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May 15, 2013

The Lineup Card

10 Interesting Excerpts from Scouting Reports

by Baseball Prospectus

‚Äč1. Charlie Montoyo Gets a Nod
In 1996, Jim Pransky, then of the Astros, filed a report on the Harrisburg Senators. Although the report included notes on future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, a report on a 30-year-old non-prospect stood out. Of Jose Montoyo, Pransky wrote, "[He appears] to be a good team man—has value as an org guy at the [Double-A level]." Additionally, Pransky noted Montoyo, who did enjoy five plate appearances in the majors, "serves as an interpreter for Vladimir Guerrero," and divulged Montoyo's preferred name—Charlie. It just so happens 1996 was Montoyo's final year as a player. But in 1997, he made his managerial debut in the Rays organization, where he remains today, and where he's able to call the observant Pransky an organizational colleague. —R.J. Anderson

2. Derek Jeter: Average Joe
Scouts have had a near and dear place in my heart ever since I started covering baseball 25 years ago, and I would never profess to know 1/10th as much about the game. Scouting is a hard business, particularly at the amateur level, when you are trying to look at a 17-year-old kid and determine what kind of player he will be at 27.

I remember seeing former Pirates first-round draft pick Chad Hermansen for the first time when he was 17 and playing in the New York-Penn League. He looked like a future superstar with his power, speed, and range at shortstop. He had the makeup to match, as the living cliché of being the type of kid you would want your daughter to marry. Yet Hermansen wound up being an outfielder who hit just .195/.255/.329 in 541 major-league plate appearances with -2.9 WARP. Ironically, he is in his first year as an amateur scout for the Angels.

While perusing through the treasure trove of scouting reports at Diamond Mines, I couldn’t resist looking at Dave Littlefield’s report on Derek Jeter when the future Yankees captain was a senior in high school in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1992. I have never disagreed with any general manager’s moves on a more consistent basis than Littlefield’s when he held the post with the Pirates from 2001-07. Thus, I was interested to see what he thought of Jeter before the shortstop became this generation’s most famous player. This was Littlefield’s summation (translated from scouting shorthand): “Refreshing kid with plus defense, speed and arm at a premium position, bat workable needs more strength, likely to have 10-15 stolen bases a year in the major leagues and hit .255 with 4-8 home runs, will continue to fill out and gain coordination, needs time."

That’s the description of a journeyman shortstop bouncing from one bad team to another. We all know how Jeter’s career has turned out and that is headed to Cooperstown on the first ballot. However, Littlefield also noted that Jeter has a “hi butt,” which perhaps explains why he has dated some of the world’s most beautiful women over the years. —John Perrotto

3. Mike Mussina Messes with Non-Standard Pitches
Before there was Yu Darvish and his wild assortment of pitches, there was Mike Mussina. The Moose threw, at various points in his 18-year career, the following pitches: a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a cut fastball, a slider, a changeup, a splitter, and two curveballs (one fast and one slow). He also threw all of his pitches from multiple arm angles.

Mussina’s innovative mind was evident even as a youngster. He picked up the knuckle curveball as an 8-year-old, so by the time he was in Triple-A it was considered a “plus pitch.” He had a well-developed fastball, curve, slider, and change as a senior in high school.

The strangest and most intriguing bit from a Cubs 1987 scouting report on the 18-year-old was this: “Fools with knuckleball as change. Has no command of pitch.”

Now imagine a world where Mussina had been exactly the same and pitched a long career with a possible Hall of Fame bid—except he also threw in an occasional knuckleball to stymie hitters. That absolutely should have happened. —Dan Rozenson

4. Manny Ramirez: Mr. Discipline? 
This scouting report for Manny Ramirez mentions exactly what you expect it to mention:

"Boy has been surrounded by question marks all spring because of erraticness of play, dependability. Introverted kid, almost sullen looking, but coming where he's from, no wonder. Association with Mel Zitter does nothing to simplify the picture. Convinced me he has plenty of ability, esp with bat, to be solid every day big leaguer—if intangibles permit."

