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November 16, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

One of These Days, Baseball Will Come Back to Save Me

by Jason Parks

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This cup of coffee was brewed in the early 1970s. It’s my third cup and I can taste the era of its inception on my tongue; it’s vocal and disillusioned, with a bitter aftertaste from the marijuana, cigarettes, and traces of powder in its finish. Since cup number two, I’ve been staring at the peeling soft peach wallpaper that casually blankets my surroundings, pondering the psychological meanings in the selection of the color. The paper itself looks like it smells, like potpourri and human age, not the calming and delicious peaches that the hue suggests. This room is trying to manipulate me. I’d lick the walls (again) to prove my point, but the rogue counter girl is already suspicious of my presence and I doubt I have a long leash at this hour. I’m somewhat over-caffeinated and teetering on a manic episode thanks to the complimentary swill available in the lobby after the standard activities of the lobby have longed ceased. I’ve been up since 8AM for the seventh day in a row. I have to finish this report. The date is June 2005, just days before the 2005 Rule Four Amateur baseball draft. I am more of a number than a name. I work in the scouting department for a major league team. I’ve been tasked with revisionist busy work.  I’ve been tasked with my own evaluation, my own execution.

(Notes) Draft Recommendations from 2001-2004 by XxXxXxX
2001: Draft Notes: Crosschecked talent; highest possible tier; must haves; five players with assorted thoughts. Please let me back in.

2001
Player 1
: Dewon Brazelton (RHP); Middle Tennessee State University
Notes: Heavily scouted player during final amateur season; monitored Tommy John surgery and subsequent rehab and recovery; arm is still quite strong; makeup a positive; top player on my list. Not likely to get beyond  XxXxXxX. Major league arm in short order; seven-figure justification.
Outcome: Drafted third overall; developed as I indicated; makeup escalated development and allowed for early major league success.

Player 2: Josh Karp (RHP); California University
Notes: Predicted to fall; great size and stuff; no concerns over past injury issues; ready to go; can move fast and will sign without financial hassle. In majors by 2003 with upper-rotational standing. Bet the ranch.
Outcome: I can’t find the stats, but reports indicate that Karp found success and the team limited his ceiling because of a personal disagreement. The report was accurate, but the outcome was out of player’s hands. Still promise in the physical.

Player 3: Colt Griffin (RHP); Marshal, TX
Notes:  Heavily scouted in person; electric arm with elite-level velocity and chances for above-average secondary offerings; good makeup and push; shows plus command potential; top of rotation arm; next Nolan Ryan. Can’t pass up.
Outcome: Touching 100 mph, Colt is a marketing dream and a player ready for a prime breakout. My report indicated as much and was obviously ignored. He was can’t miss and he didn’t miss. It’s clear in the report.

Player 4: Chris Smith (LHP); Cumberland University
Notes: Heavily scouted; in prime physical condition; shows three above-average pitches; ready to agree to deal pre-draft; top lefty available in draft. Might not fall beyond XxXxXxX.
Outcome: One of the top lefties in the minors. Wasn’t even sniffed by this organization. I sat on needles on draft night waiting for his name. His physical condition was prime. Missed opportunity.

Player 5: Kenny Baugh (RHP); Rice University
Notes: Heavily scouted; great size; well-coached in college; arm works well and isn’t an injury risk; top five player on my board; safe pick for major league success.
Outcome: Drafted before we selected; developing as planned. Safe major leaguer.

The hour and the focused isolation finally gave way to tangible suspicion, and the damaged soul coming off her graveyard shift finally brought her curiosity by the makeshift workstation in the lobby.

Damaged Soul: “You are really hard at work, aren’t ya? What is it that you are so focused on? It sure looks important. When was the last time you took a break? I could turn the television on for you?”

Me: “Yes; my boss is trying to fire me. I’m helping him do it. I’ve been tasked with my own performance review. I work in baseball. I’m an amateur scout. I can’t show you my work.”

Damaged Soul: “Oh, you work in baseball? That’s so cool. I love baseball. How long have you been working in baseball?  If you like, I could put a baseball game on the television when it comes on?”

Me: “I’m not just a fan. I work for a team. These reports are important. I need to get back to my work.”

