Eight scouting reports that really nailed it

Christian Petersen

I've now spent a few hours with the scouting reports published by the Hall of Fame in conjunction with the Hall's new Diamond Mines exhibit. As I've mentioned once or twice already, this is a truly wonderful service to the public. If you're writing about Greg Maddux, don't you just have to know what the scouts were writing about him in the minors? And there are literally thousands of these things. You could get lost in there, and I have.

Somebody's going to write a great book, based largely on those reports. What I find most interesting is the phenomenal diversity of the report. Every team seems to have their own distinctive forms, with many scouts treating the various spaces on the forms as guidelines. At best. It's also sort of a kick to decipher various styles of cursive handwriting.

Or maybe that's just me.

When I first saw the reports, my instinct was to come up with a list of scouting reports that were dead wrong ... but those are actually pretty hard to find, and so I went looking instead for scouting reports that were dead right. Of course, that's not difficult at all, because everybody was saying the same things about Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, and everybody was right. So I generally tried to find some guys who weren't quite so obvious, or reports that seem especially insightful in retrospect.

Which wasn't all that easy, either, for a variety of reasons. But thanks to a helpful tip, I got a nice start with David Eckstein and was able to muddle along from there ...

Here's Red Sox scout Luke Wrenn on Eckstein, during Eckstein's last season at the University of Florida:

Gutty gamer type that will steal a base or get a hit to beat you... This guy has the work ethic and attitude you love to see. Overachiever type that I would like to have. Will hang around for a long time in Pro ball because managers are going to love him.

So, so prescient. Just a 19th-round draft choice, Eckstein hung around in pro ball for 14 seasons, 10 of those in the major leagues. I'll bet Luke Wrenn was annoyed when the Red Sox waived Eckstein less than a year before he took over as the Angels' starting shortstop.

Next, Rangers scout Joe Branzell on high-school hitter Gary Sheffield's weaknesses:

HEAVY LOWER HALF OF BODY MAY MOVE HIM TO 3B??? LETS GROUNDBALLS GET IN ON HIM LETS BALL PLAY HIM ... APPEARED TO ME TO BE LACKADAISCAL OR NOT A HUSTLER. HAD A LITTLE HOTDOG IN HIM. DID NOT APPEAR TO WANT TO "REALLY GO AT ‘EM"?? HE HAS A GOOD STRONG ATHLETIC BODY WITH VERY GOOD TOOLS

Sheffield did reach the majors as a shortstop, but didn't last long. He did move to third base, then the outfield. As for the rest of it, Sheffield's reputation as a non-hustler dogged him for years; he would also sort of admit to hating the Brewers so much that he intentionally made some errors so they would trade him. Which is, if you'll pardon an editorial comment, something that should be seriously considered by Hall of Fame voters.

On the other hand, this is Padres scout Leo Labossiere on Jeff Bagwell in 1989, a couple of months before the Red Sox took Bagwell in the fourth round of the draft:

Is the best everyday player in New England. His bat is what everyone likes because he can hit for ave. and power. He also stands in good and can hit CB which many people can't do. Very coachable with excellent work habits. I've liked this kid since he was a Freshman. He has improved every year. He told me he wants to sign a Pro contract, and begin his career this year.

Here's another report on Bagwell, from Angels scout Jon Niederer a month before the draft:

This fellow is the best looking hitter on the east coast and I think he's got a chance to hit .300 with power in any league, right up to the majors. Reminds me of Al Oliver - Everything he hits is hard. His defense would bother me more if we were an Astroturf club, but I don't think he's hopeless at third. Has no fear and his work habits are good. Would like to see us get him.

One of the biggest "misses" in recorded scouting history came in the middle 1980s, when nobody really had any idea that Mike Piazza would become a Hall of Fame-quality hitter. But at least the Major League Scouting Bureau's Brad Kohler had an inkling, writing this in April of '86 when Piazza was still in high school:

GREAT SIZE PLUS YOUTH TO GO WITH POT ABOVE AVG LONG BALL POP. AVG STUDENT IN CLASS. NO SOLID COLL OFFERS. A LONG WAY TO COME WITH OVERALL ABILITY BUT WORTH SELECTION ON BAT & PWR.

Now, Kohler obviously had no idea that Piazza would someday win a batting title; on the 2-8 scale, he rated Piazza a 2 for hitting ability, and projected 4. But even before Piazza went to college -- where he was just fair -- Kohler's recommending that someone draft Piazza. Two years later, Piazza was drafted, but (famously) at the very end of the draft as a favor to family friend Tommy Lasorda.

Here's Astros scout Gordon Lakey on USC first baseman Mark McGwire in the spring of '84, just a few months before the A's grabbed McGwire with the third overall pick in the draft:

A true firstbaseman who will be a good defensive one. Must hit to play but will drive the ball to all fields. Must make some adjustments to ball away from him but has the basic bat speed and is a disciplined hitter. Very fluid player especially for the type of body he has. Could become an exciting major league power hitter but not a high percentage hitter.

That says it pretty well, don't you think?

Shifting to pitchers, here's what White Sox scout Larry Monroe about Rangers prospect Bobby Witt, then pitching in the fall instructional league:

He only needs better command of slider and forkball to be a big winner, but needs 2 years. Good loose arm at about 92 MPH, average ML slider. Good tight one but tends to drop elbow and lose all command. He has quickly developed a good forkball and has decent command. 3 ML pitches + he will be a good one if they don't rush him.

We'll never know how "right" Monroe was. But the Rangers did rush Witt; he joined the Rangers' pitching rotation the next spring, and proceeded to lead the American League in walks in each of his first two seasons. Witt always had the big arm and pitched in the majors for a long time, but he won more than 14 games just twice and was never an All-Star. It's impossible to know if he would have developed into a better pitcher with more time in the minors. But I'll bet Larry Monroe dispensed the occasional "I told you so" over the years.

And finally, from White Sox scout Warren Hughes' report on Southern Mississippi's Chad Bradford:

ABOVE AVERAGE FASTBALL LIFE AND GOOD VELOCITY FROM THIS SIDE-ARM SLOT (86-88). GOOD UNDERSTANDING OF HOW TO PITCH FROM THIS SLOT ...

SIDE ARMER THAT HAS PLUS FASTBALL LIFE AND GOOD COMMAND. SEE HIM BEING A MIDDLE TO SET-UP TYPE IN THE ML. BELIEVE THAT THERE IS STILL MORE VELOCITY THERE, PITCHES WELL WITHIN HIMSELF.

Peter Brand would approve! Seriously, this really isn't the pitcher that Bradford would become in the major leagues, except that he developed a good understanding of how to pitch from another slot, submarining so low that his knuckles would occasionally scrape the dirt on the mound.

I'm sure there are many, many more of these, just waiting for researchers to discover such pearls of wisdom.

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