Pretty good description of Manny Ramirez at age 40, too. But what interested me was "association with Mel Zitter." Who is Mel Zitter? At the time, he was the guy most famous for coaching Shawon Dunston on a sandlot team. Now, he's most famous for coaching Manny Ramirez in a sandlot league. His relationship with Ramirez was controversial at the time, and the New York Times wrote about the conflict between Ramirez's two coaches: Zitter, the highly professionalized instructor who would drill and drive Ramirez for 10-hour workouts; and Steve Mandl, the Washington Heights High coach who was, theoretically, Ramirez's primary coach. " What started out as a mere scheduling conflict between these two intense, demanding men has grown into a bitter clash of two baseball worlds—Steve Mandl's dreamy vision of the high school team and Mel Zitter's all-business boot camp for inner-city ballplayers with big-league hopes."

Knowing Ramirez as we do (or think we do), it's hard to imagine him surviving Zitter's regimented program, especially as a teenager. Zitter reportedly made one of Manny's teammates, Jose Corsino, run for six hours for cutting across the infield during a running drill; Manny had to run for two hours for not speaking English on the field. And yet, knowing how easily Ramirez can go wandering, it is hard to imagine him thriving without Zitter's regimented program. That's presumably what scout Jon Niederer means when he said Zitter does nothing to simplify the picture; if Zitter could fit snugly into the role of domineering youth sports villain, then it would simplify things considerably. Instead, he seems to have existed in a complicated zone, protecting and nurturing and disciplining Manny and his teammates, while making outsiders feel slightly uncomfortable about it. And 555 home runs later, we may still not know whether that scout should have been more worried, or less, about Manny Ramirez's makeup. —Sam Miller

5. Lance Berkman: Shape-Shifter
Lance Berkman’s physique has always been the subject of some chatter—long before his dust-up with Milo Hamilton over whether he was fat or just “jowly,” as he likes to call himself. Early in his career, a fan threw Twinkies at him at Wrigley Field, and Berkman did what a fat guy would do. He ate them.

But the thing about Berkman is he isn’t that fat. He’s certainly not thin, but he’s not Prince Fielder or even Bartolo Colon. His physique has been a little difficult to place even without considering the fluctuation over time, which Berkman tends to downplay.

You don’t really appreciate it how hard his body is to describe until you watch six Chicago White Sox scouts look at the same player and send home some colorful and vastly different descriptions of his frame and athleticism. These reports were all from his draft year at Rice in 1997, leading off with a remark about his jaw, as if it’s a boon or hindrance to one’s hitting. How would you like to be a police artist who sketches the suspect based on these six witnesses?

George Bradley: Burly, solid body without being thick. Holds weight well and strong in arms and upper torso. Mature. Round face with big jaw. Has odd run and walkig (sic) gait.

Joe Butler: Tall frame with strength, medium build. Broad shoulders, some def through chest. Ave arms, big forearms w/strength, big hands. Sturdy lower half. Strong thighs and calfs. Body has made great improvements from 2 years ago. Can tighten up frame and add on some strength.

Dan Fabian: Thick legs and hips but upper body has room for development. Non-athletic frame.

Ed Pebley: Solid build upper and lower half. No wgt problems projected.

Gary Pellant: Big strong thick frame.

Ken Stauffer: Medium frame. Lacks outstanding features. Has added tone to his upper and lower features. Kind of a non-athlete body.

And by the way, after sending at least six scouts to go watch Berkman, the White Sox went with Jason Dellaero with the 16th pick. The Astros got Berkman at 17. —Zachary Levine

6. Guy Hansen Takes on Bret Saberhagen
Who is this player? When you draft on potential, often the question isn’t how good the kid’s potential is but what the kid has the potential to be. Scout Guy Hansen saw a skinny 18-year-old shortstop three times in California in 1982. He also saw a skinny, 18-year-old pitcher twice. They played for the same high school team. The shortstop was “an excellent athlete. Body coordination, balance, timing will be plusses in the future.” The kid had “sure, soft hands,” Hansen wrote; the “ball disappears into his glove.” He had some power potential, although there was a “slight hitch” in his swing that would need to be ironed out. Hansen timed the high-schooler to first base in 4.3 seconds, not bad. “Has the necessary ingredients to play up-the-middle at the major-league level,” Hansen concluded.

