BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD

SCOUTING QUESTIONS I AM OFTEN ASKED PART II

Bernie Pleskoff
Written by Bernie Pleskoff

Thank you so much for your kind responses to my article last week, regarding questions I am often asked as a baseball scout.

Today, I will continue this feature with several other scouting related questions I have been asked since becoming a scout for both the Astros and the Mariners.

I may likely have a third edition in this series in late May or early June.

So here is the next series of questions.

Question: What flaws do you look for in a hitter?

Like every facet of playing baseball, hitting is a matter of practice and repetition. Repeating a comfortable and successful swing over and over. Repetition and consistency are as important in hitting as in any phase of the game. Perhaps even more important. Developing good hitting habits and incorporating those habits into the approach at the plate and the actual swing are of paramount importance.

There are a few issues that can cause unwanted hitting results. Each is important taken individually. If multiple flaws are evident, the approach and end result can be lingering and very problematic.

  • Lengthy stride. If a stride is too long, it may mean the hitter is out on his front foot consistently. He loses the power and torque provided by getting his back leg and his hips through the ball. Lunging, or taking too long of a stride can rob the hitter of natural power and strength. A long stride with a player out on his front foot is easy to spot.
  • Pulling the head. In order to hit the ball, the batter has to have his eyes focused straight ahead, directly at the pitch. Pulling the head to one side impacts the site-line and causes the hitter to be early, late or miss the pitch entirely. A hitter can’t hit what he can’t see right in front of him. Pulling the head is not unique to hitting. Watch a catcher closely. Often, catchers pull their head as the pitch is coming. Again, the site line is lost. The same holds true for any infielder or outfielder. The head must remain in a straight, stationary manner to obtain the best focus and the best view.
  • Hand hitch. Jerking the hands as the pitch approaches is common with some hitters. They lose a clear path to the ball by jerking their hands up and down. Javier Baez of the Cubs used to have a pronounced hitch when he was a rookie. Pitchers would throw the ball above his hands when they knew he was moving his hands down. Or even below his hands as they knew he had a pronounced hitch in his swing. A smooth approach means more direct contact to the ball. Still hands, hands that have little pre-pitch movement provide the quickest and most efficient path through the ball.
  • Vision issues- Often, hitters simply don’t see the ball well. As a result, they swing late or too early. It is difficult to spot vision issues, but they exist and a good scout can determine if the player is seeing the ball out of the hand.

Question: What mechanical traits are evident in good hitters? (And hitting traits in general.)

To begin, a hitter should not be criticized for unorthodox hitting mechanics. One of the most unorthodox hitters I have scouted is Hunter Pence. Almost every facet of Pence’s game is unorthodox, including throwing the ball, catching the ball, running and swinging at the ball. However, his mechanics work for Hunter Pence. Unorthodox mechanics are noted in the scouting report, but it is results that matter.

  • Hips and hands. In general terms, the hips and the hands of a hitter have to be in sync. They should start moving simultaneously. If a player starts the bat and hips moving in unison, he can stop the swing if he so desires. The key is not crossing the plane of the plate before his hands stop. Getting the hips and hands through the ball quickly and at the same time is how power is generated.
  • Arm extension. Finishing a swing is as important to a hitter as finishing a pitching delivery is to a pitcher. Following through with the swing and extending the bat by not cutting the swing short offers the best chance for solid contact. Following through with the swing and making contact with the baseball is what hitting is all about.
Jose Ramirez
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

A pitcher will try to get the hitter to hit the top part of the ball. When that happens, the hitter generally pounds the ball into the ground if he makes contact. That’s what the hitter wants. Hitting the bottom of the ball insures a better chance for loft.

  • Getting the head of the bat out front. A hitter wants to generate the best possible bat speed. Bat speed creates back spin and distance. Even guys with slight frames can hit the ball a long way if their bat is fast. Last week, I mentioned Mookie Betts as an example of a slight frame and a big power bat. The issue I see with Jose Ramirez during his current struggles is a bat that is dragging due to late hands through the ball. Getting the head of the bat out front and trying to hit the ball with the barrel of the bat is the goal.
  • Overly aggressive hitter. In his past, Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed was known to swing at the first pitch. Pitchers knew that. He was way too aggressive in his approach. Pitchers exploit aggressive hitters by throwing the ball outside the strike zone. Swinging at the first pitch that is unhittable puts the hitter behind in the count. Impatience plays to the plan of the pitcher.
  • Under aggressive hitter. Last year, and when he was a rookie, White Sox infielder Yoan Moncada took an enormous amount of called strikes. He took way, way too many called third strikes. He was a passive hitter, looking only for his perfect pitch. Pitchers know that. They can tinker around the corners of the plate and be rewarded with called strikes. This year, Moncada is much more aggressive at the plate and the results are obvious. He is becoming what scouts thought he could become. It took time. Too much patience cheats the hitter of using his skills to the maximum.

