1 August 2006

Behind the Eyes of the Major League Scouts

SOUTH YARMOUTH, Mass. – The annual Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star Game heightens the mid-summer baseball fever and brings together baseball fanatics, families, and top college coaches to watch the Cape Cod Baseball League All-Stars shine. Father-son bonds are born, dreams are unveiled, and crowds unite as one. But through the throngs of enthusiastic fans slip casually dressed individuals who aren’t necessarily there to cheer on their favorite Cape League team. Were it not for their radar guns and clipboards, they would be undetectable to the average fan. But this is Major League Baseball’s first look at its upcoming crop. These are the ones who work diligently behind the scenes in order to position their teams to capture the top prospect. This is the life of the major league scout. 

Scouts at the 2006 All Star Game

     From the beaches of San Diego to the farm country of Arkansas, the contingents of scouting directors and national cross checkers make their long journey from diamond to diamond in hopes of finding the top players for the annual MLB draft in June. The Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star Game is just one of the many locations where these scouts convene. Scouts from every major league team are present, and unlike the animated thousands of fans, they show no emotion during the game, because as James Orr, assistant scouting director for the Detroit Tigers puts it, “it’s time to work when the pitcher takes the mound.” 

     Orr, a veteran in the world of Major League scouting, has been in the business for years, and has moved around the country. He began his career as a scout for the Florida Marlins after he graduated from University of Florida and remained there for four-and-a-half years. Leaving his home state, he traveled north to the world of Red Sox fanatics and worked three years for Boston. Currently with the Tigers, he is closing in on his third full year with Detroit. At the All-Star Game last week, he was asked if there were any Cape Cod Baseball League alumni in the majors whom he personally scouted. 

     “In the June draft, we claimed Andrew Miller, an alum of the Chatham A’s, in the first round for Detroit,” Orr said. “[There was] Ryan LaMotta from Baylor University, who was a right-handed pitcher for the Harwich Mariners in 2004; and Scott Sizemore, who was an All-Star, as well as a second baseman for Harwich in 2005. These are only a few of the players that I helped personally scout. Yet we all work together, and our input on the top players is submitted into the scouting office, who then makes the final decisions before the annual draft.” 
Over the years, Orr has had an excessive amount of luck with the Cape League because it is the best collegiate summer league in the country. He believes that “the league this year is very deep in talent.” The abundance of top players is certainly widespread, but that doesn’t increase the scout’s chances of landing a top prospect. 

     “It does get a little competitive around here,” said David Finley, a national cross checker for the Boston Red Sox. “You certainly don’t share your thoughts or input on any of the players with the other scouts. You keep to yourself and do your job.” Over the last five drafts, Finley has remained in Boston, but as a national cross checker he doesn’t stay put for that long. He travels about 200 days out of the year, and as a cross checker, his job is to scout the best of the best. Finley remained business-oriented for the entire game, because it is a time to zoom in on the players who may represent their respective major league teams in the upcoming years. Finley believes that “this day, by far, is the best day on the Cape. For the fans, players, and especially the scouts.” 

     Behind home plate at the All-Star Game this year at the home of the Y-D Red Sox also sat clean-shaven and impeccably dressed Mike Roberts. If any scout is a veteran, Roberts would by far win first place. In baseball today, it is rare that an individual stays for a prolonged period of time with one organization, whether a player or someone who works behind the scenes. But Roberts has remained with the St. Louis Cardinals for 29 years. With his clipboard on his lap and his stopwatch in his hand, Roberts tracks the amount of time it takes for the catcher to throw to second base, and the pitcher to throw to the catcher. Every aspect of the game is covered by the scouts. 

When asked what he looks for in a pitcher, Roberts said the top three things would be “command of pitches, arm strength, and speed. One day of poor play will not make or break a player. It is all about building history with the individual, and seeing how they grow over a certain period of time.” 

     However, most players at the All-Star game were not having an off-day. Clemson Tiger Brad Chalk, who represents the Falmouth Commodores this summer, was named MVP of the West Division by the scouts after going 2-for-4 with a stolen base and a walk while providing some solid defense in center field. 

     While Roberts generally remained stoic behind the chain-link fence, he showed enthusiasm when catcher Mitch Canham (Oregon State) of Falmouth crouched behind the plate. Canham was drafted by the Cardinals this past June, making him what is known as a “control player.” He has an opportunity either to sign with the Cardinals or to go back and finish school before re-entering the draft again next summer. While watching Canham, Roberts believes that this particular All-Star Game “serves as a dual purpose. I am here covering the entire league, and looking for new prospects for St. Louis, but as well having a chance to see Mitch, one of our players, play.” 

     In Roberts’ 29 years of scouting for the Cardinals, he has seen it all. From severe injuries on the field, to numerous drafts, to a ton of travel, and the excitement surrounding the World Series in 2004, he has loved his job since Day One. When asked about his seniority with the Cardinals and his influence he may have on the scouting office, he laughed. “I guess you could say that I have some sort of a senior-type influence. I have been with St. Louis so long. It is a great club that brings great baseball.” 

     And it doesn’t look like Roberts is going anywhere anytime soon. During the off-season, he plans on meeting with families and friends of the players that their club had drafted in June in order to build a personal history with them. And then even more travel is expected as he, along with all of the other Major League scouts, gears up for yet another MLB draft, which seems to creep up on them a little too soon each year. 

     As the All-Star Game winds down, the scouts quietly close their notebooks, pack up their radar guns, and depart from Red Wilson Field. While the fans continue to enjoy the summer afternoon, perhaps hitting the beach again after the game, these scouts take off to a different diamond, some miles away, with the hope of spotting a new astounding player who very well could be a star tomorrow.

By Lauren Malone, CCBL Intern malone@capecodbaseball.org

John Garner, Jr.
Director of Public Relations & Broadcasting
(508) 790-0394 johnwgarner@earthlink.net 

Will Bussiere
Web Editor