(Photo via Periodico JT, via the Flickr Creative Commons)
This content can also be found on WorldBaseballExperience.com, founded and operated by this column’s author, Nick Holmes.
I was recently asked a question in regards to scouting in Latin America. “Do you look at those players differently than the kids from the U.S?”
I was reminded immediately of the first time I actually scouted in the Dominican Republic while attending MLB Scout School in 2010. There was something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Something that raised a brow while watching these young, tall, lanky, athletic ‘peloteros’ dance their dance and play to the rhythms in their head.
It was raw. All of it.
The hitters, the pitchers, the flashy infielders. The arms were live and powerful. The movements were graceful. They were so young. I remember thinking that it looked effortless and almost fake in a CGI special effects kinda way. They were smooth yet needed to be tuned. There was an aura about them that you don’t see as much in the United States.
It looked like they were enjoying every minute of what they were doing. The fact was, every day could be their last opportunity to show they belong and yet they play like that isn’t even a possibility. They are void of tension and stress. Or at least they don’t show it. I loved the way they smiled and joked with each other from the time they laced up until the handshake after the last out.
From the view that I had every day in those bleachers and along the fenceline you could see the tools. The tools were evident. The speed was raw, the arms above average, the future-6 power, and the 95-plus fastballs. All of it is amazing to witness.
They all showed well.
Then came the games.
Overall instincts are typically expected to correlate with tools. The student of the game is to reveal himself. The baseball IQ seemed to be the challenge with many of them. Balls sailed over the first baseman’s head. Catchers who just threw 1.8- and 1.9-second pop times on a dime were struggling to get a throw off in a game situation and when they did it was launched into centerfield. Guys that put on a clinic in BP were swinging out of the zone. Lacking barrel awareness and finishing off balance. Pitchers were throwing hard but with no clue where it was going. They were having a difficult time getting ahead of hitters and hitting their spots.
Then you remember they are 16-17 years old. They have spent a lot of time putting in the work, doing the drills, working out and practicing until dark. They don’t play a ton of controlled, structured games outside of the friends they have growing up early in life. They don’t get a lot of personal coaching or good instruction until they show some above average natural ability and then get the opportunity to join an academy and workout with a ‘buscone’ and his team. Maybe they win the lotto and get signed by an organization and then they finally receive what they longed for.
When I think of the same aged kids in the U.S. I realize they have been playing structured organized baseball since they were as young as five years old. They have had the privilege of having volunteer coaches of Dads and Moms and Uncles who played college or pro ball helping them after school and on days when they didn’t have an organized practice or game. Then they play travel ball with experienced coaches and then on to high school. Their educational opportunities to better themselves in academia are more prevalent. The game is taught to them in a different way that forces them to use more subjects to solve a problem; subjects they have already learned.
They look different.
The flash, the fluidity, the overall athleticism may be lacking to a degree, but the consistency, the repetitiveness and the tightness of execution added to the fundamentals and in-game instincts are slightly sharpened. They are muscular and well fed. They have kettlebells and speed ladders and trainers and dieticians. They carry themselves tighter and with stern purpose; business-like, militant to some degree.
The downside from a psychological standpoint?
This behavior can lead to the quest for mechanical perfection trumping the ‘outside of the box’ experimentation. The need to be BETTER NOW can become more important than making yourself better than yesterday en route to winning the end game. Focusing on personal achievement stifles the love of the game. The constant stress of overachieving and trying too hard to rise above the pack can have a reverse effect.
Today more than ever, the pressure of excelling above and beyond the best of the best in order to obtain a college scholarship or sign with a professional team are slowly becoming detrimental to the growth and development of our youth players. The enjoyment of competing for fun is overrun by the fear of failure and surfacing in way too many cases.
To answer the question that was asked to me. “Do you look at these kids differently?”
The answer is yes. Because they are different.
They come from different cultures.
They come from different mindsets.
They come from different opportunities.
They come from different places.
Not better. Not worse. Just different.
To be a good scout you have to be open to and accepting of ‘different.’ It is hard to really know a person until you get to know them. The same goes for baseball players. Be open in your mind and in your evaluation process in order to find the outliers and the pioneers of the next generation. They will present themselves and you will see them clearly. They are everywhere.
Part 1 of a 3 part series
PART 2 – Specific Differences in Hitters – Coming Week of 2/5
PART 3 – Specific Differences in Pitchers and Fielders – Coming Week of 2/12