A Lesson in Perspective at the NHSI

One of the most-asked questions on the Up and In Podcast may have been “How can I get into Baseball?” Kevin and Jason did their best to not crush people’s dreams, but they also served a hearty dose of reality. The “Do you like shitting in McDonald’s?” conversation has become a thing of folklore amongst prospect followers and baseball outsiders. Scouts are grinders, and they sacrifice a lot to put themselves in that position. I firmly believe (for many of us) putting in the time to learn and grind is our only legitimate avenue into the game. Sure, there are other ways in: Former players become scouts. Ivy league grads land R&D jobs. Relatives of prominent front office executives snag entry-level roles. That is not to disparage any of these groups, but what about the rest of us? You’ve got to be refulgent and exhibit exemplary #want to have a glimmer of a chance.

A perhaps underrated aspect of evaluation (and the learning process as a scout) is establishing perspective. As a scout, what good does it do to only see players at one level? If you only scout AA/AAA games, you will only see polished players on the verge of the big leagues. Conversely, if you only scout high school players, your viewings will be largely confined to raw, projectable kids.

There are benefits for pro scouts to see amateurs and for amateur scouts to see pros. Amateur scouts who see pro talent will be reminded of what the kids they are scouting need to become to have a chance at the highest level. The amateur scout should be thinking, what reasonable path does said player have to make a major league roster? Seeing pro talent helps set a mental baseline as to what will be required at higher levels.

Pro scouts who see amateur talent will get a look at, for lack of a better term, young bodies that they may see a few years later in pro ball. I imagine it is immensely instructive (unintentional alliteration) to see a toolsy, raw kid at age 18, then see him again at 22. How did this player’s body evolve? What 18-year-old tools translated to 22-year-old baseball skills? OR what tools did NOT translate?

My scouting interests lie primarily in the low minors, where there is a mix of high school draftees, college draftees and international signees. There is still room for projection here, but many guys are not as far away from the majors as you may think. I view it as the Goldilocks Zone between the high minors and amateur ball. Amateur evaluation is a new interest of mine. Frankly, I could not tell you much beyond round one of the 2017 draftees. This January I began to see D1 college scrimmages and realized what I was missing out on. Gaining perspective became a motivation, prompting me to delve further into the amateur ranks.

Introduce the NHSI or the National High School Invitational. It is a 16 team tournament for some of the most talented high school teams in the country. This year 13 of Baseball America’s top 200 draft prospects partook, including possible round one draftees Matthew Liberatore, Nolan Gorman, and Brice Turang. I spent a few hours before the tournament researching college commitments to figure out which players warranted the most attention. This event was a f****** whirlwind. It was a delightful deluge of baseball talent, including as many as four simultaneous games. It was hard to not feel like you were missing out on something.

Nolan Gorman NHSI 2018

In addition to seeing great amateur talent, this tournament was a learning experience. Gaining perspective is a huge part in my professional development as an aspiring scout. On the third day of the tournament the eventual champion, Orange Lutheran, sent Christian Rodriguez to the mound. A 6’6″ 185 lb right-hander, his stuff and projectability were equally impressive. The sophomore threw an easy 88-90 and touched 91. It was patently obvious this is a guy to watch out for. There is room for good weight, maybe to the tune of 30 pounds. Later in the day I bumped into MLB.COM reporter/analyst Mike Rosenbaum. We got to talking Rodriguez, and Mike mentioned he threw mid-80s last year as a freshman.

A lightbulb clicked. Had I been doing this all wrong? When scouting the minors, I would essentially write off anyone throwing below 90. (There could be extenuating circumstances, of course.) This is not to say I had been automatically writing off anyone throwing below 90 at the NHSI, but it made me reconsider the lens through which I viewed the underclassmen. At the amateur level context takes on greater importance. The difference between a 15-year-old and 18-year-old is massive; I would argue it is larger than the difference between 18 and 22. A underclassman throwing low-mid 80s still has a chance to make it. There is so much room for physical growth between 15 and 18, something that I had not fully wrapped my mind around or appreciated. Lesson learned.

