swing is how deep he loads his hands, so I’ll address that one. The fear is that his hands go so far back that he won’t be able to get his bat into the hitting zone in time to make good contact, he’l be late on everything. I am not so concerned and think the bat is quick enough for him to get away with it and if it’s not, that he’ll make adjustments.

    Wayne,

    Winks did a good job explaining it. The one thing I’ll add is that even though deviations have changed, I don’t think we should adjust any of it.

    Larry,

    Rollins is the better overall defender. Utley’s great over there at second base, but there’s a reason he’s not playing shortstop. Rollins had better defensive tools.

    Ben,

    Utley

    Hit: 50

    Power: 50

    Run: 40

    Field: 55

    Arm: 50

    Rollins

    Hit: 45

    Power: 50

    Run: 55

    Field: 60

    Arm: 65

  9. Brian

    July 10, 2013 09:18 AM

    @Eric,

    Does ‘Run’ mean speed, baserunning ability, or some combo of both? We often hear about Utley having great baserunning smarts that more than make up for his lack of speed. Is that something that gets factored into a scouting report, or is that more of a part of a players ‘narrative’?

  10. NavyJoe

    July 10, 2013 09:43 AM

    Eric,

    Can you explain the Power rating? It’s not clear to me why Utley and Rollins would rate out the same there–Utley’s SLG and ISO are both significantly higher than Jimmy’s, whether in their primes or right now.

    I cannot fathom how someone on pace to hit 25-30 HRs over 162 games can fall in the same bucket as someone who is on pace for eight.

  11. Eric Longenhagen

    July 10, 2013 10:03 AM

    Brian,

    It’s pure speed. Baserunning ability is often noted on the report if you see a guy enough to have evidence of it, but it isn’t factored into the run tool grade just as a good approach isn’t factored into the hit tool grade.

    NavyJoe,

    Raw power and power that actualizes in games are two different things. Some steams will have sheeets for their scouts to grade both. For example, Wily Mo Pena and Juan Francisco each have insane raw power, more power than a guy like..let’s say Derek Jeter. But Jeter has had some years where he’s hit 20+ bombs while Pena had one and Francisco can barely stay on a roster.

    We are not scouting results (like ISO uses to calculate), we scout the process.

    Utley and Rollins have about the same amount of raw power but Utley makes more contact and has a better approach, gets himself into more favorable counts…lots of things that put in him better position to hit more home runs than Jimmy.

  12. NavyJoe

    July 10, 2013 10:06 AM

    Thanks for the clarification. So how, then, is raw power scouted? Batting practice? Balls put in play during actual games?

  13. Eric Longenhagen

    July 10, 2013 10:18 AM

    You look at some abstract things, bat speed, strength, BP, in game ball in play….it’s an art.

  14. Dave

    July 11, 2013 09:49 AM

    Eric:

    I was a little confused as to what Law meant with regards to his negative comment that Franco was just looking for pitches he could crush (I’m paraphrasing). While Franco seems to have sub-par plate discipline, he does have a relatively high average and good strike-out rates. Do you have an explanation as to what was meant?

  15. Eric Longenhagen

    July 11, 2013 10:15 AM

    I think Klaw is trying to say that he swings out his ass at everything. He swings really, really hard.

    As far as the AVG and K rates, I’m not too keen on looking at minor league stats.

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