The pitcher, when Hansen saw him, was “back to approximately 90 percent since experiencing some shoulder soreness.” He was throwing his fastball “consistently 84-87 for three innings” and it had “fair boring-in action.” He had a decent curve, too. Still, Hansen noted, “scouts have ‘cooled’ on player due to arm question.” Hansen loved his makeup, though: “very alert—quiet leader!”

Despite reservations about the kid’s tender arm, Hansen recommended signing him—and the shortstop, too. They were, of course, the same kid. “I feel player is too good of an athlete to keep on mound,” Hansen wrote, and advised with some excitement: “If we use our heads on this player, I feel we will have a player with two-way potential.” (Ahh, how times have changed, Rick Ankiel.)

Hansen’s team did indeed sign the kid, although not until the 19th round of the draft with the 480th overall pick. His arm turned out to be fine, at least when they signed him, and he never played any shortstop, going straight to the mound in the minors. He wasn’t on the farm long. By the time he was 21, in 1985, he won 20 games, the Cy Young Award, and a pair of nine-inning gems in the World Series, including a shutout in the decisive seventh game. His name was Bret Saberhagen. —Adam Sobsey

7. Greg Maddux: Not a Starter
In 1984, the Chicago Cubs invested their second-round draft choice on an 18-year-old high schooler named Greg Maddux. However, by 1985, at least one scout had closed the book on Maddux's ability to stick as a starter. After spending some time observing the Cubs' Peoria affiliate, former major leaguer Duffy Dyer noted that while Maddux had a good arm, he "ran out of gas" and did not pitch well for the last third of the season. What's more, the righty was "not strong enough to be a starter."

The Cubs must have missed the memo. Maddux made his major-league debut just a year after Dyer's report was filed, taking to the mound in six games for Chicago—five times as a starter. He went on to toe the rubber to begin a game a few more times in his career—740 as a starter in the regular season, to be exact—tossing 5008.1 innings (13th all-time), recording 3,371 strikeouts (10th), earning four Cy Young and 18 Gold Glove Awards, and winning 355 games (eighth). Looks like the Bull Dog's arm strength held up just fine.

Bonus: With his storied career drawing to a close—in his typical dominating fashion—what more can possibly be said about Mariano Rivera? He needs an off-speed pitch. —Stephani Bee

8. Nomar Garciaparra's 20-Grade Bat
Nomar Garciaparra has always been a tough player to peg. For proof, we need look no further than the array of scouting reports from his amateur days. Garciaparra was a first-round pick in the 1994 draft, chosen by the Red Sox at 12th overall, with a glove that was deemed fit to man the six-hole at the highest level. Scout George Bradley noted in his '94 scouting report that Nomar “could play defensively in the ML now,” based on what Bradley had seen at a Georgia Tech game from February of that year. Bradley was lukewarm on Garciaparra's bat-handling skills, with present grades of 30 for both hitting and power, and though 30 was tabbed as the power ceiling for Nomar, the future grade for contact reached a league-average 50.

There are seven different reports from that '94 season, and the opinions regarding Garciaparra's bat spanned a wide spectrum. Scout Russ Bove was more optimistic, giving Nomar a 35/40 power split for present/future, and valuing his hitting skills to the tune of 50 present and 60 future. Despite Bove's appreciation for the bat (“ideal #2 hitter”), he pegged Garciaparra for the third round due to a lesser opinion about the shortstop's defense, with grades for a 50/55 glove and 45/50 arm. 

Most surprising is the scouting report of Mark Bernstein, who gave Nomar bottom-feeding grades of 20 for both present contact and power. Bernstein upped the ante to 45 with respect to future hitting ability, but the future power was tagged with a 25—this for a player who would knock 85 extra-base hits (including 30 homers) as a 23-year old rookie in 1997. In his first four seasons in the league, Garciaparra would swat 117 home runs, 176 doubles, and 29 triples. He stole 58 bags in that span, finished in the top ten in MVP voting all four years, and won consecutive batting titles in 1999 and 2000. His slash line after his age-26 season stood at .333/.382/.573 with nearly 600 games in the big leagues under his belt.

