Scouting Intangibles

If I wanted to see how fast you were, I would ask you to run with a stop watch in my hand over 60 yards.  If I wanted to see how you pitched, I would stand a few feet behind the catcher with a camera and radar gun in hand.  If I wanted to see how you were as a hitter, I would watch you in a batting cage and games with the camera rolling.  If I wanted to see how you field, I would hit you fly balls and grounders until the sun went down.  There is so much technology and statistical services that scouting tools is fairly straight forward with experience and a keen eye.

Seeing this is the case, why do international free agents and baseball draft picks fail at a higher rate than most professional sports?  Why can I line up 50 pitchers, all who throw 93 mph, and only 1 out of those 50 turn into a long-term solution on a major league roster?  Why is it only 1 or 2 players from each draft class end up as a useful major leaguer?  What sets players a part?  What makes one player a hall of fame player and the other AAAA?

Intangibles.

Things you cannot truly tell using anything more than your gut instincts. They are qualities you won’t find in any box score.  These are some of the things I look at when making an assessment of a player and what I expect that player to become later in his baseball life.

Body Language

What does the kid do when someone tags his curveball five rows into the bleachers?  How does a kid act after a third called strike looking?  What does the player do in between pitches or while on the bench?

I watched a prospect recently in the minors that was attacked with everything and anything he threw.  What did this kid do?  He kept his chin high and showed no signs of frustration on the mound, even when his shortstop jobbed a ball and cost him an inning ending grounder.

I watched a highly touted young major leaguer sit with his shoulders slouched, glove on his side and body standing straight right before the pitch was thrown.

You tell me which player you would choose to build around!

How you move, what you do every single second on the field, on the bench, and in the clubhouse all give subtle hints about how you feel and what you are thinking.  When things do not go your way do you pout or do you have a I will get you next time look?

Baseball is not a high percentage sport and even the very best fail constantly.  You need to show the ability to shake it off and get back up on the horse a second time around.  I can clearly tell how you feel by watching how you move, when you move and where you move every single step in a baseball game.

Mental Toughness & Poise

I love a borderline cocky, self confident kid with composure saying his stuff does not stink.  This screams competitive edge.  I want the kid that wants the ball in a crucial situation and shuts the opponent down.  The kid that steps up to the plate and will do anything necessary to push the run across the plate.

A lot of this can clearly be told by body language, but does he deliver when needed?  When the kid delivers, can he deliver again when the chips are down?

Work Ethic

It will always be the little things that separate good from the great.  You need to show that everything you do is with a purpose and that you never loaf at any stage.  You go hard to get the grounder, run hard down the baseline and get back to your position.  You have to do this in practice and in games.

I love seeing the guys that out work the next one. I want the kids that make practice tough and push themselves 100% of the time. The kid that takes the extra steps to ensure greatness.

Kids that spend countless hours in the gym, in the cage, in the tunnel, and watching film are the guys that you want to build around.  The ones that laugh at those kids hustling are ones that likely will not reach the levels their talents would allow them to reach.

I tell everyone to always outwork everyone around you. When you push yourself to the brink and then push even more, success will follow.

Attention to Detail

Does the player sweat the small stuff?  Does the player have his head in the game?  Is he interactive with teammates and coaches during the game?  If he makes a mistake, does he repeat it after coaching?  Can that player take what he learns and inject it in game situations? Do you know where and how to position yourself to defensively?

There are so many little nuisances for a man on first and one out, for a man on third and game tied late, a runner on first and a leadoff hitter late in the game likely to bunt. Hitters need to display knowledge of this.

Adversity

This is the most important trait that will trump everything simply because everyone hits a wall. It is when you hit that wall, do you get up and push through? Or does it get the better of you, leaving a trail in its wake?  I want to see a kid fail and get a test of his true merit.  When a player fails or faces a daunting task, how does he respond?  The adversity could be on the field or it could be at home.

I was scouting a player this spring and he was just not the kid I saw the few times prior.  Little did I know that a family member was facing a health issue that happened during the game.  This kid stayed cool through things and even though there were some hiccups in the performance, I was stone cold impressed that he went through everything that night with a heavy heart.  He was not at his best, but pushed through everything with a very good effort.  I knew right there he was the type that would not buckle under pressure and someone I wanted to build around.

Combining these traits make up your character and mettle.  I will honestly admit that your character is the driving force for your game.  How you approach it, how you handle it, and everything in between will determine how far you can take your abilities.  You can be a perfect specimen, but with poor traits that result in questionable character, the chances to overcome the rigor and demands of professional sports could leave you behind your competition.

Tons of players can throw hard and hit for power.  Every minor league player has the tools that could make them a major league player.  If you are fighting for a spot and the next guy is out working you with the same potential, who is more likely to make it?

Baseball is a crap shoot when it comes to drafting and signing young talent.  It is the scouts’ job to quantify these traits and balance them with the technological and statistical advancements to select who can help the team down the road.

Discuss intangibles in our Minors forum >>

About The Author

- Director of Scouting

Don joined Orioles Nation in April 2010. He is our Director of Scouting, a former minor league baseball player, and a scout for a National League team. He contributes to and helps maintain the site's scouting reports and player profiles.