The last day of the tournament, Calvary Christian threw Andrew Painter, a 6’4″ 195 lb righty and 2021 grad. He sat 81-83 with a curve in the 61-64 range. There’s a decent shot I would have taken little notice of him a few days earlier, but the conversation with Rosenbaum had altered my thought process. Even at 81-83, this kid has a chance. One, He’s not even 15! B, the body is still growing. Is there room for more on his frame? F*** ya, there is. You would have to be crazy to write him off…..or possibly you just aren’t appropriately weighing context.

As the tournament concluded, I was left reflecting on what was an elucidating event. I found it eye-opening and thought-provoking. But oddly, the feeling that dominated all others was impatience. I want to see how things shake out. Who will Christian Rodriguez and Andrew Painter be in five years? In seven years? How will their bodies grow? How will their skills on the field evolve? The tournament was like watching an episode of LOST. It provided three answers and eight more questions, but I won’t complain. It was great to catch a glimpse of tomorrow, today.

2/11/18 – Prep Baseball Report NC Showcase

It was a sterile, odd atmosphere for a baseball event, feeling equal parts athletic competition and science experiment. Maybe I found it strange because this was the first high school showcase event I had ever attended, and I had no frame of reference from which to compare it. The showcase was held at the Diamond Xtreme Training Facility in Kernersville, NC about 20 minutes west of Greensboro. It’s a 30,000 square foot building, which is large enough to house a full-sized infield and some batting cages.

The benefits of this sort of event are obvious; it provides access to many of the best area players under one roof. In my estimation, the PBR team did a great job hosting the event. Scouts were provided with packets that detailed player heights, weights, schools, and left open space for notes. As players began various drills, PBR announced their names. It was efficient and easy to follow. To my surprise, they will even provide scouts with data packages via email that will include velocities for pitchers, 30-yard dash times for position players, pop times for catchers, etc.

While useful, this is still only a showcase, and it has its limitations. For example, on the catcher pop time drill there were no breaking balls thrown. There was no pressure of a runner getting a good jump. Clearly, it would be a different situation in-game. In fairness to PBR, they did the drill in two phases. In the first phase, pitches were thrown directly to the catcher. In the second phase, balls were thrown “in the dirt”. The catcher had to block them, then throw to second. Still, this drill lacked a lot of nuance that an in-game throw to second necessitates. Now that you have a feel for what we were working with, let’s move on to player notes.

Devin Bartley of Southeast Gilford was in the 1.95-2.02 second range with his pop times. His throws were accurate and on a line. Trent Harris of Crossroads Flex had a very quick release and a pop as low as 1.86 seconds, but the accuracy of his throws were less consistent than Bartley’s.

The pitchers threw around 20 pitches each. The first half were from the windup and the second half  were from the stretch. Their full array of offerings were used. Most of the kids were high 80s with their fastballs. A few touched 90. The breaking balls were of varying quality and a few displayed nascent feel for their changeups. Logan Whitaker of Ledford was the pitcher I liked best. At 6’5” 175 lbs, I think his frame is projectable, and I think he had the best feel among the pitchers present, especially with his changeup. It was an easy delivery with little effort. Chris Villaman also of Ledford touched 90 with his fastball. It was a crossfire ¾ delivery, which resulted in natural cut to his glove side. His curveball was good at times and stayed up at others. Ryan Chasse of Middle Creek had some head whack. The delivery did not look polished, but maybe counter-intuitively, that made me like him because I am curious to see how he performs if it is refined. His arm is fast and he gets good rotational velocity.

There were some impressive outfield arms in the building. CJ Conrad of Apex touched 95. Sam Zayicek of Lake Norman touched 93. Trent Harris touched 94. Keep in mind these were all with a crow hop. Xaiver Bussey of Garner had the best 30-yard dash time at 3.7 seconds on my watch. Jaylen Guy of Southeast Gilford and CJ Conrad were not far behind at 3.76 and 3.85, respectively.

In my opinion, Jaylen Guy was the owner of the best BP of the day. He was hitting the most consistent line drive contact. It’s a smooth, balanced swing. I think Tyler Tuthill of Pro 5 Academy had the most power. He was capable of easy loft. It’s worth noting all or almost all of his contact was pull-side. Trent Harris did a decent job at using “both fields”.

Take this event for what it’s worth. There were some intriguing tools on display, but let’s not get too carried away. At the very least, it was a fine way for scouts to spend their Sunday when nothing else of value was going on.