Will He Make It? How I project college players

article by Chris Burke former 1st round pick and MLB player; current ESPN analyst

article by Chris Burke
former 1st round pick and MLB player; current ESPN analyst

One of the best parts about my job as an ESPN college baseball analyst is that I get to travel around and see the next generation of the game’s great players. As a baseball NERD this is quite fun, especially the task of forecasting how a certain player’s skills will translate to the next level. The question comes up often, and while nobody is ever 100 percent sure about a prospect, there are some characteristics that I like to focus on to make my evaluation.

Now, I am by no means an expert in this space, and my experience is very much in the development stage as it pertains to projection, but these are the qualities I look for when measuring a college player’s chances at having a solid pro career.

This issue I will focus on position players (non-pitchers) and in an upcoming issue I will get into pitchers, both starters and relievers.

Projecting Position Players

1) Position profile: There are so many good college players that don’t ever make it to the big leagues, and a big part of that is being what some people call a “tweener,” meaning they’re not quite offensive enough to play their best defensive position, and not quite athletic enough to play a position where their bat would be sufficient.

For instance, a really good college third baseman may get to Double A because of their advanced approach and solid defense, but doesn’t produce enough runs to hit in the middle of the order and can’t run well enough to hit at the top of the order, or play defense in the middle of the field (CF, SS, 2B).

To be a top flight prospect, it really helps to have a clearly defined position.

2) Continue reading

Stetson’s Pete Dunn on ‘Catching up’ to the game’s evolution behind the plate

petedunnCurrently standing eighth in all-time wins among active coaches, Pete Dunn’s Stetson teams have racked up 1,167 victories under his guidance. Over the tenure, he’s sent 72 players on to the professional ranks, taken the Hatters to 16 NCAA Regional Tournament appearances, won eight Atlantic Sun Conference titles and has been named league coach of the year a record six times.

In addition to his collection of accolades, which includes a “Pete Dunn Day” (February 9) in the city of DeLand, Fl., Dunn is regarded as one of the premier catching coaches in the country, having authored a chapter on catching in The Baseball Drill Book. Inside Pitch recently asked Dunn to explain just how much the catching position has changed over the years:

How has the position changed in terms of body type, athleticism, and from an offensive standpoint?

“You look back in the old days when I was playing, catchers were the ‘squatty-body’ guys back there. If they couldn’t run or couldn’t field, you just stuck ’em behind the plate. That’s not the way it is anymore, I mean, just look at guys like Yadier Molina. They’re just so darn athletic.

In the past if you could really catch, you could catch in the big leagues, whether you could hit or not. That’s changed too. Not only are catchers much more athletic, it’s more of an offensive position as well. It’s not a place you stick a guy that can’t do anything else, like the way it used to be. I think that if you’re going to have a championship club, you’d better have a guy like that back there.” Continue reading

MLB talent evaluators

"Quick Pitch" with Eddie Comeaux

“Quick Pitch” with Eddie Comeaux

Over the years, I have attended my fair share of little league and high school baseball games. And if I had a dollar for every time amateur players, parents, and novice coaches ask about the professional baseball scouting and evaluative process and how players increase their exposure to scouts, well, I would indeed invest in an independent scouting bureau that renders services to aspiring pro players and the baseball community.

Ok, I probably wouldn’t initiate such services for various reasons, but you get my hyperbolic point.

In reality, absent is a tested formula for predicting baseball player success and value to an MLB organization although proponents of Moneyball or sabermetrics- a radical method to manage and to assess baseball talent statistically- would say otherwise.

I am of the school of thought that scouting is not an exact science. Rather, scouting baseball talent is a subjective process that requires trained scouts to make evaluations based on observations, intuition, and robust information exchanges with coaches, other scouts, and the prospect.

Individual scouting perspectives will vary from player to player; in other words, two trained scouts can arrive at different opinions and conclusions on the same amateur player.

Nonetheless, there are analogous minimum standards employed by most, if not all MLB organizations, and carried out by scouts to create profiles, draw conclusions, and make informed decisions about prospects. MLB organizations generally have basic evaluation guidelines that are particular to both position players and pitchers.

Position players generally are graded on the following categories: hitting ability, hitting for power, running speed, arm strength, and fielding. Of course, each position requires a skill set that is most important for that specific position. For example, it is more valuable for a center fielder to have running speed than arm strength.

Of the aforementioned categories, it is somewhat difficult to forecast the future hitting ability of an amateur prospect, as an MLB scout, who wanted to remain anonymous, said “the biggest challenge is believing that they [amateur prospects] will hit at the big league level.”