I broke into baseball around the same time that my mentor broke out of it, trading war stories of modern relevance only one Spring before a series of unfortunate events and judgments pushed him back behind the industry wall. It was my first window into the realities of the game, as I witnessed a reenactment from the Cosa Nostra handbook of professional termination. Armed with smiles and tales of future plans, baseball took my mentor out in the boat, waited for the familiar tongues of religious desperation, and fired the senior advisor as we all watched from the transparent picture windows of the lake house. I saw my mentor shoveled out of the building as I was given the company credit card. I had worked too hard to keep my ride firmly hitched to this dying star, and I smiled and joked and even applauded the situation when prompted for a social response in a social setting. I was protected behind the reinforced structure that surrounded the game, and despite having emotions directed towards the hastily departure of my baseball father, baseball had finally decided to mother me and it was my turn to get some nutrition.

Thirteen tears have passed since I first sampled the major-league milk, and I’ve made the most of my opportunities, rising through the ranks of the amateur scouting department and building a larger font around my printed number. I don’t have an office, but I have a chair in the draft room and the seat is familiar with my physical characteristics. The previous eight years were spent living the life of a traveling rock star, minus any of the positive tenets of traveling like a rock star; sleeping in motels only slightly more sophisticated than hourly sex motels, eating high-calorie food and getting fat, smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco to stimulate away the banality of isolation, and missing out on the lives of my friends and family because of my peculiar vocation. I paid the dues required by the church, and despite the clear realities witnessed by my own eyes and my own relational intelligence, I felt the church would keep me safe as traveled deeper into its mission. Devoting my life to baseball would offer my family a better life. Being in baseball would make my baseball father proud. I was following his steps.

2002
Player 1:
Chris Gruler (RHP); California high school
Notes: Top player on my list; best arm available; heavily scouted; healthy arm; three plus offerings; clean delivery
Outcome: Remains healthy and climbing the minor league ladder. Drafted before we were on the clock. Missed opportunity.

Player 2: Sergio Santos (SS); California high school
Notes: Can’t miss up-the-middle talent; bat could be special; arm is sold but not strong enough to translate to the mound; bat is ticket to majors; best position player on my board; good relationship with the family.
Outcome: One of the best infield prospects in the game; immediate success and results. Price tag escalated but deal could have been worked out. I had a good relationship with the family.

Player 3: Clint Everts (RHP); Texas high school
Notes: High-ceiling talent; heavily scouted; arm works well and shows deep arsenal for HS arm; health isn’t an issue; affordable and safe. Rumor that
XxXxXxX are hard on him and he won’t escape the pick.
Outcome: Wasn’t available when we selected. Luck of the draw. Looks like a legit prospect with a bright future.

Player 4: Prince Fielder (1B); Florida high school
Notes: Bloodlines and power, but terrible body and position deficiencies; could pick if he falls to 3rd; needs helps with swing and will never reach peaks of father’s power; could be 4A hitter, but with instruction could offer more; low six-figure valuation; could fall.
Outcome: Popped earlier than expected; not a big loss. Would have been good later round flyer, but lacks elite hitting skills and body is problematic. 4A ceiling with some questioning whether he can hit Double-A pitching. We should consider ourselves lucky.

Player 5: Bobby Brownlie; (RHP); Rutgers University
Notes: Lots of coverage; good feeling on player; body should stay in shape and projects for command and stuff; starter profile; will sign; agent mentioned distaste for
XxXxXxX, who select before us in the round. Should be available.
Outcome: Wasted opportunity. Fell into our laps and was passed up despite my report. Disappointed, as the player was ready to sign. I became close with the family. He wanted to sign and wear the colors of the
XxXxXxX.

This is work designed for an intern. I should be in the draft room, standing up for the players I see as the major leaguers of tomorrow. Instead, I’m in the lobby of a motel that is masquerading as a hotel, and I’m saddled with sharpening the blade for my own beheading. I wonder if my alcohol-stained performance during the baseball winter meetings of late 2004 is still on the minds of my superiors? I didn’t know my boss was married to an attractive woman. I had been drinking in the lobby for hours, and not to excuse the behavior, but it’s not like the bulk of the staff weren’t drinking as well. The Rule Five discussions had already taken place in the room upstairs, with my voice during the proceedings receiving a muted amplification and my self-esteem dropping a full-grade. With defeat standing over the body of my confidence, the bar nearest the lobby elevator advertised its services and I ran in a full-sprint to redeem my respect. At first, I was invisible to those with happiness.

