What baseball scouts look for: Advice from Orioles Scout

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What baseball scouts look for in amateur baseball players – what makes a player become a prospect?  If you want to know how to get drafted, it is important to know what the baseball scouts are looking for. The answer may surprise you.

Orioles scout Jim Thrift is a 28 year veteran of professional baseball, with experience in coaching, managing, and player development (Pirates, Mets and Reds) as well.  Currently he’s in his 4th year of scouting full time for the Baltimore Orioles, and he was kind enough to let me interview him over the phone.

I learned a lot from Orioles scout Jim during our chat, but here’s what really stuck with me - Players who scouts consider to be “the whole package” are not necessarily the same guys who are playing in 8 travel baseball games every weekend.

“Why is that?”  You might ask.  “Those guys are committed to baseball and they have the stats to prove it.”

Perhaps.

Or maybe that guy is just really good at hitting high school pitching, but his swing doesn’t work on a breaking ball, he doesn’t know how to take a secondary lead, and he’s only playing baseball because his parents paid a lot of money for private lessons.  Or maybe he’s very talented, but also very lazy.

Just sayin… there are aspects to the game that scouts notice and often value higher than hitting statistics and pretty swing mechanics.

What baseball scouts look for

Image by Joe Territo, Sports photographer

1. Overall Athleticism.   When I asked Jim to rank what he looks for in an amateur draft prospect, he immediately answered “Athleticism.”  The more we talked, I understood this to mean speed, power, size… the things that are God-given and can’t be bought or taught.

(As a side note – We’re NOT saying you can’t get stronger or faster through training.  There’s a lot of competition out there, and small advantages can have a big impact on your baseball career).

2. Passion to play.  Major League baseball life might be glamourous, but the road to the Major Leagues is not.  Can you handle getting only 1 of 30 days off?  Spending 10 hours a day at the field, 7 days a week?  Can you handle a 4 am wakeup, long hours of travel, and then starting your day on the field?  Can you handle long slumps? Angry fans? Zero privacy (hope you like sharing a hotel room with another dude)? And all for an itty, bitty salary (until you become a free agent, make the 40 man roster, or make it to the show)?

Even in the big leagues, it’s not all girls and glam.  It takes heart to show up at the baseball field 7 days a week and play hard.  It is mentally and physically exhausting at times.

But for those who LOVE PLAYING BASEBALL, it is all worth it.  Is that you?

These next two are not necessarily in order of importance.  According to Baltimore Orioles scout Jim, points 3 and 4 are both very important.

3.  Know the Game.  Do you know how to battle a pitcher strategically?  Can you take a secondary lead?  Do you know where to go in a double cut-off situation?   Succeeding in baseball takes a brain as well as athleticism.  If you don’t understand the strategy and proper way to play, you may get passed over for someone who does.

4.  The 5 tools.  I don’t want to give the impression that hitting doesn’t matter.  It matters.  Have you ever heard “He’s a 3 tool player” or “he’s a 5 tool player” ?  These are the 5 tools – hitting for average, hitting for power, defense, arm strength, and running speed.   Whether you’re at a tryout, exhibition game, or scouted on your home turf, doing these things well are an important part of making a good impression.

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Jim’s Tips for aspiring ball players

Now you know what baseball scouts look for, so what should you do about it?

  • Don’t spend ALL your time fine tuning a swing (that will probably change a hundred more times anyways), and neglect to learn the other aspects of the game.
  • If you’re not a pitcher, then you need to know BOTH offense and defense.  Don’t spend all your time hitting and neglect fielding – and visa versa.
  • Make an honest evaluation of what playing travel ball is really going to accomplish for you.  Some teams and coaches focus on the wrong stuff, and it will hurt your chances in the end.
  • Playing summer leagues in college is a good thing.  Play against better competition, use a wood bat, and get in front of more scouts.
  • Be aware of how things will change from amateur to pro baseball, and be prepared.  For example – In college, the catchers don’t call the games.  If you are a catcher, you may want to look for a travel or summer team that does things like they do in pro ball.

Scouting a future Major League star is often an art as much as it is a science.  Recognizing the intangible qualities is more difficult, but that doesn’t mean scouts aren’t looking for them.   According to Orioles scout Jim Thrift, those qualities are a very important part of what baseball scouts look for.

By becoming a well-rounded athlete and a knowledgeable baseball player, you’ll give yourself the best chance to succeed in becoming a professional baseball player.

Source:  Jim Thrift, Baltimore Orioles baseball scout

Special thanks to Jim Thrift, who took the time to answer my questions about the scouting process and provided the information in this post.  Jim has acquired a lot of knowledge about what baseball scouts look for in his 28 year career in professional baseball.

During his years as a scout for the Baltimore Orioles, he has scouted in the amateur, pro and international divisions.  Before scouting with the Orioles , Jim spent 15 years with the Cincinatti Reds as a Major League scout, amateur scout and National Cross Checker, triple A hitting coach, and a long list of other impressive positions.

Before that, Jim coached with the New York Mets and the Pittspurgh Pirates organizations.  I could keep going, but we’d be here all day.  The bottom line is, Jim knows baseball and scouting, and we are grateful for his contribution to PBI.  Thanks, Jim!

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About Author

Wife and new mother, Sarah Bernier works with her husband and Yankee player Doug Bernier as Co-Founder of ProBaseballinsider.com. Sarah has her Masters of Business Administration from Palm Beach Atlantic University and her background includes a diverse range of job experience and entrepreneurial endeavors.During off season, Doug, Sarah and their baby girl Kinsley live in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Contact Sarah

6 Comments

  1. Hello, my name is Ahmed Cruz, I live in Puerto Rico,( I’m bilingual) I am 5’11 163 pounds with a fastball 83mph, slider and split finger… I have the dream to become a pro on the big leagues I would love to be drafted by any team, I will do anything to succede and be drafted! I Love Baseball, please coach or someone can you help me? my email is ahmed.cruz09@hotmail.com please I will appreciate the help

  2. I am a pro baseball player released by the Dimonds Backs. Baseball is my life. I am a power hitter and know the game. You can look up my records at any time. I will like to tryout for you guys and return to baseball. Please get back with me at my email. Thanks

    • Yazy,
      Sorry to hear that you got released from the Diamondbacks. I am sorry I can’t help you find a job, I don’t have the authority to have a tryout camp for a team. The best place to look is online with each team. Some teams will list an open try out camp that you can attend. Most of them are either in Florida or Arizona at the spring training facilities. Best of luck to you.

      Doug

  3. In the section number 5 you list power hitting as a tool and power as a tool. I was wondering if you could follow up with Mr. Thrift on that and see what he difference is between those two items. I found the article very helpful and informative. I used it to show my son what is needed for an mlb candidate. Thank you. David Baker

    • Hi David. When I saw your comment I was confused too, lol! Turns out what you pointed out was a typo. The 2nd “power” should’ve said running speed. So, these are the 5 tools – hitting for average, hitting for power, defense, arm strength, and running speed. So Doug and I thank you very much for pointing that out! And just FYI, we will be speaking with Jim Thrift again soon, so we should have more info coming up soon about MLB tryouts and other draft questions. If you have anything else you want us to ask, please let us know! And hopefully you are subscribed to email or facebook so you’ll know when we get the next one posted. Warm regards,

      Sarah Bernier

  4. Man I love the game and blessed with athleticism! Please come take a look at me in Alexandria louisiana at holy savior menard high school. Jc holt is our coach, he played with the braves. Just thought u may know him.keep in touch with me, I eat, breathe, sleep, and live for this awesome most life lesson game.

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