Scott Barnsby pitched in the NECBL during the summers of 1995 and 1997. Today, Barnsby is a Regional Cross-Checker for the Cleveland Indians.
For more on Scott’s personal story, click here:
As a former player, now on the other side as a scout, Barnsby understands the questions that aspiring professional baseball players entertain. He graciously took time out over Christmas to talk with the NECBL about the criteria that scouts examine when evaluating a player.
Scott Barnsby:“There are so many things that it’s tough to be concise. The first thing you look for is that they are actually on a roster over the summer, playing in a competitive, wood bat league. As far as scouting hitters, it’s a big thing to see them with a wood bat, to see how their swing and approach transitions with the wood bat and if they’re able to handle it. With pitchers, you see how they attack the hitters. It’s good to see guys continue to play through the summer. It speaks to their passion and what they want to do. You assume that their goal is to play at the next level.
“As you get to the park, as far as pitching, it starts with the stretch. Seeing what they do in pre-game. Their approach. How they interact with their teammates. What kind of preparation they have as far as a game plan. What they’re working on in the bullpen. You start to assess their delivery, their arm action, you take a look at their body. You project whether there is room to fill out and if there is some looseness in the body. Does a guy do a good job keeping himself in shape? That all happens before the game.
“Then in the bullpen, you see what kind of pitches he throws. That carries into the game. As the game goes, obviously velocity is the easiest thing to determine. An average MLB fastball is 89 to 91 MPH so you start there.”
A player’s tools (hitters are judged on five: hitting, hitting for power, fielding, running and throwing) are measured on the 20 to 80 scale. Barnsby picked up, “20 is the lowest and 80 is the elite. 50 is Major League average. If a pitcher is 89 to 91 MPH, he has an average fastball. The difficult job for a scout is how to project whether or not there is more velocity in there, whether or not a pitcher can hold that velocity and maintain that 89 to 91 every fifth day with an increased work load. The arm action and delivery: there is no definitive answer but you’re making a judgment on whether or not that can hold up. Then you go through their secondary pitches and make an assessment of their breaking ball- not only what kind of rotation and velocity but what kind of bite or break it has. Whether it has some depth to it and he can throw it for strikes. Whether or not he gets swings and misses. If a guy can miss bats, that’s obviously pretty important.
“If you’re a starter, you want to see if he can maintain his velocity through out the game and have some life to the fastball, whether it’s East-West or if it has some sink to it. You’re seeing whether or not he can throw that pitch for strikes and command it. Then that third pitch comes into play, whether or not a guy has a third pitch – both if he is a right hander and he has something to attack lefties and to keep everyone off of his fastball so they can’t just sit on one or two pitches.
“Out in the bullpen, it’s a little different. You assume there is a little more velocity there because it’s shorter stints. There should be a little more effort in what they do. But out of the bullpen, you’re definitely looking for some swing-and-miss out pitch where they can be effective in getting guys out. You’re hoping that someone in the pen has velocity and an average to better-than-average secondary pitch. I’m not as concerned with a third pitch out of the bullpen.
“You are looking at what type of athlete they are. You’re looking at what type of feel they have on the mound, meaning their command and control. And you’re definitely looking for the ability to slow the game down.”
NECBL.com: Scott, you were a pitcher. A pitcher may throw 100 pitches a game whereas a hitter might only get three at-bats with two of them being intentional walks. Is it easier for you, and in general, to scout pitchers?
Barnsby:“You definitely have more time throughout the game to evaluate a pitcher. Having pitched, yes I feel more comfortable evaluating pitchers. I’ve had to work to understand swings, what translates and what doesn’t. For a hitter, it’s multiple games. It’s not just one game. When I talk to a kid about scouting, I tell them it’s not the one game that makes or breaks you. It’s building a history over time and how consistent are you. Are you getting better? Things like that.”
NECBL.com: How often do you have to look at a player before you feel confident that you can make a good judgment? Especially with hitters?