When evaluating an amateur hitter, another veteran pro scout said that he tends to focus on “the player’s hand speed, contact consistency on the ‘sweet spot,’ and how the ball travels at contact.”

For pitchers, they generally are graded on arm strength, quality of breaking pitch (i.e., curveball, slider), “other” pitch (e.g., change-up, knuckler, split-finger), delivery and arm action, and body type and frame. If a pitcher doesn’t throw an “other” pitch, scouts generally grade them on current pitch types. In this scenario, trained scouts rely to a significant degree on their intuitions to determine whether a pitcher with only two pitch types can develop an “other” pitch based on his arm action and mental make-up.

Evaluation of a player’s personality and character or mental tools can be a particularly strenuous process for MLB scouts considering that most top amateur prospects have rarely failed or faced adversity during their amateur careers.

A veteran professional scout of 21 years said that the most glaring challenge when evaluating both position players and pitchers is to “figure out their ‘makeup’ and how much they love the game of baseball.” He went on to say, “I can’t look into their heart.”

Intangible qualities assigned to both position players and pitchers can include ‘coachability,’ mental toughness, intelligence, perseverance, aggressiveness, instinct, and work ethic.

Without question, makeup commonly separates great ballplayers from successful players.

So what is the grading scheme for amateur players?

In an attempt to quantify the “projected” professional baseball potential of amateur players, scouts use a scale of 2-8 in each category to assign a current and future grade. Grades in each category are added and multiplied by two to calculate an Overall Future Potential (OFP). The OFP number for Major League prospects range from a total of 40-80. The higher the OFP, the better the prospect is considered.

Interpretation of final grades is similar for most organizations. Amateur players with OFPs of 60 + generally are drafted in the 1 st round, OFPs of 58-59 are considered 1st and 2nd round players, and OFPs of 55-57 generally are 2 nd to 4th round draft picks. And after the 5 th round, the OFPs and draft slots can vary significantly because of “signability” issues and organizational needs to name a few.

How do you gain the attention of MLB scouts?

An MLB scout once told me, with some humor, that aspiring professional baseball players can be categorized as prospects and suspects.  

If you consider yourself an MLB prospect, there are ways to appropriately position yourself to gain exposure to MLB scouts. Recommendations for amateur baseball prospects to maximize their exposure to professional scouts include, but are not limited to: (1) playing on high-level and competitive winter and summer league teams ; (2) attending open amateur tryouts that are generally held by all MLB organizations; (3) attending at least one invited showcase camp; and (4) sending an informational package about yourself (including a highlight video) to the amateur scouting director of all MLB organizations.

Above all, amateurs can dream about and prepare for a professional baseball career. The truth is there are not enough MLB uniforms to pass out to every dreamer and every gifted and talented athlete.

This is not to say that we should not support and encourage the dreams of our youth; we should, however, be mindful of the competitive sports landscape and the more achievable career possibilities in other professional areas such as education, engineering, and medicine. Sociologist Harry Edwards firmly asserted: “Statistically, you have a better chance of getting hit by meteorite in the next 10 years than getting work as an athlete.”

There is some truth to that claim as roughly 7% of the players who sign a minor league contract will play in the major leagues.

During a time where the United States ranks 23rd in science and 31st in math in standardized tests and 27th in college graduates with degrees in science and math among developed countries, let’s make sure that we are encouraging the development of high-achievers as both student and athlete.

Dr. Eddie Comeaux received his B.A. at Cal-Berkeley, where he also played baseball. In 1994, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers and spent four years playing professional baseball.

Dr. Comeaux is currently an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, where his research interests include student engagement, intercollegiate athletics, and diversity competence and leadership in defined social systems.

Dr. Comeaux can be reached at eddie.comeaux@ucr.edu

Kevin O’Sullivan interview

osullivanInside Pitch caught up with Univeristy of Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who is married to wife Barbara Jo and has a daughter, Payton Tyler O’Sullivan, to discuss just how he’s made the Gator chomp so vicious.

Inside Pitch: When did you realize you were going to be a coach?

Kevin O’Sullivan: After I graduated from the University of Virginia I basically had two career paths: physical therapy or med school, or get into the coaching side of things. I graduated in December, so I had the spring semester at home in Jupiter (Fl.), where I did some substitute teaching and got into high school coaching and from that point on, I knew it was what I was going to do.

A big influence on me was Bob Shaw. He lived in my hometown and took me under his wing. It was very eye opening, an opportunity that most people don’t get. After practice, we’d go get something to eat and we’d break it down: pitching, bunting, base running, infield play, you name it. He was such a knowledgeable guy in all phases of the game and to this day, I still remember writing notes down on napkins, going home and thinking about some of the things we spoke about. Continue reading