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Friday, March 11, 2011
A scout's tale

By Dan Hennessey

Recently, Baseballin’ on a Budget’s Chris Martinez was granted an interview with Shooty Babitt, currently working as both a television analyst for the A’s on Comcast SportsNet California and a scout for the New York Mets.

Chris used the time to ask in-depth questions on many topics, including scouting, something about which many baseball fans (including me) only have cursory knowledge. I thought I’d post a few snippets in this space (for the record, Shooty seems like a great guy; the fact that he turned 28 major-league games into a 30-year career as a broadcaster and a scout only backs that up).

CM: I didn’t know there were different tiers of scouting. You’re talking about doing the scouting for trades and free agency. I only knew about the area scouts at the minor league level. Can you talk about the difference in the types of scouting?

SB: An area scout is given a particular part of the region, like a Northern California scout, an area guy. When I was an area guy with Atlanta, I had from Salinas, [Calif.,] all the way up to southern Tahoe. [The scout's] job is to know every player who could be a potential professional player. There are pro guys who only do minor-league stuff and then there are area guys who are doing A-ball coverage because at the end of the season and after the draft their clubs send them out to do professional scouting.

It gives them a chance to see kids that they’ve scouted in the past from high school and see the progress they’ve made. Are they that player they thought they would be? Were they right about his tools becoming playable at the higher level? Or did they make a mistake? Where did you go wrong? That’s a great yardstick for me scouting for as long as I have.

There are kids that I saw that I said that can’t hit in the major leagues. I’ve been wrong on a couple but I’ve been right on more. That’s the great part of the job. The things that I’ve seen in players over the past years, those are the things that I’ve determined as far as my evaluations are concerned.

CM: Can you go into the details of your day-to-day scouting duties?

SB: My schedule is mapped out for the year. I have to make sure everything falls into place. Normally, I’m in the Bay Area for half the month. I’m starting the [2011 season] with the first three days in Oakland against Seattle. I get to the ballpark around 2 or 2:30 when no one’s there. I set up. I get online, read some notes, get prepared. When people start showing up I start talking to whomever I know: a coach, a player, a manager, a front-office executive, anyone who can tell me something that gives me more knowledge about that club.

I get my lineups written up. I have a card I keep during the year so whenever I see them I change the date but I write the lineup on the card. Our reports are made up on that card. I make up my report on each player. Normally, I stay with a club five days so I can see all the starters. By that time I’ve seen all the relievers and position players. Now I’ve watched what they’ve done and I’ve evaluated and graded [them], what it is now, what I think it will be in the future, and what [a player's] value might be.

On that fifth day, I’m onto the next city. Hopefully, it’s another club coming in that I’m responsible for and [it] gives me a week and a half at home. But if I have to jump on the road, I do the same thing. Each night when I’m there, I’m doing reports. The next time I see a starting pitcher, I get him in the computer. I don’t want to fall behind. When it starts getting close to the trade deadline, we start zeroing in on a lot of players. We have more conference calls. Just be ready for the phone to ring.

CM: I read some quotes, what Billy Martin said about you. Is it true that he said he’d rather shoot himself than have you play second base?

SB: I didn’t hear that. One night in Cleveland when the whole infield had a bad night he took it out on me more than anyone else for some reason. He said he was going to send me to Egypt to play.

The entire interview is entertaining and informative, well worth the time to read it. Kudos to Chris for making the most of the opportunity.

Dan Hennessey writes Baseballin' on a Budget, a blog about the Oakland Athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DanHennessey31.