The lobby that night was casual and familiar, almost like a cocktail party being held in your own living room. I was drinking 7 and 7, and after three of those sevens I was loose with the tongue and looser with the wallet, encouraging drinking with my own paper as if the more I spent the easier I could breathe.

As the front office contingent continued to multiply in the designated grazing area, the chatter grew in volume as it shrank in coherence, and I was at the center, throwing back drinks and, in between sips, offering—no, forcing—libation on others. As the focus shifted from standard social discourse to inappropriate social spectacle, the theater of alcohol consumption pulled back its curtain and the lights found a star ready to deliver his soliloquy.  All eyes were now on the performance, and I turned my intoxication towards the wife of my immediate supervisor, who I not only propositioned for sex, but obnoxiously graded her physical characteristics as they related to my own sexual appetites using the 20-80 scouting scale as my reductive weapon.

The stage lights faded to black and the curtain closed. I don’t remember hearing threats articulated, but I recall hearing whispers of my professional death, and I was encourage by the clinched hands around my arms that it was time to depart the lobby and perhaps also find the familiar tongue of religious desperation. The next thing I knew I was waking up in my motel room. I needed to make a call.

2003
Player 1
: Kyle Sleeth (RHP); Wake Forrest University
Notes: Heavily scouted; top arm in draft; slim-chance he is available when we pick; has top rotation promise, with a clean arm and good health reports.
Outcome: Top arm in the draft became the top arm in the minors; was available when we picked; another in what is becoming a long list of player that were passed on despite my reports.

Player 2:Nick Markakis (LHP); Young Harris College
Notes: Power arm; could move fast in power relief role; shows skills on both sides of ball, but doesn’t profile as major league hitter; lacks projection in bat; needs secondary work, but fastball heavy reliever with additional upside;
XxXxXxX see Markakis as position player. Let them make that mistake. Sit back and wait for quality relief arm to fall. Could reach 3rd round.
Outcome: Foolishly drafted as a position player, Markakis has openly championed a return to the mound, a place where he not only felt more comfortable but also had a higher ceiling. Look for
XxXxXxX to acquiesce to a move back to the mound. His arm is by far his best attribute. Wasted selection, but it’s not over yet. 

Player 3: David Murphy (OF); Baylor University
Notes: heavily scouted; personal interaction with player. Shows all five tools and profiles as well above-average defender in center field; plus speed and offensive chops, with good feel for contact and some power potential thanks to size and strength. Should be an easy sign. Not position prospect on list.
Outcome: Tumbled down the draft board, fell into our lap, but continued to fall because this report wasn’t read. Murphy is a five-star center field prospect and now he belongs to another team. Look for Murphy to impact the major league level in less than a year. Another oversight.

Player 4: Jeff Allison (RHP); Massachusetts high school
Notes: Heavily scouted at amateur level; plus-plus arm with the makeup to maximize potential; three potential pitches with velocity and command potential; makeup is off-the-charts; safe bet to survive the ups and downs of the process. Should be available when we draft. Seven-figure arm and seven-figure kid.
Outcome: Rumors of makeup issues fueled a fall from grace, but they were all unfounded, no doubt planted by the agents of other players. The skills will eventually rise to the top and the makeup issues will prove to be the conjecture of weaker men.

Player 5: Delmon Young (OF); California high school
Notes: Some tools, but questions about development of tools; not a fast mover; long-term project.
XxXxXxX, XxXxXxX, and XxXxXxX are too high on his tools, as I’ve yet to really see them. Not a bad pick later in the day, but overrated at present and might demand too much to sign. Not as good as his brother.
Outcome: Slow start to career; glad he wasn’t available at our selection. You can’t risk money on players without high ceiling tool profiles. Dodged another one. Thanks for listening.

People are finally stirring in the lobby of my motel, with a fresh staff on the floor and new eyes making contact with my work. I wonder if they are interested in seeing my notes? I have two draft years left to reconcile and then I can sleep. Words were never spoken about the series of unfortunate events and judgments that took place during the winter meetings, but my oxygen in the game is scraping the bottom of the canister. These reports will help. That’s probably why I was tasked with their immediate compilation. I had made a mistake with my alcoholic outburst, but what’s a minor misunderstanding when my body of reports and recommendations can stand with height and confidence? Some of the people in the motel sense my importance and the importance of my scouting reconciliations, though  I’m not wearing an official team badge. I need to finish. My friends and family will be happy to see me when I can find once again find my footing in the scouting world. Perhaps the reports will propel me to a desk in the office? Anything it takes to get out of this motel.

