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Weekend Column – The Scouting Glossary

Thanks to everyone for making yesterday’s posts wildly successful. We’re on pace for over 40,000 hits in February alone, and I know that things will heat up even more when the college and prep seasons start full swing. Pat Hickey will be bringing you his first major piece tomorrow morning, and I’m sure you’ll find it very interesting. In the meantime, here’s a little light reading for you in our weekend column.

I know that sometimes writers tend to write about what they’re knowledgeable about without explaining to newcomers the jargon they use. I include myself in that group. I’ve been guilty of writing scouting jargon over and over on this blog, and I think it’s time to do a little Scouting 101. Here’s a fun glossary of terms that you can look back to if you’re confused about something. I’ll link on the right-hand side of the blog below my contact link.

Anyway, here are some things you might want to know when reading my posts:

Tools

Tools are a general way of evaluating a player’s capabilities, both in the present and the future. The five tools are a player’s ability to hit for average (commonly known as the hit tool), hit for power (also known as raw power), run, field, and throw. Any time I reference a player’s tools, I’m speaking specifically about these five characteristics.

Skills

The difference between tools and skills is about how a player turns his natural tools into advantages on the baseball field. To read about John Sickels’ Seven Skills, click here. This is a great explanation of what skills truly are.

20-80 Scouting Scale
Any time you see me say that a player has a 40 arm or a 60 hit tool, I’m using a scale that the vast majority of scouts use. Some may change it to a simple 2-8 scale, taking out the zeros. This scale equates tools to a Major League average, which is deemed a 50 tool. A 50 hit tool means a player is an average Major League hitter. When you see me use words like “plus”, “minus”, or “above-average”, I’m using the scouting scale, just converting it to words. “Minus” is anything 40 or below. “Fringe-average” is 45. Average is, of course, 50. “Above-average” is 55. “Plus” is 60. “Plus-plus” is usually reserved for anything 65 or over, though some scouts reserve it for 70 and over. I generally use it for 65 and over, though I mention if I don’t.

Current/Future Tools

When discussing draft prospects, the discussion is really based on where a player will be in the future. For example, a hitter may be a 35 on the scouting scale, but I might refer to him as a potential average hitter. The scouting scale has two grades; the current grade and the future grade. In this situation, I’m referring to the player’s future grade. If I mention a player’s current grade, I would use the phrase, “his hit tool currently sits at 35.” It is important to distinguish between these two grades, as draft prospects are almost never close to where their future grade is. A scout has to be able to distinguish not only what his future grade might be, but also the difference between the current and future grades, as that shows how far the player has to go to reach their potential. A wider gap between the two numbers means a higher risk of the player being a bust, or at the very least end up below where their potential is.

Overall Future Potential (OFP)

OFP is the yardstick by which scouts measure how well a prospect influences all areas of the game. A true “five-tool” player will grade out very well in an OFP system, and it’s the standard in the industry. You find OFP by adding up the future grades of a player’s tools, then dividing by five, the number of tools you’ve graded. Anything over 50 on the OFP scale is supposed to signify someone that has potential to be an average or better Major League regular. 60 to 69 is supposed to signify someone that will be an above-average to star-level Major League player, and 70 and above is supposed to signify a superstar-level player. If I say a player has the potential to be a solid Major League regular, that means I’m saying his OFP is in the 50 to 55 level range. It gets a little trickier when scouts start adjusting for makeup and such, which is commonly done to make OFP seem more like what a scout thinks it should be. I don’t have any particular opinion on this, as makeup is a very important part that cannot be graded.

Makeup

Now that I’ve introduced the term makeup, I’m going to define it. Well, when it comes down to it, it can really be defined as just that. It. The thing that makes a player stand out from the rest, hopefully in a positive way. Makeup is seen as the characteristic that a player is born with that gives them the drive and balance to be a successful player, especially when dealing with the pressures of pro baseball. So when you hear me say things like “bad makeup,” I’m referring to some flaws a player may have in his character or past that may get in the way of success in the future. “Good makeup” usually means that a player is a leader and a hard worker, and they’re going to get the most from their tools. It’s very tough to actually define, but when you see it, you get it.

Scouting Structure

Since I refer to scouts and such quite a lot, I feel I need to give you a quick rundown on how a typical scouting department works. At the top of a scouting department you have a scouting director. They generally only deal with scouts that cover aspects of amateur baseball. However, all scouting department differ in some way, and some teams combine the pro scouting and amateur scouting sides of things under a single scouting director. Either way, the typical scouting director is the sole person responsible for making the decisions pertaining to the draft. A general manager or his assistants may have a part in an early pick or two, but it is the scouting director that runs a draft. Below a scouting director come national crosscheckers. National crosscheckers are essentially the scouting director’s right-hand man. They go out and see the best players for the early rounds of the draft, based on the recommendations of their subordinates. The recommendations that the national crosscheckers then pass along are generally the way that the department forms their draft strategy. A scouting director generally only sees the best talents, with their national crosscheckers (or a single crosschecker) filling in the gaps for their information. Below national crosscheckers are regional crosscheckers. Teams typically have three regional crosscheckers covering the West, Midwest, and the East. Some teams vary that, but this is the traditional format. Below the regional crosscheckers are the area scouts, the scouts that do the vast majority of the local scouting. They see tons of prospects in their area, which can range anywhere from part of a state (in California, Florida, and sometimes Texas) to 5 or 6 states (in areas such as the Dakotas, Montana, etc.). They “turn in” prospects that they think are draft-worthy to their regional crosscheckers, who then decide who to see and they in turn “turn in” their reports to the national crosscheckers. Getting the flow yet? Back to the system, area scouts don’t have the time and energy to reach everywhere all at once, so they have to rely on a system of coaches and informants that essentially tell them who to see at what time of year. For instance, an area scout may get on the phone to a coach that just played a team that’s coming to their area soon, just to see whether a trip is necessary, and then who to focus on. Some scouts rely on a network more than others, but it’s an integral part of the scouting chain.

I’ll be adding to this glossary from time-to-time, and I’ll let everyone know as I update it. For now, just go ahead and study up, as there will be a quiz!

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February 6, 2010 - Posted by | Weekend Column

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