At the heart of evaluating amateur baseball players, or any player for that matter, is the 20-80 scouting scale. It is also commonly called the 2-8 scale. Either terminology is acceptable and amounts to the same concept. Scouts around the game live and die by this scale as the primary way of relaying information to their superiors. More importantly, these grades also represent exactly what an evaluation is saying about the future of an amateur player.
Each player evaluated receives two grades for each tool, or in the case of a pitcher two grades for each pitch type. There is a present grade and a future grade. The future grade is much trickier to come up with, but also far more important than the present grade. Particularly when evaluating players as young as 17-years-old, an important part of a scout's job is deciding not what the player is right now, but instead what he'll be at his peak as a big leaguer.
Most important, however is the final grade a player receives. This grade is called the Overall Future Potential (OFP) and it is the final word in a report as far as what an evaluator believes a player will be in the future.
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Above is a breakdown of the exact scale that most clubs go by. It may vary from team to team when it comes to the exact definitions, but for the most part the principles remain the same. The numbers shown are OFP grades what the scale shows us is what caliber player each grade represents. What is most challenging for scouts, however, is that no amateur players are already at their Overall Future Potential. And, that is where projection comes into play. The Overall Future Potential grade is calculated by averaging all the future grades for each tool or pitch type. That calculation can also be slightly adjusted by a scout if he feels it's necessary.
The tremendous challenge for scouts is determining how much to project those individual tools. Do they believe the lanky 6-foot-5 high school pitcher can add to his current 87 mph fastball? Do they think the crude college outfielder will eventually learn plate discipline? If these types of questions are answered in the affirmative then the present grade is going to quite different from the future grade. And, these are the types of questions that need to be asked in a scout's mind. It's significantly easier to simply identify talent than it is to decide how that talent projects years down the line.
The Summer Circuit
The day the 2011 draft wraps up, that will be the day that the work for the 2012 draft begins. Beginning with the Perfect Game National Showcase for high school players and elite summer leagues like the Cape Cod League, the top talent for the following year is quickly on display for scouts to get a look at in June.
From that point on there is an onslaught of scouting events where most of the top names can be seen, and these events play an enormous role in identifying talent for the following spring. You'll find most scouting directors at the Perfect Game National, where they can find an outstanding selection of most of the nation's top high school talent. Attend that event, the Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C., as well as events like the East Coast Pro, Area Code Games, Under-Armour All-American game, and the AFLAC All-American game and you've seen a very high percentage of the best high school talent available for the following year's draft class.
As far as college talent is concerned, scouts flock to the Team USA Trials, also in Cary, N.C., as well as the aforementioned top collegiate summer leagues like the Cape Cod League, Northwoods League, among others. Between all the high school events, and these college destinations, clubs can cover their bases pretty well and have an idea of which players they have high on their priority list by the time the very hectic spring season rolls around.
When the spring reason comes along, scouts hit the road once again after a short winter break. And, when this happens their work becomes much more about detailed evaluations than identifying talent. Area scouts comb their regions, and crosscheckers come in periodically, particularly for high priority players, to essentially double check those area scouts and get another set of eyes out there. Most teams employ three regional crosscheckers, as well as a national crosschecker who serves as the top evaluator for a scouting director. The scouting directors will also go out and provide their input on potential high draft picks.
From February through June, these scouting staffs will find out every detail they can about the players they're evaluating. Area scouts will get to know the players and their families, especially if it's a high school player. They will also do their best to find out just what their intentions are in terms of signing a professional contract versus going to college.
In other words, by the time many of these players are actually drafted in the beginning of June there is very little the clubs don't know about them. Some of the players have been on their radar for a number of years.
The Draft Board
In the the days leading up to the draft there is typically nothing but heavy discussion in the war rooms for teams' scouting staffs. And, these discussions are centered around setting up the draft board. Scouts will make their case for certain players that they covet, and eventually an order of preference and a consensus is reached amongst the staff. Often, signability will be considered in organizing a draft board as well.
The misconception among many fans is that teams are in agreement on their draft boards. That is absolutely not the case. Each team can have extreme variations on how they value talent. Hayden Simpson, the Cubs' first round pick in 2010, is a classic example of this. While most fans are quick to scream "over-draft" on each pick of a name that they don't quickly recognize, a lot of credit needs to be given to these clubs.
The key point to remember is that are no bases an amateur scouting department has not covered. They cover players far better than any media outlet possibly could, and it only takes one scouting staff to see something slightly different in a player than the consensus does for them to see a very different value on their draft board.