2004
Player 1
: Matt Bush (SS); California high school
Notes: Best position prospect in the draft; electric arm and range for days; bat has potential, with enough strength for bat speed and power from premium defensive position. Highest recommendation. Plus-plus makeup and up-the-middle skills to play shortstop at the highest level. Five-star.
Outcome: Rumors of an off-the-field issue was false, and Bush remains of the top middle of the diamond prospects in the minors. Will move fast for a HS draftee, with the makeup and tools to push the boundaries of the developmental system. Don’t believe everything you read. I made some calls and wrote a few letters. I couldn’t verify any off-the-field issues associated to Bush.

Player 2: Billy Butler (OF); Florida high school
Notes: Bat speed won’t play against major league pitching; slow hands and slower feet; not a first-round talent, but could be could 4A pickup later in the day. Profile in high school exaggerates his promise; heavily scouted in area; 45-50 future.
Outcome: At least you listened to me on this one. Butler is really struggling from what I’ve been told, and the 4A label looks good right off the rack. If only you listened to all of my reports. I saw these players with my own eyes. I got to know some of the families. They trusted me.

Player 3: Homer Bailey (RHP); Texas high school
Notes: Heavily scouted; lacks electric stuff but makes up for it with feel and pitchability; plus-plus makeup will push physical gifts to solid-average to first-division level; lacks TORP stuff but work ethic and quest for knowledge will make Bailey a solid major league starter. He should fall because he lacks elite stuff, but could be good option based on clubhouse and makeup.
Outcome: He was drafted before we selected, but we would have signed with our team if we put the thought out there. He wanted to be a
XxXxXxX. It’s only a matter of time before he pushed himself to the top. Has a chance to be polished command/control makeup pitcher. Every team will want a Bailey. We should have put out the thoughts on Bailey. He would have signed. I met the family.

I can’t find my cell phone, but I’m sure I have one. In my caffeinated stupor I must have left it back in the room. It’s been so long, I can’t even recall which room I’m currently billeted in. I can just ask the always curious and often suspicious staff at the motel to escort me back to my room. It’s a complimentary service they offer. They are used to it by now. Going back over my scouting notes, I’m confident they will save me from a fall; I put in the time to see all of the talent on the list, bypassing the benefits of family and stability. One mistake. I made one mistake. I was backed into a corner and prompted to perform. They took away my voice and redesigned my chair. I had no other choice but to act out. They tell me that I have a tendency to do that. My baseball father always told me to beware of that tendency. He said that baseball can smell weakness and will stop at nothing to exploit me for benefit then act quickly to discard the refuse.

It’s nearing 10AM, and with my work done, it’s time to place the call.  I dig for change, but my pants are without pockets and my wallet must be back in the room. I proposition an employee for change. It’s brought to my attention that calls from the designated pay phone are encouraged and allowed between the clearly posted hours of operation, starting at 11AM and continuing until 3PM. I’m reminded by the always suspicious motel employee that a message is waiting for me at the front desk, a message that arrived just minutes after I completed by draft reconciliation. The XxXxXxX must be writing to acknowledge the completion of my task. This is my ticket back into the game. My immediate superior was probably flattered that I found his wife to be so attractive and he probably wears the elicited outburst like a second wedding ring. He probably wants to bring me back into the room, complete with a chair that remembers my physical characteristics. He probably wants to make sure my voice is heard and that the mistakes of drafts past don’t become the mistakes of drafts present and future. This is it. I’m back.

With eager hands outstretched, I approach the counter salivating from the mouth at the change in fortune that is about to occur. Before I can read the note I am informed that its time to take my complimentary vitamins, another service provided by the motel. I take them every day, except when I’m working on a big project. On days that  require premium focus, the vitamins cloud my view. This project required razor-sharp attention and clarity in every detail. It was my way back into baseball. I wasn’t going to endanger that eventuality. I can almost hear baseball’s voice. The vitamins slide down my throat and oxygen once again enters my lungs. Breathing makes me alive again.

As I return to my room, the notes in my hand seem curiously out of place. I can’t recall why I so stressed and guarded their importance. I still need to make that call. One of these days the voice on the other end will say that he understands and wants to help me. One of these days, baseball will come back to save me.

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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