(Photo is property of CBBSN)
What makes a company special is often found in the people it employs, and the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network (CBBSN) is no different. Though each scout goes through scout training and completes various assignments to help them gain necessary skills, each comes from a unique background.
One person you may not expect to find employed at an emerging college ball scouting company is 38-year-old police officer Joe Barbella. Barbella has been a cop for 14-years, but he’s always played baseball on the side. Translating that passion into scouting began for Barbella when he attended Sports Management Worldwide’s Baseball General Management and Scouting Course.
Now, Barbella is a regional scout in the New York area, observing players at St. John’s University, Seton Hall University, and Rutgers University. He hopes that working at CBBSN will be a way for him to get enough experience to move into full-time scouting once he retires from being a cop.
Barbella has found that it is more difficult to scout power on the east coast due to weather restrictions.
“80 to 90 degrees and humid makes the ball fly,” said Barbella. “40 to 50 degrees and very windy doesn’t.” Despite this, Barbella does have a strategy for scouting bat speed, an increasingly important consideration when it comes to exit velocity: batting practice (BP).
“That’s all bat speed when they’re hitting the balls in BP,” said Barbella. Because the coach isn’t putting as much velocity on the ball as a pitcher typically would, any velocity is generated by the player. “BP isn’t everything…but when it comes to raw power that’s a useful tool.”
Another scout who comes from an unexpected background is regional supervisor Richard Birfer. Birfer hails from north-of-the-border, attending grad school at Brock University in Canada. Birfer played baseball his whole life, but, like most of the population, he eventually realized he wasn’t skilled enough to move on to the next level. Luckily, when he contacted CBBSN’s CEO Justin Volman, Volman was excited to expand to Canada.
In Canada, Birfer mainly looks at high school students who will eventually commit to play college ball, which is a little different from most scouts in the company. Luckily, Birfer has strategies for figuring out which players have potential even at a young age.
“As far as the players go…the guys who have the work ethic are gonna be the guys who can survive on the next level,” said Birfer. If a player has good mechanics and is willing to put in the work to improve, that’s a player Birfer is interested in.
High-school age pitching is something Birfer looks at a lot in Ontario that provides a great example of this principle. Young pitchers who throw hard often don’t have the command to go along with their velocity, but Birfer understands pitching mechanics, enabling him to know if a pitcher’s form is good enough to eventually elevate his game to the next level
“Eventually the command will come,” said Birfer. “You can usually tell with their pitching mechanics like if the arm action looks clean and the lower half mechanics look good.” As a scout, a key part of the job is being able to tell which players will be worth the time to develop, especially in the transition from high school to college ball. Luckily, Birfer has a great understanding of this concept as well.
“When you see a catcher that bats lefty and makes solid contact you have to gamble on that kid,” said Birfer. “You predict that in a few years he’ll put it all together. When you see the tools you gamble.”
One thing that makes the gamble safer is observing the players in a higher number of games, a scout from the University of Florida, Zane Katz remarks. From Katz’s perspective, that is one thing CBBSN offers that other scouts can’t: volume. Seeing more games allows a scout to tell which players have what it takes to deal with the ups and downs of a season, rather than relying on small samples of stats or a few scattered looks at one player.
“It’s…important to trust your eyes because those are players that get overlooked,” said Katz. “They’re called late bloomers, but really they were always doing everything right the numbers just didn’t show.”
Katz was one of the first scouts to join the company almost a year-and-a-half ago and has been impressed with its growth ever since. Fitting with Volman’s vision for the company, Katz believes that advanced metrics are an increasingly useful tool, but holds that seeing a player’s game-to-game consistency is something not easily replaced.
Patrick Allen, a scout at Texas A&M University, agrees. His scouting strategy is to look at the statistics to see what kind of player he is expecting. Then, he attends games and determines whether or not what he sees matches up with what the statistics told him. If they don’t, and a player outperforms or underperforms, he tries to figure out why. Thus, his role as a scout becomes describing how a player looks on the field and comparing it to how that player looks on paper.
As the game changes, scouts must adapt. For example, Allen has realized that baseball players tend to be bigger nowadays than they used to be.
“Players are physically larger people and with that, it gives you a stronger arm,” said Allen. “Then it’s a matter of accuracy.” Knowing which players are powerful throwers is much easier than knowing which players are accurate ones, especially in terms of representation on a stat-sheet. That’s where scouts come in.
Regional supervisor Kurt Ascetta also grapples with the difficulty of how to combine traditional scouting with advanced metrics, but that’s where he sees CBBSN as providing an advantage.
“In the future, we are looking to train more with analytics,” said Ascetta, who is responsible for training scouts in the Southwest Region. “Being able to have tangible scouting of what you see, and being able to combine that with analytics is something people who come from pure analytics aren’t as good at.” Therefore, Ascetta plans to combine his degree from Arizona State University in business data analytics with his plentiful experience as a CBBSN scout to provide something unique to front offices.
Ascetta has already provided a lot for CBBSN, showing his dedication by creating a list of business and sports clubs at colleges across the country that he thought we be great places to find new scouts. This type of dedication stands out.
Kurt also shows his dedication in his scouting.
“I look at big picture as well as the little things like are they hustling? Are they alert?” said Ascetta. “Also trying to engage the mental side, and their comfort with different positions.” Taking his observations as deeply as possible, Ascetta even tries to find the best MLB comparisons for players so that people reading his scouting reports can get a sense of what the player does on the field style-wise as well as performance-wise.
Becoming a regional supervisor was a big step for Ascetta because he wants to translate his passion and dedication into a career once he graduates.
“Like many students interested in pursuing a career in baseball, I was looking for any opportunity to get my foot in the door, and get the experience that everyone is talking about, but is hard to find,” said Ascetta. Viewing CBBSN as an opportunity has allowed Ascetta to make the most of his time with the company.
Regan Durham, a newcomer to the company, also hopes to turn her life-long passion for baseball into a career.
“I come from a long line of baseball players,” said Durham. “It’s like the family business.” Durham’s dad and both grandpas played baseball, and for awhile, Durham thought the place for her would be a major league front office. However, she quickly realized that she prefers the baseball side of things, and turned her attention to becoming a scout.
At the University of South Carolina, Durham spent last season working for their team in advance scouting. Durham spent a lot of time researching what other teams would bring to the table, and make suggestions about what South Carolina’s lineup should be based on that. Because of this experience, Durham has knowledge about many teams in the area and believes that she will have a heightened ability to scout.
The future of the company looks bright with such diverse, dedicated, and innovative scouts. Even in her short time at CBBSN, Durham has noticed the same thing.
“I think what’s stuck out the most has been how supportive everyone is of each other,” said Durham. “Whether it’s getting an opinion on a player or an interview for another job, everyone is like-minded and wants the best for each other and the company.”