An appropriately aggressive approach and being an active hitter as opposed to being too patient and passive as a hitter is the optimum goal. Patience is best identified when a hitter lays off pitches out of the strike zone. Patience is not admirable if the player is too passive and doesn’t take a pass at a good pitch.

  • Keeping the head on the ball- As I discussed above, a hitter has to directly face the ball all the way from the pitcher’s delivery through his swing. Jerking the head off the ball is an obvious flaw that results in poor or weak contact. A hitter has to see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand.
  • Using the entire body in the swing. Hitters that use their hands, their wrists, their forearms, their upper body and their legs in their swing will get the most from their innate power and their innate hitting ability. Failing to use the trunk of the body in the swing cheats the hitter of his own strength. Quick, strong hands and wrists help get the bat through the ball with the speed needed to generate power, loft, and good contact. Strength in the forearms (Steve Garvey, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for example) helps power the ball.

Having the hips/trunk and hands/arms coordinate through the swing is what makes solid hitting possible.

  • Two-strike approach. A good hitter knows how to handle the bat when he is in a two-strike situation. He may have to abandon his hope of hitting the ball out of the park and just try to shorten his swing and make contact. A good hitter can foul off two-strike pitches and lengthen his at-bat until he sees a pitch he can drive. How a hitter handles his bat with two strikes is very telling.
Justin Verlander
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

Question: What are the most important components for good pitchers? Flaws and problems occur when the major qualities of good pitching are not followed.

In general, successful pitching is about keeping the hitter off balance. Those that can keep a hitter off balance, are pitchers with a wide ranging repertoire of quality pitches.

  • Command and control. Can a pitcher throw the ball where he wants consistently?  Can a pitcher throw strikes and pitch consistently within the strike zone? Can a pitcher get ahead in the count? Can a pitcher get the hitter to hit the pitcher’s pitch? Can a pitcher induce a batter to hit the ball on the ground? Can a pitcher induce the hitter to swing and miss? Indians pitcher Shane Bieber has excellent command and control, but he doesn’t get that many strikeouts.
  • Movement on the ball. As I noted last week, every major league hitter can hit a straight fastball. That is a given. Not every hitter can hit a fastball with great or late movement. Movement on the pitch causes deception. Movement cause the hitter to become off-balance. A pitcher tries to get the hitter off balance.  A good pitcher changes the eye-level of the hitter. He makes the hitter look in different locations or follow the movement of the ball to make contact. For me, movement is king. A pitcher with command and control that gets movement on his pitches can defeat major league hitters.

A good pitcher takes advantage of every quadrant of the plate. Watch Justin Verlander or Trevor Bauer approach a hitter. They change speeds. They change pitch types. They use the entire plate. They try to get the hitter to hit their pitch.

  • Velocity. Throwing a ball 100 miles per hour is great. Throwing a ball 100 miles per hour with movement and in the strike zone is paramount. But velocity without command and control is wasted. Inexperienced hitters may be fooled by the heat, but patient hitters will make the pitcher throw strikes. I have always taught that maintaining velocity or increasing velocity is crucial. A pitcher that loses velocity in a game is vulnerable. Being able to throw a high fastball with two strikes on the hitter is a good thing. But that fastball has to exceed 94, 95 miles an hour to be thrown up in the strike zone for a desired swing and miss. In his prime, Aroldis Chapman could throw his 100 miles per hour plus fastball for strikes consistently.
  • Secondary pitches. Yes, every pitcher can throw a fastball. Most are four-seam fastballs, some are sinking, two-seam fastballs. Changing the grip on the ball impacts movement of the ball. A starting pitcher will be more successful with a repertoire beyond his fastball. He should be able to throw a slider, a curveball, a changeup, or even a slurve (combination slider, curveball). The changeup is probably the toughest pitch to learn. The pitcher must be able to change the velocity on the ball without changing his normal arm action. It isn’t easy. I think Pedro Martinez had the best repertoire of fastballs and secondary pitches I have seen in a long time.
  • Temperament. A good pitcher has enough competitive juices flowing to take command and control of the at-bat, rather than putting the hitter in control. Having a good mound demeanor means accepting the calls of the umpire by not letting his calls impact the way the pitcher throws the ball. It doesn’t mean the pitcher can’t get angry. It means the pitcher can’t over react to bad umpire calls by trying to hit the batter or throw the next pitch 110 miles per hour. Keeping an even temperament throughout the outing helps the pitcher and his team navigate through a game
  • Fielding. Many games have been lost because a pitcher can’t field his position. A pitcher has to finish his delivery in position to field a batted ball in his direction. He has to execute plays as if he was another infielder. PFP-pitcher’s fielding practice-is a part of spring training that often gets left in Arizona or Florida. Pitchers have to continually practice fielding their position and covering first base on balls hit to the right side of the infield. They have to back up third base and home plate when throws to either are imminent. Jim Kaat was a superb fielder. So is Zack Greinke.

