With the draft a matter of weeks away, it’s fun to consider the mayhem that’s taking place within front offices.
The biggest change in scouting in recent years comes from the attempt to quantify everything. That leads to the tyranny of technology, from radar guns to stop watches — as though talent can be judged by numbers alone.
Then there’s the "Who’s-Who" factor, which means in effect that if someone’s not being discussed in airports, he can’t really be "a guy."
Out my way in California, that’s led to all sorts of blunders. While certain "can’t miss" guys have certainly delivered — Mark Prior, Barry Zito, and Troy Glaus — come to mind, there are others who have found ways to miss by a mile.
Meanwhile, other guys who were deemed deficient have made it to the big leagues.
I can remember when UCLA’s Michael Moore was deemed a four-tool future all-star, while his teammate Dave Roberts was passed over as a junior, then drafted on the second day as a senior. Need I ask which one’s sporting a World Series ring?
Then there was the Inglewood High team that was not termed a "must see" for most area scouts despite the presence of Horacio Ramirez and Coco Crisp, now contributing to the success of the Braves and Indians respectively.
I can remember scouts watching rhapsodic over a three-sport high school star named Pat Manning, despite the fact that he never seemed to be enjoying himself on the baseball field. Similarly I can recall scouts oohing and ahhing over a big, hard-throwing lefty named Scott Rice, despite his difficulties in throwing strikes.
I guess the problem with falling in love with things like tools and size is that, as a great baseball man named George Genovese says, "There are plenty of guys who can do everything imaginable… except win."
Not that there aren’t some scouts who manage to think for themselves instead of following what I call a "Pack mentality." Out my way Doug Deutsch of the Astros comes to mind, especially for his success with college seniors like Kirk Saarloos, Morgan Ensberg, and Jason Lane. So does Bill Mele, who recently segued from the Twins to the Yankees after watching Jason Kubel make it to the Bigs. Then there’s Artie Harris of the Dodgers, as well as Joe Butler of the White Sox.
Sometimes it comes down to something other than mere numbers. In other words, would you want the guy on the mound or at the plate with a game on the line? After all, no matter how hard a guy’s throwing, who’s not going to hit a 2-0 fastball? And no matter how fast a guy may be, can he possibly steal first base?
So the question becomes even simpler: Can a guy play?