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November 9, 2012
Scouting the Sixth Tool
In the world of evaluating baseball talent, scouts often refer to the five tools -- hitting, hitting for power, foot speed, arm strength and defensive range. Players with high grades in each area often bring superstar upside to the ballpark. What separates those who blossom from those who don't is what I like to call the Sixth Tool.
That tool is “makeup,” a mix of maturity, desire and an advanced approach to the game. In some instances, it involves an extra gear of effort and can draw the "gamer" label. It's not uncommon for a player's makeup to be the deciding factor when clubs produce their final draft boards or ultimate evaluations.
"It's something we look for in every single player we scout," said an American League scouting director. "All the tools in the world aren't enough to overcome the lack of good makeup. Those tools can become wasted. We've seen it a million times."
Not all clubs value makeup the same when it comes to amateur talent, but that isn't because they don't feel it's a critical piece to the puzzle. It's because makeup is difficult to scout.
"You really have to get in there," said an AL club's area supervisor. "it's not just about seeing the player, it's about seeing the player in all situations, winning, losing, close games, and getting to know the player a little bit off the field. See what makes him tick."
What makes a player tick is a crucial part of the scouting game, but it isn't always answered before decision time, so clubs have to make an assessment with the data they have gathered. A National League club that selected in the top 15 in June had a particular decision to make between two players with differing levels of tools and upside.
One, a college player, has the reputation of being a leader on and off the field. The other, a high school shortstop that moved up draft boards late in the spring, has far less experience in and around the game and there was little information available on his makeup. The deciding factor, however, came late in the prep schedule when Player B was seen rallying his high school team late in a game in which he was trailing 11-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning.
"It was like he had this voice in his head saying 'no way are we losing this game,' and ya know what … they did lose," said the evaluator who ultimately became the signing scout. "The way he played through that was impressive, though. He put big effort into a game that didn't mean anything, and despite the score he handled himself perfectly, got his team going and performed well, too."
Other players display makeup in how well they handle position changes, take to constructive criticism, and develop physical tools, all things on which prep players have yet to be tested, making the task of scouting makeup that much more difficult.
"It’s much easier with college players," the scouting director said. "You have more to go on, more games to see, more information. But it's still not easy because you’re scouting potential big-league players, and there's no way to know how they'll react to the tribulations of the professional game."
One of the bigger tests is the adversity that occurs in the minors. Amateur players don't typically struggle much. They don't have to doubt their abilities, because they are hitting .400 or piling up shutout innings. Once they are challenged in pro ball they could hit speed bumps they've never experienced before in baseball. How they react and bounce back -- if they do -- tells the tale.
This is where most players hit the cement wall. Confidence is such an enormous part of the equation that it's often mistaken for arrogance.
"I'd rather have the player that knows he can play this game," the supervisor said. "It makes a difference once they hit that tough stretch or even a tough season. The only tool more critical for a hitter is the hit tool itself. After that it's all about makeup. For a pitcher, he's got to be tough mentally, and he'll have to learn how to put a bad outing behind him. You're going to have tough days in this game. It's how you rebound that makes the difference between the big leagues and being pushed out of the game in your mid-20s."
A short survey of scouts from six clubs returned a handful of names of players in the minors and majors who are where they are not because of their physical abilities, but because of their makeup. Those names include Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Buster Posey, New Derek Jeter, and prospects Nick Franklin of the Seattle Mariners, Blake Swihart of the Red Sox and Drew Vettleson of the Rays.
"The best players in the game generally have good makeup," the scouting director said. "It's a tool we use to gauge how likely the player is to put his tools and skills to use at the highest of levels. I wouldn't draft or recommend a player without considering these factors. It's an essential part of the process."