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Saturday, March 22, 2014
Weird science? No, player evaluation tools

By Gordon Edes

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In a story on Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein that appeared in ESPN the Magazine's MLB preview, author Tim Keown noted the team's reliance on "neuroscience" in scouting and player evaluation.

"Hitters are put through a battery of proprietary 'video-game' style tests to gauge hand-eye coordination and pitch recognition," Keown wrote.

Epstein freely acknowledged that he'd brought many of the same tools he'd used in Boston with the Red Sox to the Cubs, and when manager John Farrell was asked if Sox players undergo similar tests, he said the Sox were the first team to use them.

"Not so much on a daily basis but it's done on identifying players so there's a neuro-scouting component to it," Farrell said.

"The best way I could describe it in general, it helps with some of the processing of information, because certain things will be presented to a player that they'll have to identify -- whether that's shapes, numbers, trends, and then how quickly you process it and repeat it when it comes back up. It's not different than some of the baseline testing for concussions, where you've got to really think back and remember different schematics that are thrown up in front of your eyes."

Farrell cited minor league prospect Mookie Betts, a second baseman, as an example of a player whose evaluation relied to an extent on such testing.
"Mookie Betts, that's how he was identified. He was a bowler," Farrell said.

"It wasn't like there were a whole of games to witness and watch but then there's follow up work when guys come into the system at the minor league level to always try to train and enhance that reaction time. I think that would just continue to grow.

"Whether it helps focus and concentration and enhance all that, I just think that we're scratching the surface on what kind of electronic tools can come into play to help players."

The program is administered by outside consultants, Farrell said. Expect to hear more about this stuff around the game.