There truly is no offseason for baseball. The World Series concluded just days ago and there has already been a trade, several waiver claims, a number of contract options exercised or declined, and one Hall of Fame manager has called it quits. The same busy schedule goes for prep players, as they prepare for their final season as an amateur, or their college careers.
Players get noticed by both colleges and Major League Baseball scouts as early as their freshman or sophomore year of high school, but it's the summer before their senior year when it starts to get a little crazy. "It really is," said Jim Fitzgerald, the director of baseball operations at the University of Washington and former scout with the Seattle Mariners. "There's a lot going on for everyone involved. It really never ends."
There are summer showcases, including the Area Code Games, and on the college front, signing day is typically at the end of the first week in November, right after fall ball, if the players choose to play. Prospects may take official visits, as well as unofficial visits, up to and beyond that date every fall as they look to make the decision on college. "On the other side, the pro scouts, they'll check in on some of the kids from time to time, it really depends on the scout," Fitzgerald said.
"What you want is to get to know the player as much as possible," Fitzgerald added. "Collegiately, and the pro scouts are watching the same guys, but they have to go about it a little differently."
For the kids, however, it's just more of the madness. From the time they start their seasons their junior year until the June draft, there is no down time.
"If there is, someone isn't doing their job right," said a crosschecker of a National League club. "You have to stay on them."
Part of staying on the player includes the time between seasons and after the summer showcases are completed. The fall is generally when a player and his family make a decision on a school, likely signing a letter of intent in early November. Once the winter rolls around, both that school -- or schools still looking to get him signed -- and area scouts are staying in touch.
"Advisers come into play by this time of year a lot, too," the crosschecker said. "Many of the top prospects have their representation sorted out before their season starts in February or March, if they didn't handle that over the summer. So that is when scouts make contact with the players, their parents and the adviser, too. Usually it's just checking in, getting to know everyone involved, letting them get to know you and the team you represent."
While the colleges have to assess whether or not the student-athletes can qualify academically, as well as take advantage of their in-home visits, the player can also be put through eye and psychological evaluation tests by MLB clubs. There is a limit to how often the school can contact the player, but MLB organizations do not have such restrictions. And remember, there are 30 teams, so as many as 30 area scouts can be contacting the same player on a semi-regular basis.
"The player goes through a lot, it's a lot to take in, a lot to assess," noted one scouting director who served as an area scout for several years. "It's important to keep it simple, I think, but I still need to learn as much as I can about the player off the field, build a relationship with him and his parents. They need to feel like I can be trusted, and I need to feel they are trustworthy, too."
In other words, a prospect who may go in the first round, for example, could be in contact with 10-20 clubs regularly, as well as a handful of colleges, at least until they sign a letter of intent. They are also charged with the task of staying conditioned and keeping their studies in line.
"Baseball is a year-round thing these days," Fitzgerald quipped, " for all of us." Yes, yes it is, even for the high school player. "Or especially for the high school player," the scouting director added. "Hopefully for all of them it pays off in the end with a career in the game or a good education -- or both."