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May 9, 2013

Skewed Left

Diamond Mining

by Zachary Levine

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Through the first-ballot Twitter account of Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson and others, we’ve already seen snippets of the best of the Hall’s Diamond Mines scouting report database—an online version of the exhibit that recently opened in Cooperstown to honor scouts. We’ve been introduced to glowing reports on Moeller High School star Ken Griffey Jr. and on Auburn’s Vincent Edward Jackson, whom scout Kenneth Gonzales correctly predicted would win the 1985 Heisman trophy and would become a standard for the incomparable in baseball. We’ve seen Albert Pujols called overweight in four different sentences in one paragraph and Craig Biggio lauded as a future major-league catcher, though one whose bat might not play in the big leagues.

Yet the great part of this time-suck-meets-clearinghouse-of-wisdom is when you think you’ve failed in finding anything interesting only to be proven wrong. For a public—and for the most part a contingent of baseball writers—unaccustomed to viewing the raw material of scouting reports, there is always fascination in apparent failure.

My first unguided trip through the database, inspired perhaps by Bo Jackson, was in search of the football players and specifically the quarterbacks. But I came up relatively empty. There was no John Elway, drafted by the Yankees in the second round in 1981 and the Royals two years earlier out of high school. No Russell Wilson, who was a Rockies draftee before starting as a rookie for the Seattle Seahawks, and naturally no Michael Vick, drafted in the 30th round by the Rockies out of Virginia Tech despite red flags like his not being a baseball player.

My next stop was to look for a guy whose scouting report probably would never foretell what sort of career was lying ahead. Rick Ankiel had just been designated for assignment by the Astros, ending his 25-game tenure in the organization and perhaps a wild ride of an 11-year career from top pitching prospect to complete mess to productive outfielder and now to strikeout machine.

The database had two scouting reports on Ankiel, neither of which gave any indication that he might have been able to make it as a hitter if this pitching thing didn’t work out. Yet in failing to make that discovery, I found out what was so great about the database. In what appeared to be two very boring scouting reports on a mid-first-round pick, I discovered two really fascinating things, which leads me to believe the degree to which you can get lost in this database will prove dangerous. (Click to expand all reports.)

These were the grades that White Sox scout Jose Ortega put on Ankiel:

Fastball: Present 40, Future 60
Curveball: Present 45, Future 60
Changeup: Present 60, Future 70
Control: Present 60, Future 70

An Ankiel scouting report that put the highest grade on his control and the lowest grade on his fastball was certainly a bit surprising. His control wasn’t awful early in his career, but even in the season that got him second place in Rookie of the Year voting, he was still walking 4.6 per 9 innings.

But my favorite part of the Ankiel scouting depository came from Brewers scout Ross Bove, who had an insanely detailed form to fill out.

Have a closer look at the middle of the page.

First the Brewers make him pick from among the bizarre and overly capitalized categories, many of which are not pairwise mutually exclusive, of Bull Dog (for some reason two words), Hard Nose, Aggressive, In Control, Average, Marginal, Passive and Quits. Then it’s on to a checkbox of communication skills and a written description of makeup, the real guts of the makeup extravaganza, putting grades on 10 different aspects of the intangible.

Ankiel happened to get 60s for Athletic Intelligence, Confidence, Emotional Control and Aptitude, yet Bove must have felt that he was only half a standard deviation above average in Self Esteem, Personal Pride, Competitiveness, Determination, Responsibility and Leadership.

Personally, I’d have sprung for a 60 on Responsibility and probably Determination, but that’s why I was never a scout.

It’s a ridiculous task, even before you think about the fact that Self Esteem, Personal Pride and Confidence are listed as three different categories. Dr. Phil would have found this over the top. So naturally with such an assignment, there were times when it was evident the Brewers scout was just mailing it in.

Check out the same section he filled out on the report on Florida State’s David J. Drew, who would go no. 2 overall that year under the more familiar name J.D.

By the way, if you’re looking for a fun activity, try applying the Brewers’ scouting to important figures from history.

George Washington

Self Esteem: 50
Personal Pride: 35
Athletic Intelligence: 65
Competitiveness: 65
Determination: 80
Confidence: 50
Responsibility: 70
Emotional Control: 70
Leadership: 80
Aptitude: 80

Nero

Self Esteem: 80
Personal Pride: 80
Athletic Intelligence: 50
Competitiveness: 70
Determination: 70
Confidence: 80
Responsibility: 20
Emotional Control: 35
Leadership: 20
Aptitude: 30

President Skroob

Self Esteem: 30
Personal Pride: 35
Athletic Intelligence: 20
Competitiveness: 30
Determination: 35
Confidence: 30
Responsibility: 40
Emotional Control: 30
Leadership: 35
Aptitude: 20

The Brewers would scrap those reports the following season. Here’s the slightly less absurd Brewers psychoanalysis of Barry Zito in 1998.

By the way, Zito scored only a future 55 on his curveball. His comp that season was Bill “Spaceman” Lee, which is a really interesting one. I wonder what other…

And with that, the day is lost.

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

Related Content:  Scouting,  Scouting Reports

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