By Matthew Coller
By now, we've all learned the 20-80 scouting scale. If you are paying attention in batting practice, you can see raw power from the parking lot. Watch Team X take infield, and you'll figure out that third baseman who throws bullets from the outfield grass has an above average arm. Check out the catcher's pre-inning throw down, do you see the ball dip at the end or does it stay strong into the second baseman's glove? Speaking of second baseman, is he smooth around the bag on the double play? How well does he make the throw to first on the up-the-middle grounder? And about those pitchers. Oh, pitchers. Neil Armstrong once spotted a good pitching prospect from the moon. He said, “the kid was throwing 95 mph for strikes.”
The point is, scouting isn't that freeking hard. As one scout put it: “go to a game and look for who's the best player. It's that easy.”
OK, it's not that easy. But it doesn't take Connie Mack to tell a good ballplayer from a bad one. After awhile, scouts train their eyes to look for certain things that are indicators of how much better a prospect can become as he progresses toward the majors. They look at his age and ask if the player is a finished product or has room to grow his game. They look at his size and strength. They look at whether a player is smart at the plate and whether his approach to hitting can be carried over to the next level. They look at a pitcher's ability to command pitches and determine whether his success at lower levels is due to good pitching or bad hitting.
The cool thing is that this happens all in a split second. Scouts can pick up on all these things and hundreds more in the same way a musician can tell you about chord progressions or poet about iambic pentameter. It's really something to watch the wheels in motion.
Most scouts know all the tricks of the trade and have acutely trained eyes for judging hitting, fielding and pitching. Poll 100 scouts and 99 will say that third baseman has a plus arm. Maybe 50 of them say it's a 60 and 35 say it's a 70 and one or two say it's even better, but they'll all agree it's a good arm. But the one thing scouts rarely agree on is makeup.
Makeup is all the things that you can't see that make the difference between a good prospect and a Major League Baseball player.
If you meet a scout, ask him, “how important is makeup?” And you will receive a different answer every time.
After having handfulls of such conversations, here are some of the answers I've gotten from scouts (some are paraphrased):
“Nobody cares if he's a nice guy. Barry Bonds was a jerk. Nobody cares if he plays for the money or is a bad teammate. Does he have a killer instinct? Does he want to not just win, but beat you into the ground for even setting foot on the same field.”
“I want a guy who would rather hit you in the face than be taken out of a ballgame.”
“You have to be smart to play in the majors. I don't mean is the guy good at math, but does he study the game? Is he obsessed with making the right play to win or does he want to make a diving catch to impress himself?”
“I don't care if a guy gets sick of the bus rides and the crappy ballparks in the minors, but does he carry that over to the field? Because once the bell rings, I want the player who has that light go on once he steps between the lines and wants to compete.”
“I like a guy who puts his cap on right.”
“I don't want guys worried about their look or their walk-up music or girls in the stands, I want a guy who's focused on baseball and only baseball”
“I have a Twitter page. I've never tweeted, but I look at everyone in our organization's Twitter. It lets me know if a guy is an idiot or not.”
“Could he play for the Yankees or the Cardinals? That's how I look at it. Would they want him? They only take professional ballplayers.”
“Watch (player X) before the game. See him run off before helping to pick up the baseballs? He's all about him.”
“I hate seeing pitchers who step off or throw over all the time.”
“Remember in Moneyball where the guy said if a player doesn't have a hot girlfriend, he isn't confident? See, I always thought if the guy had the ugliest girlfriend and didn't care, that was some real confidence.”
Of course, the scout was kidding with that last one. But you can see the ambiguity when it comes to makeup. The thing is, there's a common thread between all the little indicators: a player must really, really want to play in the majors. Not just say he does. They all say it, trust me. They must really, really want it.
The best quote on makeup came from an ex-big leaguer who said, “baseball's a pretty boring game. Think about it. You show up at 2 p.m., you don't play until seven, you stand in a field for three hours to get two baseballs and you bat three times, then you get on a bus to drive four hours to do it again. If you don't love playing this game, it will wear you out and quick.”
Now, I know what you're thinking: “How can they not love the game! I'd kill to play baseball for a living!”
The reality is, life in the minors isn't exactly like in the movies. Small town after small town, months and months away from friends and family and for most players, a barely livable salary. Understandably, nobody who works at Sears wants to hear about a ballplayer's problems, but life as a minor leaguer can wear on a person mentally.
To me, makeup is a combination of many of the things the scouts said. It's a need to be the best every night. A willingness to spend every moment of every day trying to be a better ballplayer. It's a drive to want to be in the game even when someone's willing to give you a day off. And it's self-centeredness that is beyond acceptable in normal society. After all, who could get away with passing up on all of life's responsibilities to go throw a ball around for a living?
Unfortunately, determining a player's makeup watching from the stands can be like playing The Dating Game. You put together the pieces based on hyperbole and anecdotal evidence. That, in fact, is why some scouts refuse to look at anything but a player's tools.
Most agree that that can be problematic. Why? (this one I've heard probably 10 times) David Eckstein. It's widely thought that great makeup will allow a player will get far more out of his tools than most and Mr. 2006 World Series MVP is the prime example.
But can a scout really pick up on that by watching three games in mid-July?
Well, Luke Wrenn suggested the Red Sox draft Eckstein. He must have seen something more than 5-foot-6, 140-pounds, zero power and average speed, arm and range, right?