Tigers draft stock watch: A month before the MLB Draft, a scout’s frenetic life continues

Detroit News
Lynn Henning |  Special to The Detroit News

Only scouts know, in all the exasperating detail, what goes into a job most wouldn’t trade for any other occupation.

It’s a wild world, filled with travel and weather anxieties, and overloaded with hopes and disappointments — and the occasional payoff that makes sitting for hours at college and prep baseball parks somehow worthwhile.

An area scout for an American League team (not Detroit) spoke Monday about his past spring rigors ahead of the July 9-11 MLB Draft, which will see the Tigers picking third overall.

The scout requested anonymity, all because this is something of a top-secret business, filled with proprietary methods, extreme competition, and sensitivities that range from bosses, to players’ families, to what you must process about players’ skills — and their character and psychological circuitry.

At the moment, most area scouts are transitioning. The 2023 prep season is finished. Only the best teams remain in NCAA tournament brackets. It’s 2024 talent — Cape Cod League for college players, summer showcase and travel teams on the prep side — the scouts are now digging into.

Two months ago, it was a different story. Prep and college schedules were overlapping. Six-day weeks, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — at least — are the norm for area baseball scouts.

Mondays come as close to an off-day as exists during the thick of the spring. But what an off-day it is when you’re burrowing into a laptop and doing “admin” work, as they say — administrative work — in filing reports to your bosses and wading into the mounds of analytical data available, or that a team’s sabermetrics staff is shooting your way.

Tuesday means college or prep games somewhere, and scouts are on the move. Same for Wednesday, leading into Thursday when the college schedules turn heavy and remain so through Sunday.

As for job description and duties, scouts like to say this:

They’re weathermen (forecasts dictate where and when you’ll be at a particular spot), they’re traffic controllers (road closings, accidents, delays of any sort are poison when schedules are tight), and, they’ll tell you, they’re veritable private detectives when it comes to doing background checks that tell a team whether this is a player who can be trusted as an investment.

The punch line: Yes, they say — we also watch a little baseball.

Area scouts are just that, although areas can diverge widely: Some area scouts work, perhaps, a particular sector of a big state like Texas. Some cover a multi-state region. The latter rack up serious miles, as, really, they all do.

Scouts are experts. They must know in scientific, physiological, and competitive detail what constitutes a player to watch, or one to forget about.

If they like a kid they see as first-round or very early-round material, the team’s cross-checker typically is summoned. Cross-checkers are a second set of eyes, usually responsible for big regions across the country (an East Coast cross-checker, for example, is just that).

Area scouts wince when a cross-checker comes in to see a guy they quite like — only to have this game be the kid’s clunker. But cross-checkers know that can happen. If they like his athleticism, his delivery, his bat speed, whatever, they’ll know why they were called and keep the kid on their future-watch list.

Area scouts also hear from an MLB club’s analytics snoops. The metrics guys might have gotten some intriguing numbers on a kid from, say, West Pumpkin State, or Bicameral Normal College, and need an area scout’s review.

The area scout will find (rarely) a nugget, or (often) a kid who plainly will never hit pitching past 85 mph, which is what the “prospect” obviously has fed upon but the analysts couldn’t know from afar.

Otherwise, even area scouts in the last four or five years have been asked to become virtual M.I.T. experts, as they crunch numbers: spin rates, vertical and horizontal break, conference statistics vs. non-conference numbers, how he performs in night games compared with day games — in Sunday afternoon games following a Saturday night game.

Comprehensive, it is, the business of scouting in 2023.

Cross-checkers, as a rule, have it the roughest. Area scouts normally can drive to their games. Cross-checkers are forever in airports, with tough connections that can be compounded by spring storms (and snow) or by the fact a coach, an hour before the first pitch, decided to bench his star for impromptu disciplinary reasons.

Expect everything imaginable as a scout. Because, eventually, you’ll get it.

But, those who do it tend to love it. They view it as vocational, absolutely. There’s such gratification when you’ve scouted and evaluated and done all the deep searching. And, then, a player validates every hunch and conviction you ever had about a kid on a baseball field.

The scouts will all gather in three weeks to put together 1,500 or so names on a draft board. They’ll talk and offer notes and data. They’ll debate and chew on the fine-line considerations that can be all the difference in a big-leaguer and one more guy with a dream who didn’t have the skills an extraordinarily difficult game demands.

It requires the right stuff, as they say — from players.

And from scouts.

Detroit News ranking of the top 10 amateur baseball talents as they currently sit leading into the 2023 MLB Draft, set for July 9-11. 

