With the hype surrounding 6-foot-8 southpaw pitcher Bryan Hudson of the Alton Redbirds and a plethora of scouts making Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park their home this spring, I thought looking at the scouting process would be a relevant subject.
The 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is scheduled for June 8-10, so it’s entering crunch time.
One thing I’ve learned is getting a scouting professional to discuss scouting procedures is like trying to get Colonel Sanders to talk about the ingredients in his original recipe fried chicken — it ain’t gonna happen.
Pro baseball organizations treat the information they have like trade secrets on Wall Street; and I get it, professional baseball is big money and investing in players should be a cautious process.
Hudson is ranked No. 100 on Baseball America’s top prospects list and since he was a late bloomer to the scene, teams are really digging in to learn about him this season.
Luckily he has someone in his corner that understands the circus. Alton assistant coach Steve Haug was a second-round pick as a catcher by the Chicago Cubs in the 1971 MLB Draft out of East Alton-Wood River High School. He was the 40th overall pick.
Haug said the basic rules haven’t changed much in the draft process. It starts with low-level area scouts and when a player catches their eye he’s bumped up to a cross checker and then ultimately it’s upper echelon scouts and front office personnel. Scouts still flocked to see good players in his day, too.
One tell-tale sign on Hudson was when Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, attended a May 5 game at Moore Park to get a first-hand look at the talented lefty.
Haug admitted that left-handed pitching has always been a premium commodity and when they come in a 6-8 package with an above average fastball and even better curveball like Hudson, that player is going to turn some heads.
“What I’ve seen is with any left-hander, they got a longer look from pro ball. A much longer look,” Haug said.
“In Bryan’s case he’s under a different microscope. It’s, ‘How tall are you?’ And good Lord, he throws left-handed. It’s the best Christmas ornament on the Christmas tree. It’s the Hope Diamond being found inside a Cracker Jack box. Don’t tell me there’s not a single team that doesn’t want that body type throwing from that side.”
But that’s where scouting transforms from just raw athletic ability to the psychological game. Organizations want to know what a player has between the ears, not just about their physical tools. If they are going to make an investment, they don’t want a player who is going to crack under pressure.
“At the higher levels they are investing a lot of money,” Haug said. “It’s a big investment and they need to find out something about the player. They need to find out what they’ve got. They need to find out if he’s going to get homesick or not.”
I found a link on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website called Diamond Mines, a great template for understanding the scouting process by going straight to the scouting reports. It includes old scouting reports on stars from when they were diamonds in the rough like Hudson.
A 1995 report on former big leaguer Jason Isringhausen out of Southwestern High School broke down his abilities, but had an interesting insert in the notes that said “can get mad at himself and lose concentration,” referencing the attention to players’ attitudes.
The biggest difference between Haug’s day and today is instantaneous communication. Smartphones, computers and social media have changed the game.
“Oh yeah, it has,” Haug said. “I can kiddingly say we had phones. We didn’t have to use the telegraph. It was a step up from riding horseback, but the reality is look at all this information that is flying around and available. It’s instantaneous.”
Haug said he used to attend tryout camps in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Teams would set them up locally to watch talented prep players. Sometimes you’d even get a private invite.
“In my case the Saturday before the draft I got invited by the Cardinals to come down and work out with some people,” Haug said. “There were a number of ball players that came in from around the country and the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick that year was a kid named Ed Kurpiel and he was from New York and he was there.
“If you’re invited to a private workout at the stadium, somebody has some serious interest in you.”
No matter how much scouts and front office personnel attempt to hide their intentions, with a little observation it’s easy to tell where their plans lie. I think the spring has told us Hudson could have a whirlwind coming up shortly and any prospect with those kinds of tangible skills will always get scouts to tip their hand.
“This is a big time for them,” Haug said. “It’s like state secrets for what they want to try and do. The reality of it is it doesn’t take long to see where their interest lies. With them being around this late in the season, in my book this is a pretty good sign. It’s just real obvious. It’s a very good sign for Bryan.”
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