Behind The Scenes Of The MLB Draft

What happens before your team announces its first-round pick

For many baseball fans, it’s just another day, but for MLB’s scouting corps, the amateur draft is a full-time job. Just ask Indians amateur scouting director Brad Grant what his staff did after last year’s draft.

“The focus turns immediately towards the 2010 draft,” Grant says. “We begin to scout right away.”

It’s not much different for the Indians’ AL Central rivals, the Tigers.

“For us it starts right after the draft of the previous year,” says David Chadd, the team’s amateur scouting director. “Preparation for the draft starts immediately after the previous draft.”

That means non-stop scouting for the Tigers. And the Indians watch more than 1000 amateur players per year and rank about 800 of them. Because they see so many players, major league teams have nation-wide scouting networks that are more complex than you might think.

“We’re kind of set up like a sales force,” Grant says. “Each area scout has a territory or region the same as a salesman would have. So for example our scout here in Ohio has Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky.”

The Indians’ Ohio scout is one of 15 the team has scattered across the U.S.. In addition to that group, four cross-checkers compare players from various regions and a national cross-checker sees players from across the country. Like the Indians, the Tigers have a conventional setup, with 16 area scouts, four regional cross-checkers and two national cross-checkers.

The regional scouts are the ones who first identify players with major league tools. And scouts rely on more than their eyes and ears to find the best players around.

“With an area scout it’s a car first off,” Grant says. “That’s his office, that’s where he is, that’s where he spends the majority of his time. The second thing is a BlackBerry.” 

Grant makes notes on game cards and uses a stopwatch, radar gun and video camera. Chadd relies on computers and cell phones to keep up-to-date on the prospects the Tigers are watching.

Combine cameras and smart phones with traditional scouting gear like stopwatches and radar guns and you have the tools of the trade. Multiply that by twenty or so scouts watching players every week of the year and you have lots of information by June.

This year, on June 7th, the Indians pick fifth overall and Grant says the club is eyeing a few players particularly closely.

“We’ve been able to narrow it down and we’ve got multiple looks from multiple different scouts.”

The Tigers, who lost a pick to the Astros for signing Jose Valverde, don’t make their first selection until the supplementary round. Chadd has led the Tigers to power arms like Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Andy Oliver and Jacob Turner in recent years, but says the Tigers are not necessarily going to draft more high-upside pitchers this year.

“Players change. Talent level changes, but at the end of the day, we’re going to take the best player that we think is on the board at that time,” Chadd says.

But determining who’s best means watching hundreds of players and hearing from many different scouts.

“That’s the hardest part,” Chadd says.

He can take solace in the fact that the Indians don’t find it any easier to rank amateur players in time for the draft.

“You have so many different voices,” Grant says. “You have so many different pieces of information that you’re trying to balance and you’re trying to use to ultimately make the decision.”

It takes year-round scouting to make that choice. And once the Indians reach theirs, another non-stop process begins.

“You’re constantly evaluating [the draft]” Grant says. “We sit back as soon as the draft is over. We sit down, our GM, our assistant GM and just kind of walk through our process … and then we continue to evaluate it for the next three to four years.”

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