16 August 2006

Confessions of a Yankee scout

We see them all, with their radar guns, stopwatches, file cards and briefcases.

But what exactly are major league scouts looking for at Cape Cod Baseball League games?.

Chatham's own Matt Hyde once used to work for this newspaper, filing stories on the Chatham A's and Orleans Cardinals. He was a Cape League bullpen catcher and student at the University of Michigan in those days. Now he's a scout for the New York Yankees.

"I was hired in the middle of November. I've got New England, New York and Pennsylvania," he said.

After graduating from Michigan, Hyde coached at Harvard for five years, most recently as a co-assistant coach. He has thrown aside his Massachusetts ties to toil for George Steinbrenner.

"It's always great to get paid to go to the ballpark. It's a good life," Hyde said. "Sometimes I get to the park and watch batting practice, infield and the entire game. Other times I go catch one game and then drive to catch another. I always go to a game a day at least."

He's a Yankee through and through.

"I love working for the Yankees," he said. "I work for a great guy in the scouting division. He's outstanding to me, and I respect the job he's doing. I respect the other scouts in the organization. It's all first-class. I couldn't imagine working for anyone else."

While seeking the next Derek Jeter, Hyde still can just enjoy the game.

"I love being at the ballpark, getting there early. There's a rhythm to the game: taking batting practice, infield ground balls, infield-outfield, the quiet time before the game when they get the field ready," he said. "The fans start to come in, the national anthem, the first pitch. I try to take some time each game and watch the game from different positions, wander around a little bit. And I take a little bit of time every game just to be a fan."

On The Boss' dime Well, why not?

"The key at work is you have to be an expert in your area through college coaches, high school coaches and different contacts that I built up through coaching," Hyde said. "I call people and ask, 'Who are your best players in the area Who's the best guy on your team Who's the best in the conference?' Then you get an idea who to go see."

Much of his work is done before the game at batting practice and infield.

"At batting practice, you get an idea how they hit the ball, what kind of swing do they have, what kind of power do they have?" he said. "When they hit the ball, do they hit it to the middle of the field, or do they pull everything?"

Batting practice is the time to watch hitters.

"You go to a game, the guy might walk, sacrifice bunt the second time, get called out of strikes the third. You don't really see what they can do," he said.

The Cape League is the cr
de la cr. At a high school game, Hyde is watching one player.

"With the Cape League, I try to watch everybody. You get a good read on the pitchers and any position players that stand out," he said.

What happens in the game doesn't really matter to Hyde. A player doesn't become a prospect by hitting a homer.

"A kid could go out and strike out three times and he's still a prospect. You just haven't seen what he can fully do. It's important to establish a history with a player," Hyde said.

Sometimes a player can grab your attention.

"A great example is Bobby Kielty. He came to Brewster when I was coaching in 1998," Hyde said. "He was undrafted and had been hurt and hardly played at all in college. He gets into the Cape League and has one of the greatest seasons I've ever seen, and all of a sudden everyone is offering free agent contracts. He ended up signing with the Twins."

Kielty is now with the Oakland A's.

"To me, when you're watching a hitter, you want to see a guy who can use the whole field -- hit the ball hard to the middle part of the field, right center and left center. That's a guy who'll be successful," Hyde said. "A good hitter will have a good idea of the strike zone and be able to recognize off-speed pitches. Some guys are primarily fastball hitters. You want to see a guy who'll recognize the breaking ball and not pull it but hit it up the middle or go the other way."

Infield and outfield practice is the time to watch the fielders.

"When I look at an infielder, I like to see how they move to the baseball, how they field it, how their hands are, how do they throw it. Is there a lot of effort, or is it pretty easy?" Hyde said. "I like to see them from different angles on the field, see them go to the glove side and backhand, how they turn the double play."

It's all a ranking system.

"You try to figure out, 'Are they going to be better than somebody else at that position?'" Hyde said. "An adequate college shortstop may project to play second base and outfield at the professional level."

Pitcher evaluation is more than just utilizing a radar gun, but power does rule.

"It starts with the arm action. What kind of mechanics does he have?," Hyde said. "It ends up an issue of command of pitches and competitiveness. How do they respond when they get into trouble Pitchability, as it's called. That's a big part of the whole equation."

Just like real estate, pitching is based on location, location, location.

"Do they have command of their fastball, and not a lot of guys have it," Hyde said. "An average fastball is 90, 91 (mph) at the major league level. It's different if you're a right-hander or left-hander. Left-handers are tough to come by. A left-hander in the upper 80s is pretty good. Right-handers in the 80s are a dime a dozen."

The radar reading is important.

"It's a gauge of arm strength," said Hyde. "If you can throw a 94, 95 mph fastball for strikes, you've really got something. It's tough to turn your back on guys with a good arm. If you throw an 84, 85 mph fastball, you better be able to throw something else for strikes. If you're not lighting up the radar gun, you've got to be on all the time. Guys who are able to do this are called organizational players."

Hyde is an organization man, and not part of an evil empire.

"I absolutely love it. It's great to be around the game watching these guys play against the best every night," he said. "The best part is being able to evaluate players and guess where they're going to end up in the future."

By Rich Eldred /reldred@cnc.com