The biggest surprise related to the amateur draft? That I received only one e-mail message like this:
Rob, did you see this stuff?
-- LEAN, WIRY STRONG. LONG ARMS. THIN WAIST. TAPERS TO LONG, STRONG LEGS
-- LARGE FRAME. BROAD, SLOPED SHOULDERS. STRONG, DURABLE, OVERALL BUILD. MORE DEVELOPED LOWER HALF
-- ROOM TO ADD MORE WEIGHT. BABY-FACED. MEDIUM-WIDE, SLOPED SHOULDERS. ESPECIALLY LONG ARMS. LONG TORSO. HIGH REAR
You would think this is a scouting report for models ... but these are straight out of the MLB.com draft coverage. If you look at every report, there is more of that stuff than if a guy can get guys out or hit. Which is amazing to me.
-- Olivier Paul-Hus
I have to admit, I could have spent hours looking at those "reports" (for lack of a better word) just for the sake of amusement. Thin waist? Baby-faced? High rear? In fairness to the reporters, in addition to the lengthy descriptions of body parts, we do also get a sense for how they actually play, if not necessarily how well. Here's the note about Yovani Gallardo, a high-school pitcher the Brewers drafted with their second-round pick (No. 46 overall):
COMMENT: TALL, LEAN, ATHLETIC BODY. SLENDER TORSO. STRONG, WELL DEVELOPED THIGHS & REAR. SIMILAR TO ESTEBAN LOIAZA. NO WINDUP, HIGH 3/4 DELIVERY. LIVE FB, MOST PLUS VELOCITY BORING INTO RHH, SINK WHEN DOWN, OCCASIONAL CUT ACTION. TIGHT ROTATION, DOWN 3/4, SNAPPING CB. ALSO THROWS STRAIGHT CHANGE. REPEATS DELIVERY WELL. CLEAN, BALANCED DELIVERY. LOOSE, VERY QUICK ARM W/ GOOD EXTENSION. AGGRESSIVE, COMPETITOR. MAINTAINS VELOCITY. FUTURE 15-20 GAME ML WINNER.
I appreciate the note about Gallardo's thighs and rear. What I don't appreciate is the prediction that he'll win 15-20 games in the major leagues. Does this scout have any idea how hard that is, to win 15 games in the major leagues? There are probably one or two pitchers per draft for whom that's a reasonable expectation (though of course more than one or two will actually do it), and if Gallardo were one of them he'd have been drafted a lot earlier than he was.
Two picks later, here's Princeton outfielder Brandon Szymanski, drafted by Cincinnati:
COMMENT: LONG LIMBED. RACE HORSE TYPE BODY. THIN ANKLES. LOOSE, LIVE, GRACEFUL ACTIONS. FULLY MATURED. RESEMBLES JON OLERUD. STRAIGHT UP, SLIGHTLY OPEN STANCE W/ NARROW SPREAD. HARD, LINE DRIVE CONTACT TO ALL FIELDS. TOUGH OUT. GAP PWR. BALL JUMPS. GOOD READS ON FLY BALLS. GLIDES TO BALL. PLAYABLE ARM WILL IMPROVE. FLIES 1ST TO 3RD. FEARLESS. CAN CARRY TEAM. HAS THE MAKINGS OF A 5-TOOL PLYR.
More on Szymanski in a moment. My single favorite comment -- granted, I read only a small percentage of the reports -- was this one, about a high school pitcher named Michael Schlact, who was drafted by the Rangers in the third round:
SAME BODY TYPE AS BRAD RIGBY.
Brad Rigby? The same Brad Rigby who won exactly five games in the major leagues, and retired with a 5.50 career ERA? Even if we know what "same body type as Brad Rigby" means, what good does that knowledge do us? My suspicion is that descriptions like that -- and most of the reports include a comparison to a major leaguer -- are simply there to help the reader form a mental image of the amateur player, which I suppose is interesting to a point. But where do you go from there?
Which is to say, what does all of it mean? Look at the report on Szymanski again. He's got a body like a race horse (thin ankles, et cetera). He resembles John Olerud. He's got a slightly open stance w/ narrow spread. (We also learn that Szymanski "can carry team," which would be interesting if every hitter drafted in the first dozen or so rounds couldn't do the same thing.) Great, but do any of those things suggest a successful professional career?
If you've ever wondered why teams are going after college players from big conferences, look at those scouting reports, which say very little about how good the players actually are. If a pitcher throws in the low 90s and posted great stats in the Pac-10, then you or I can guess that he's got a decent chance to pitch effectively as a professional, even if he's built like Eleanor Rigby. The rest of it seems awfully murky, though, doesn't it?
I'm not suggesting that scouts don't have a place in the game, or that some of them aren't awfully good at what they do. But you read those reports, and you understand just why at least a few baseball executives think they have to add at least a modicum of precision to the process.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.