Question: In reviewing the 40-80 scouting grading scale, can you give a brief definition of each grade?

Scouts provide an overall grade to each player scouted. Some organizations use 40-80, some use 4-8, but they are the same. Both organizations I worked for used 40-80.

There are very few grade 80 grade players in the game. There are few, if any, 40 grade players on major league rosters. In reviewing minor league players, a scout may offer two grades: Current and Future. “Current” incorporates the evaluation of the minor league player as he is seen at the time. “Future” incorporates what the scout believes the player will ultimately become. Now and then.

Keep in mind that at the upper grades in particular, a player can land between grades, such as a 75. The difference between a 75 and 80 are nuances and particulars seen in a player or pitcher.

Remember that all scouting grades are subjective. Scouting grades are in the eyes and minds of the scout. A Grade 50 (average everyday player) to me may be a Grade 55 (better than average everyday player) to a different scout.

POSITION PLAYER GRADING

80=A premium, franchise type player, a superstar, MVP type, the best in the game. A generational, impactful, Hall of Fame, five-tool type player. Is this Mike Trout now? A Grade 80 player is one with a batting average between .315 and up. He hits 35 homers or more every year. He drives in 100 runs. He steals bases and scores runs.

Trout has a career batting average of .307, so he’s close. Since his first full year in 2012, Trout has hit 30, 27, 36, 41, 29, 33, and 39 home runs. So yes, he’s there. In those years he has driven in 83, 97, 111, 90, 100, 72, and 79 runs. Consider his team did not produce runs in many of those years, and he’s still close to the RBI number. Is he a Grade 80 player? If not 80, clearly close.

Will Vlad Guerrero Jr. become a Grade 80 player? Time will tell.   

70-75=An impact, game-changing player with consistent All-Star Game appearances. Has a chance to be a Hall of Fame player.

His skills are evident on the field and he may be the best player in his entire league. If not the best, he’s close to the best player in his league. His skills are natural and consistent. He wins games. He displays at least four outstanding tools, more likely five. Is this Ronald Acuna? Francisco Lindor? Is this going to be Eloy Jimenez? I had him as a better prospect than Guererro Jr., but both are superb prospects. Will Jimenez become a Grade 80 player?

Kris Bryant
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

60-65=A very high quality everyday player. Player makes an impact on power, hit tool, defense, speed, arm strength or a combination of at least two to three of those tools, but unlikely not more. Is this the Cubs Kris Bryant? The Red Sox Andrew Benintendi? This could be the Brewers Keston Hiura in the future. These are outstanding players who may skip a week or two in brilliance in a season. They help the team win games with obvious skills and tools.

55=A better than average, every day player. The player can be counted upon to contribute. A solid, dependable player with job security and little risk of being replaced. The player is in the lineup against both left-handed and right-handed pitching. For me, the Twins Jorge Polanco is a perfect Grade 55. Houston Astros outfielder Yordan Alvarez is an example of a Grade 55 prospect.

50=An average, every day, regular player. Can be inconsistent, but contributes to the club. The Athletics Marcus Semien and countless others on every team are Grade 50 players. They do some things well and have flaws in their everyday game. The Orioles Austin Hays is an example of a Grade 50 prospect. An average player turns in average statistics, but those statistics can vary from year-to-year. Or at times, from month to month. An average player rides waves in his game.

45=A utility player or a platoon player that can be expected to contribute off the bench or with a start against a specific pitcher and/or team. This player can be a speedy bench player deployed to steal bases. This player can be a defensive specialist deployed to shore up a specific defensive position at a point in the game. Diamondbacks outfielder Jarod Dyson is a perfect example of a Grade 45. The Royals Terrance Gore is similar and is a Grade 45 in my estimation. Yankees infielder Thairo Estrada is an example of a Grade 45 prospect in my estimation.

