Just over four years ago now, I wrote a post for this site called Dollar Sign on the Scout. A nod, that title, to an excellent work of non-fiction by Kevin Kerrane. The basic goal of the post was to identify those scouts who had created the most surplus value for their respective clubs — which is to say, had signed the players who produced wins above and beyond the sort their respective signing-bonus dollar figures would typically fetch on the open market. For the purposes of that study, I used Victor Wang’s then mostly current work on prospect valuations (updated multiple times in the interim). I also used the signing-scout data made available for each prospect by Baseball America in their annual handbook documenting such players.
By this methodology, the top scout over the five-year period between 2006 and -10 was Detroit’s Bill Buck, who was given credit for signing Cameron Maybin, Rick Porcello, and Justin Verlander — which triumvirate received nearly $10 million in bonuses, but whose rankings among Baseball America’s top-100 prospects at various points suggested they’d produce over $70 million more than that for the club in terms of overall value.
The thing about Porcello and Maybin and Verlander, though, is that they were all drafted in the first round, and first-round signings are typically the result not merely of a single, unkempt bird-dog following his intuition down a dusty, rural two-track, but rather of a decision made by a collection of front-office employees — including crosscheckers, a scouting director, and the general manager. As such, it doesn’t entirely make sense to credit an area scout with the signing of first-round draftee.
Perhaps a better example of a lone, plaintive voice singlehandedly creating value for his club is Dodgers area scout Lon Joyce, who is responsible for the club’s acquisition both of Jerry Sands (25th round, $5 thousand) and Allen Webster (18th round, $20 thousand) in the same amateur draft. Neither player has become a great major leaguer — and, indeed, Sands appears destined to remain in that weird baseball purgatory known as Quad-A — but both have, at points, at least possessed trade value of a considerably greater dollar amount than the original cost to the club.
Ultimately, however, the process of attempting to evaluate scouting performance in this way is limited. All one can do with publicly available information is know which players were actually signed by which teams and scouts. Merely because a club has neglected to draft a player, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that a scout employed by that club wasn’t lobbying passionately on that player’s behalf.
One recalls the anecdote from Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2%, for example, of the Rays’ Fernando Arango. Arango was an area scout assigned to a wide swath of the Midwest and Plains States, in which capacity he had the opportunity to follow Albert Pujols, then a shortstop at Maple Woods Community College in Missouri. Arango was very optimistic not only about Pujols’s ability to compete against minor-league talent, but to excel as a major leaguer. Other, more senior members of the Rays’ baseball-operations department were less enthusiastic about his prospects, however. Ultimately, during that draft, Pujols fell to the 13th round, where he was selected by St. Louis. Had Arango possessed more influence in the Rays’ front office, Pujols might not have been available that late. But this is also always the case for a scout: he can only exact so much influence over his club’s decisions.
Indeed, to effectively evaluate a scout’s abilities, it would be necessary to access the various “pref lists” he’s submitted to his organization over the years — that is, the lists of draft-eligible amateur players from his area ranked in order of greatest (to least) future value. Unsurprisingly, access to such lists is limited. As such, assigning a dollar sign to this or that scout remains a tantalizing impossibility (for an imbecile like the author, that is, not actual clubs themselves, who are — theoretically, at least — more well positioned to evaluate their own employees).
Since arriving at that frustrating conclusion, the author’s life has been inhabited largely by darkness and more darkness. What else it’s been inhabited by, however, is a certain romantic sentiment with regard to the pref list. It’s a very particular and mysterious sort of literary genre, the pref list, intended only for a small audience but of interest (were it made available) to a much wider one. A considerable portion of total world knowledge concerning amateur baseball prospects is contained within these lists, and yet their contents are also only relevant for a short time — that is, the interval of time leading up to the draft — after which point they lose nearly all relevance.
Mostly because I’m mostly unqualified to do so — and also because it would represent an affront, almost, to those individuals with actual, real scouting ability — for those reasons, it’s never occurred to me to attempt the composition of my own pref list. While following the Texas-Rice series over the weekend of February 13th, however, I — almost absentmindedly, in this case — I began constructing a haphazard list of the players I felt possessed the greatest likelihood of succeeding in professional baseball.
The details of that particular effort remain too humiliating to share here. However, having taken some pleasure in the experience and the challenges it presented, I contacted lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel to ask if he might be interested in overseeing a such an exercise in a more official capacity.
What follows is the result of that exercise. This past Sunday, McDaniel attended a game between the Universities of Miami and Florida, both ranked among college baseball’s top-25 schools (box score). I watched the same game online via the SEC Network’s streaming video (available by way of Watch ESPN), preparing notes on each of the contest’s 10 draft-eligible players, and, afterwards, compiling my own pref list including those same 10 players.
For each player, I’ve considered:
- Where batters are concerned, his offensive performance in recent years by those indicators which — among lower-level minor leaugers, at least — which are most indicative of future major-league success according to work done by Chris Mitchell: strikeout rate, isolated power, and batting average on balls in play; and
- His defensive position and seeming ability to play it competently; and
- For pitchers, a combination (among other qualities) of his ability to get whiffs and command the ball; and
- Whatever other information might be relevant from observing the player in action.
These are, admittedly, very basic criteria for evaluating a ballplayer — and, in part, this was my intention. If the Marcel projections are, according to their creator, “the most basic forecasting system you can have, that uses as little intelligence as possible,” what I’ve essentially tried to produce here is the Marcel equivalent of a pref list. What I’ve then done, however, is appeal to Kiley McDaniel to provide that information above and beyond that which might be most readily apparent. I don’t know if it’s right to say that McDaniel’s interpretation of the 10 players involved here is the Steamer or ZiPS equivalent of a pref list. The idea is, it’s founded on considerably more observational data and familiarity.
Each entry, then, is accompanied not only by relevant video footage from the game in question, but also an audio clip featuring a discussion between myself and McDaniel concerning the player in questions.
Below is the author’s pref list. Below that is Kiley McDaniel’s more well-informed pref list containing the same 10 players.
1. Harrison Bader, LF/CF, Florida (Jr) (Profile)
2. Richie Martin, SS, Florida (Jr) (Profile)
3. Ricky Eusebio, CF, Miami (Jr) (Profile)
4. George Iskenderian, 3B/SS, Miami (Jr) (Profile)
5. David Thompson, 1B/3B, Miami (Jr) (Profile)
6. Garrett Kennedy, C, Miami (Sr) (Profile)
7. Taylor Lewis, RHP, Florida (Jr) (Profile)
8. Enrique Sosa, RHP, Miami (Jr) (Profile)
9. Brandon Lopez, SS, Miami (Jr) (Profile)
10. Danny Young, LHP, Florida (Jr) (Profile)
Kiley McDaniel’s Pref List
Here’s the pref list as McDaniel would compose it, with a decided split between the top-three players and the remainder of the group.
1. Richie Martin, SS, Florida (Jr)
2. Harrison Bader, LF/CF, Florida (Jr)
3. David Thompson, 1B/3B, Miami (Jr)
– – – – – – – – TIER DIVISION – – – – – – – – –
4. George Iskenderian, 3B/SS, Miami (Jr)
5. Ricky Eusebio, CF, Miami (Jr)
6. Garrett Kennedy, C, Miami (Sr)
7. Brandon Lopez, SS, Miami (Jr)
8. Enrique Sosa, RHP, Miami (Jr)
9. Taylor Lewis, RHP, Florida (Jr)
10. Danny Young, RHP, Florida (Jr)
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.