Garciaparra was a high-energy player who drew attention for his obsessive-compulsive routine of twitchy rituals every at-bat, and he was notorious for hyper-aggressiveness on first-pitch fastballs throughout his major-league career. The profile makes it all the more puzzling that, when describing Nomar's aggressiveness on the scouting report, Bernstein wrote that Garciaparra was “too laid back” and went so far as to label “too non chalant” as an area of weakness. The image of a laid-back Nomar Garciaparra truly stretches the imagination. —Doug Thorburn

9. Randy Johnson Had a Major-League Arm and a Minor-League Everything Else
When faced with a database of over 11,000 professional scouting reports, the natural first impulse is to look for A) reports that were spectacularly wrong or B) reports that were more accurate than they had any business being. We want to see the scout who couldn’t find the Hall of Famer right in front of their face, or, failing that, the scouting savant who saw something that was invisible to every other evaluator. Of course, a scout who sells a future star short isn’t necessarily out of his depth—maybe he just saw him on a deceptive day, or maybe no scout could have gotten a forecast for that player correct. And a scout who files a prescient report isn’t necessarily Nostradamus—maybe he got lucky, or maybe any competent scout could have seen the same thing.

This report on Randy Johnson by Expos scout Larry Monroe, filed from instructs after Johnson’s first partial professional season, comes closer to "incorrect" but falls somewhere between the two extremes:

6’10” Shortarmer with ML fastball but changeup and curveball-slider stuff is too big. Gives away change now and don’t like his inconsistency with all stuff. Poor fielder, no move to first, and I don’t see enough consistency to like major league, although he has the arm.

Johnson’s mechanics evolved a lot over the years, so the pitcher Monroe saw wasn’t the one we remember. In 1985, the 21-year-old Johnson struck out 21 and walked 24 in 27 1/3 innings in the New York-Penn League, posting a near-6.00 ERA. He was still five years away from his first All-Star selection, and more like eight years away from becoming an ace.

What we’d like to have found is a scout who dismissed all of Johnson’s stuff as subpar, or a scout who saw through the early struggles and perceived the potential for consistency, success, and a wipeout slider. Instead, we found a scout who saw a major-league arm without major-league secondary stuff. The report was far from right, but it wasn’t completely wrong.

Forecasting the future is hard, scouting is messy, and perfect hits and misses are almost as rare as perfect players. But we can learn just as much from the mixed bags. —Ben Lindbergh

10. Mike Piazza Wasn't Totally Unloved
Alan Schwarz’s article in the Times on Piazza’s retirement called him “baseball’s ultimate rags-to-riches story,” noting that family friend Tommy Lasorda “asked his organization to select Piazza…merely as a feel-good favor.” The implication is that Piazza wasn’t a prospect, and that the Dodgers’ pick was purely a product of nepotism.

That’s the typical Piazza origin story, and it makes sense. Piazza was a 62nd-round pick and 1390th overall selection, and he didn’t fall that far because of signability concerns; the only concern about his signability was that he wasn’t worth signing. Teams simply didn’t believe he’d ever help them win, or even be a capable org guy. No one picked after him in the 1988 draft ever made the majors; the latest player picked before him who went on to be worth even one win above replacement (Steve Cooke) was removed from the board 102 picks earlier.

So when I looked up Piazza in the Diamond Mines database, I expected to see nothing on him from his years as an amateur, or at best a dismissive report. Instead, I found this pretty positive report by veteran scout Brad Kohler from April 1986. Here’s the summation:

Great size plus youth to go with pot above average long ball pop. Avg student in class. No solid coll offers. A long way to come with overall ability but worth selection on bat & pwr.

It’s not as if Kohler saw a potential superstar; he put a 44.6 OFP on Piazza, suggesting that he might become something between an average and below-average player. Still, there’s that “worth selection.” Kohler was then with the Major League Scouting Bureau, which means that any team that subscribed to the Bureau could have read his report. Yet no team believed that Piazza was worth a selection in the first 61 rounds, and the team that selected him in Round 62 did it just to be nice.

Maybe the Piazza Kohler saw (a 17-year-old first baseman) was in some way a more attractive prospect than the one the Dodgers drafted (a 19-year-old catcher). Maybe Kohler was just particularly perceptive, or a little lucky. Regardless, his report offers an intriguing alternate history, one in which Piazza’s success wasn’t quite as unforeseeable as we’ve often been told. —Ben Lindbergh

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