1. Wyatt Langford, OF, University of Florida, 6-1, 225, RH batter: Neither he, nor the Gators, are done just yet. They won a couple of games Sunday to grab an NCAA Super Regional ticket, despite Langford’s mild 4-for-14 weekend (also four walks in four tourney games). Still a question as to who will go first in July — Dylan Crews is plenty of people’s favorite — but Langford has some baseball yet to play, and that generally means more drama from Langford. Last week’s ranking: 1

2. Dylan Crews, Louisiana State University, outfielder, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, right-handed batter: Crews was back to being Crews in a pair of games against Tulane and Oregon State: 5-for-9, including a homer and a double. After the Oregon State duel, he was batting a crazy .426, with 16 homers, and a 1.290 OPS. The Pirates, drafting first next month, have a sweet jump-ball in their Langford-Crews deliberations. Last week’s ranking: 2

3. Paul Skenes, Louisiana State, RH starter, 6-6, 240: Yikes — Skenes threw 124 pitches Friday in a nine-inning ravaging of Tulane that saw him strike out 12 and walk zero (with seven hits and two earned runs). Big-league scouts and front-office mucky-mucks on hand might not have appreciated the overtime on Skenes’ arm, but what they saw, again, made them happy they weren’t the guys swinging bats against Skenes’ fury. Last week’s ranking: 3

4. Walker Jenkins, CF, 6-3, 205, South Brunswick High, Southport, N.C, LH batter: Some debate about Jenkins vs. Max Clark as the first prep prodigy taken next month, but Jenkins has an edge on most scorecards. Last week’s ranking: 4

5. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Indiana) Community High School, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Kiley McDaniel of ESPN, who knows his way around the block, last week had Clark going first to the Pirates. Clark has that kind of allure with his speed and hitting gifts, but first overall seems like a longshot, unless Clark comes at a price the Pirates prefer. And that’s more than possible. Last week’s ranking: 5

6. Jacob Wilson, shortstop, Grand Canyon University, 6-3, 190, RH batter: Done for the season is Wilson, and Grand Canyon University. And that doesn’t bother scouts a whit. They’ve seen all of his skill set to know Wilson is a solid top-10 cardholder, who probably goes closer to top Five. Last week’s ranking: 6

7. Rhett Lowder, RH starter, Wake Forest, 6-2, 200: The man with the Samson-like locks was every bit a dynamo Saturday against Maryland: six innings, three hits, one walk, 11 punch-outs. He’s a lock on July 9 to be the first college pitcher grabbed after Skenes. Last week’s ranking: 7

8. Matt Shaw, IF, University of Maryland, 5-11, 182, RH batter: Not a great weekend (3-for-13 in three games). But, of course, Shaw still hit a home run. He also struck out but once. Last week’s ranking: 8

9. Kyle Teel, C, University of Virginia, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Anyone doubting the Tigers would take Teel with that third-overall turn should be careful, very careful. His position makes him gold for any MLB team. That left-handed bat, which Sunday saw him go 4-for-5 against East Carolina, with a home run and double, is glitter scouts can’t resist. Last week’s ranking: 9

10. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, University of Mississippi, 6-2, 200, LH batter: Safe at home, so to speak, is Gonzalez. Neither he nor Ole Miss will play again this college season, which leaves Gonzalez exactly where he’s been all spring: top-10 material, thanks to his position and his left-handed ways with a bat.

Knocking at the door

Colin Houck, SS, Parkview High, Lilburn, Georgia, 6-2, 193, RH batter: Another guy headed for first-round money. Shortstop, of course. And when they’re his size, and swing the way Houck does against good pitches, they’re money.

Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest High (Dover, Fla.), 6-1, 170, RH batter:  Isn’t carrying quite the helium he seemed to be gaining for a while, but Nimmala’s ceiling is higher than the Sistine Chapel’s.

Noble Meyer, RH starter, Jesuit High, West Linn, Ore., 6-5, 200: Forget all that chatter about treating prep right-handers as if they’re tar pits waiting to entrap a deluded MLB team. Meyer is going early on July 9.

Chase Dollander, RH starter, University of Tennessee, 6-2, 210: His work Saturday against Clemson was just that: hard labor. Dollander threw 90 pitches in 4.1 innings. Seven hits, two walks — and, of course, 12 strikeouts. Just been a funky spring for a guy who was supposed to have ruled college pitchers in 2023.

Jack Hurley, CF, Virginia Tech, 6-foot, 185, LH hitter: A question, perhaps, if he sticks in the first round. But that left-handed stick and his center-field pedigree are nice first-round credentials

Hurston Waldrep, RH starter, University of Florida, 6-1, 210: Now, that’s the Waldrep who was waiting to be unleashed after spring’s soap-opera drama (disputes with agents and coaches and, oh boy) gave way to Waldrep’s right arm taking charge Saturday against Connecticut: seven innings, five hits, one run, two walks, 12 whiffs — and 101 pitches. He’s back in the hunt.

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