40=An organization player available to be used in an emergency situation. The player will fill a hole for a limited amount of time by coming to the big league club from a minor league team. A Grade 40 is a career minor league player with little chance of consistently being on a 25-man roster. Yasmany Tomas is now a Grade 40 player for the Diamondbacks. He was removed from the 40-man roster and banished to Triple-A where he currently lingers. In reality, Tomas is more likely a Grade 45, capable of hitting against certain pitchers. Tomas would be summoned and put on the 40-man Diamondbacks roster only in the most severe emergency situation.

PITCHING GRADING

80=Premiere pitcher. The best pitcher(s) in the game, consistent All-Star pitcher, Hall of Fame eligible pitcher, franchise player, Cy Young winner type. The ace of the staff and an ace in the league. The best. Can be counted upon to go very deep in games and pitch an occasional complete game? He is a pitcher with superb statistical results and superb, flawless command and control. A premiere reliever/“lights out” type closer. Prior to 2018 Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw could be called by some a Grade 80 pitcher. (I had him as a 75) For me, Brewers reliever Josh Hader could be approaching a Grade 80 reliever.  The Yankees Mariano Rivera was a Grade 80 reliever. I do not believe there are any future Grade 80 prospect pitchers on the horizon.

70-75=An impact No.1 or No.2 starter or closer. The pitcher is a frequent All-Star and controls a game. He can be counted upon to achieve a quality start. Works deep into games. Astros Justin Verlander is an example of a Grade 70-75 starting pitcher. Prior to his slow start this season, the Nationals Max Scherzer earned a 70-75 Grade. I believe Trevor Bauer is becoming a Grade 70 pitcher. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was an example of a Grade 70-75 reliever. He is no longer pitching to that level, but his prime was right there. I don’t believe there are any future Grade 70-75 prospect pitchers. In the cases of Verlander and Scherzer, they were, indeed, Grade 75 pitchers. Time and wear and tear on their arms has taken a toll on his overall Grade. But they are both still Grade 70 pitchers.

Mackenzie Gore
Photo Credit: Jerry Espinoza

60-65= A highly skilled, high quality starter with a high percentage of quality starts in a given season. Usually a No. 1 on a club with a weak rotation or a No. 1 or No. 2 on a club with a good rotation. Has the ability to be an All-Star type pitcher.  A starter that can be depended upon to keep his team in the game and throw a quality start more often than not. A closer in a mediocre bullpen or a high quality set-up reliever on a bullpen with an impact closer. Astros starter Gerrit Cole is an example of a Grade 60-65 pitcher for me. Edwin Diaz fits the definition of a Grade 60 reliever at this point in his career. Prospect right-handed pitcher Forrest Whitley is a Grade 60 Current/Grade 65 Future for me. Padres lefty MacKenzie Gore is an example of a Grade 60 Current for me and a Grade 60 Future. Dylan Cease of the White Sox is a Grade 60/60 prospect in my opinion.

55= A solid, dependable, better than average starter at the top of the rotation on a mediocre staff and in the middle of a good pitching staff. The starter may not get as many quality starts, but has the ability to pitch a minimum of six quality innings, but not consistently. A set-up reliever capable of shutting down the opposing offense consistently and providing a bridge to the closer. For me, the Royals Brad Keller is an example of a Grade 55 starter with the potential to reach Grade 60 in no more than two years. The Indians Carlos Carrasco is a Grade 55 due to his inconsistency from start to start. He has Grade 60 stuff, but he is inconsistent in his outings. Marlins right-handed starter Sixto Sanchez is an example of a Grade 55 Current/Grade 60 Future. Currently injured Oakland Athletics lefty A.J. Puk is an example for me of a Grade 55 Current/Grade 60 future pitching prospect, depending upon how he recovers from surgery.

50=An average quality regular in the rotation. He will get the start every fifth day. He may have good outings and bad outings and is average based upon his repertoire, control and/or command. Can’t not be counted upon to consistently go deep in games. Can be umpire dependent. Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray is only a 50 for me because he still has not mastered his command. He is a pitcher capable of a higher grade, but he still walks far too many hitters and is very inconsistent. He reaches as high pitch count early in the game due to poor control. The Dodgers Dennis Santana is an example of a Grade 50 prospect pitcher in my opinion. Being dependent upon the bullpen is very common with Grade 50, average pitchers.

45= A 5th starter who fights for a place in the rotation. Very inconsistent and can only go deep in games upon occasion. Fringe. Everything in the repertoire has to work for consistent success. Could have control/command problems. Often returns to a role in the bullpen or is sent to minor league baseball. The Athletics Chris Bassitt is an example of a fringe, Grade 45 starter.

40= An emergency pitcher in the minor leagues and one that can be called upon only if there are no other options available.

Again, I will have more scouting questions at BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD in late May or early June.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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About the author

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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