Barnsby: “The rule for us in the scouting department is that we try and see guys Early, Middle and Late. Early sometimes starts in the summer before their junior year. We’ll go back and see them in the middle of the season hoping to see improvement in every area whether it’s their body or their pitches. With hitters, it’s if they look more comfortable at the plate. We go back late in the season to see if a pitcher is maintaining it or if a hitter still has the same approach, or if he has changed anything. Early, Middle and Late is really the rule.
“As far as the summer goes, as soon as the June Draft is over, we jump right into the NECBL or those leagues to hammer as many games as we can. It’s beneficial to not only see the wood bats but to get to batting practice, see how the ball is coming off of the bat, see if they are working on things and if they’re able to take that approach into the game. You ask yourself: ‘Are there certain strengths with this guy? Are there certain weaknesses where he struggles at the plate? What does this guy have to do to make adjustments?’
“As a scout, you try to get to know the kids, understand his aptitude and understand his makeup so you can make the assessment on whether or not he can make the adjustments you believe he needs to make. Unfortunately, part of the job is that you’re wrong more often than you’re right. That’s a difficult thing to swallow but you really learn over time to do some comparisons and get a frame of reference. You start to say ‘I saw this guy in 2000. He had a similar swing and the guy he reminds me of turned out to be a pretty good player’ so you play the percentages that way as well.
NECBL.com: For kids who have a legitimate chance of playing at the next level, what will the process be like from summer ball until the Draft? Is it different between a first rounder and a senior sign?
Barnsby:“I hope that I don’t do my job any different with a guy in the first round and a guy who is projected in the later rounds. One, guys can get better and two, I think you can have success deeper in the draft. You want to be just as thorough later in the draft. (Note: 2011 Indian relief stalwart Tony Sipp was a 45thround draft pick. Depth matters.)
“Once the 2011 Draft is over, the first thing you do is try and get their biographical information. They’ll get a questionnaire from a team asking for name, address, date of birth, medical history etc. Basically, it’s to get the history of the player.
“To be honest with you, some kids don’t realize how important those questionnaires are. Not only are we getting valuable information but if a player blows that off, you start to question that guy. Is there some laziness there? Does the guy want to play at the next level? Some people operate differently and you try and give them the benefit of the doubt, but it’s important to return those things as soon as possible so that we can start the process.
“Through out the summer, you’re getting as many looks as possible. You’re talking to the kid, talking to his teammates trying to find out what kind of teammate he is. You’re talking to the coaches. When you’re in the stands, you’re talking to anybody who may know the kid. You’re trying to find any angle at all to dig up some information, both positive and negative. If there are any negatives, it’s our job to do our best to address that with the player and determine if he can make an adjustment. If there is an event in his past, you try and determine if it is a one-time thing or if you think it might occur again.
“Once you’re finished with the summer, you go to school. Each school has a different plan as to meeting with the players. You try to be respectful of the school’s plans and adhere to them. You continue to scout them during Fall. In their downtime in the Winter, they get their questionnaires in. We do psychological testing for a lot of prospects, and their willingness to do that determines some things as well. You get all of your background information up through January.
“Once January hits and the season starts, you really focus on what this guy can do on the field. Starting in the summer of 2011, we have a Follow List. A Follow List is where we put a guy’s name in the computer and make our comments, whether it’s a brief summation of him or we write a full report. Those reports are already starting.”
Here, Barnsby emphasized, “So for the kids who think that nothing goes into the summer and it doesn’t really matter until their junior year, they’re wrong. It starts sooner rather than later. We’re trying to figure out the guys to target in the Spring, and that started several months ago.
“I didn’t completely understand that as a player. Some of the ones who are a little more mature may understand that. We hope that we can give some guidance to the players who are playing now and if they want to take it, they can take it.
“Once the spring comes, it’s Early, Middle and Late. If we only see them Early, Middle and Late that’s,” here Barnsby hesitates, “okay, but we’re trying to get many looks on these guys from many scouts. It’s invaluable to get as many opinions from as many people within the organization as possible. It all starts with the Area Scout. The guy who covers your area is the guy who does all of the initial work and says ‘This is a guy I like who would help in our system.’ He starts the ball rolling. We then do our best to get multiple looks and try and compare these guys through out the country. It’s a tough process to stack the board and there are so many different variables that go into it. The more information we have, the easier it makes the process in June.”