Scout school under way in Phoenix

Largest-ever class takes part in annual event in Arizona

By Christie Cowles / MLB.com

 

Although Major League Baseball's regular season is close to wrapping up and the Minor League Baseball season has come to a close, there is still plenty of baseball activity going on around the country.

In Phoenix, Ariz., MLB's Scouting Bureau currently is conducting a two-week-long scout school, which provides training on scouting fundamentals for those interested in pursuing scouting as a career or for those looking to expand their knowledge in the player development process.

The school is conducted annually in Phoenix, and every other year in the Dominican Republic. This fall's class in Arizona is the largest to date, with 56 students participating. The school was started 18 years ago by former MLB Scouting Bureau director and current Bureau consultant Don Pries.

"I wanted to design this school so that the individual that enters the professional scouting field will not have that fearful feeling of not knowing what to do," Pries said. "We point them in the right direction, and that's important. We've had many that have gone on to become assistant scouting directors, scouting directors, national cross-checkers -- because of the early foundation in learning the right way [to scout]."

Pries, 79, has been involved in baseball, in many capacities, for 62 years. He has enjoyed all of his experiences in the game -- from playing in the Minor Leagues to managing, scouting, working in player development and working as an assistant to a general manager, all the way up to his scouting bureau days -- and is happy to see the results of the scout school.

"The baseball world has realized the importance of this program and how we have contributed to the baseball industry as of a result of it," Pries said. "Our reputation is very, very good. Once you have a reputation of doing it right, then your classes will grow -- and our classes have grown and grown and grown."

Pries credits current Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos and his staff for the success and growth of the scout school program. About 650 students have graduated from the program over the years, and about 75 percent of current scouts have attended the scout school.

Each day during the two-week period the students receive instruction as a group and in smaller breakout sessions at their hotel in the morning. Then they travel to a local ballpark to watch an Instructional League game, which includes Minor League players of all levels. They are assigned certain players to evaluate, but must keep tabs on all of the players in that day's game. Then the students come back to the hotel to write up their reports and to receive feedback on their evaluations of the players. The process starts all over again the next day, with new players to evaluate in different locations.

This intensive process gives the students a great opportunity to learn by doing, and to receive positive feedback from the school's instructors, which are all employees of the MLB Scouting Bureau. At the current camp, 13 instructors were on hand to guide the students. Each instructor has four students, so they each have plenty of one-on-one time with an experienced scout throughout the day, which provides invaluable information to these appreciative, budding scouts.

The students learn the "recipe" for scouting -- which includes categories for evaluation of hitting and fielding skills, running speed, arm strength and power at the plate for position players. For pitchers, this includes an evaluation of their fastball, curve and slider.

Many intangible qualities are evaluated as well, such as the players' poise, confidence, attitude, mental toughness and mound presence. It could even be things as simple as how well he works with his teammates, and how much he seems to enjoy playing the game. All of these characteristics work together in the evaluation of a player.

The students learn to judge skills and qualities of players on a scale of two to eight, with two being poor and eight being excellent. A score of five is categorized as how an average Major Leaguer would perform, so if the prospect doesn't perform as well as the average Major Leaguer on a particular skill, they must be rated lower than a five.

Most of all, it's important that the scouts be honest and decisive in their rating of players. One of the instructors told his students, "No fluff, just tell it like it is."

The students learn how to describe all of these skills and qualities in succinct, picture-painting words. After observing the players, boiling all of this information down into a report is often the toughest part of the process. This is also one of the most important tasks, as the reports, along with scouting video, are what the club officials rely on for an accurate representation of the potential players' skills.

To participate in scout school, those interested must be sponsored by a Major League club. The clubs will select a student and recommend that person to the Scouting Bureau. Oftentimes the person is a former player or someone who works in the club's front office -- many times in a player development role -- but they could come from any number of departments.

The key is that the person is either interested in getting into scouting or they are interested in learning how scouts go about their day-to-day business. The scout school helps front office personnel to understand how players are evaluated and on what basis, and it helps them to communicate more effectively with their clubs' scouts.

Ken Griffey Sr., who is a special consultant to Cincinnati Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky, decided to enroll in scout school because he wanted to better understand the evaluation process for prospective players. While he is able to assess players' talent through observing their play, he wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of the scouting process.

"It's a big bonus to be out here just to learn the basics and the fundamentals of scouting," Griffey said. "Learning it all in one [class], it's starting to make sense to me. Now it's a formula that they use and with the formula, I'm starting to understand what it's all about.

"In order for anyone to be taught how to scout, to me this is the best way to go," Griffey said. "First of all, [when I get back] I'm calling Wayne Krisky, and I'm going to tell him the best thing is to send some people here to learn -- that will be important for our [Cincinnati Reds] organization, because over the years we haven't had the abundance of scouts to scout people."

Understanding how players are evaluated can help the player development personnel provide feedback to club officials when they are targeting players for the draft or for potential trades with other clubs.

Bryn Alderson, who is the coordinator of scouting for the Oakland Athletics and son of San Diego Padres CEO Sandy Alderson, said he wanted to participate in scout school to broaden his skills in player evaluation and receive a formal education in scouting.

"I haven't really learned the basics in evaluating talent with my own eyes, and I think that's a really important fundamental aspect," Alderson said. "[After the class] I hope to be able to watch a game and report on what I see, have some credibility with the scouts in draft room, maybe go out and scout some of the guys we're looking at in the draft -- try to get a firsthand look and assess what I see correctly."

Christie Cowles is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.