Matt Merullo, an Arizona Diamondbacks area scout, welcomes any opportunity to clear up the "mystery" of scouting and baseball's amateur draft.
First, he said "everybody is getting more exposure than they realize." Then he explained, "true physical ability is more important than statistics." The latter is "confusing because statistics are what we read in the papers, how we rate major leaguers. Still, the only place statistics don't lie is the majors and sometimes it is even confusing there."
The Diamondbacks went into the draft, his seventh, with a dozen names from Merullo's area (New York-New England). It is the result of his seeing about 100 games in 85 days and a trip to Arizona to talk up his choices with the scouting department.
Scouting techniques and philosophies vary in a changing game. Merullo leans toward the old school, the ex-player who relies more on intuition than a bunch of text-book learning (there is actually a scout school now) and mechanical aids (radar guns, computers, etc.).
Arizona has picked a dozen of Murello's recommendations including pitcher Matt Torra, a first round pick last year out of the University of Massachusetts. University of Connecticut pitcher Tim Norton was on his list this year. (The Yankees drafted him in the seventh round).
This is not a great area for prospects. Weather and scheduling are major problems. "You find a lot of good pitchers and some physically strong, gifted kids," he said. "You don't find a lot of shortstops and centerfielders. You find a lot of catchers in New England and some power hitting prospects now and then."
When he finds them, he works hard for them. "I want to go into their house with the money they deserve, sign them to a contract and start them on their way in professional baseball," Merullo said. The prospects - the list started with 80 - are "the kids I want and will find easy to deal with."
Tryout camps, now called showcases, are equally influenced.
Truth is, it is not a world for the faint of heart. "Nobody deserves to play pro baseball," Merullo claimed. "It is a privilege to have the ability and you either want to go after it and develop it or you don't but nobody deserves to play pro ball because of their heart or soul or determination."
Before you declare somebody a prospect "you have to be familiar with what a real prospect looks like, you have to have seen it," Merullo went on. The real ingredients including physical size and quickness are often overlooked [by the host of folks] trying to tell scouts how to do their jobs.
He probably is already aware of the prospects in the area. "You got to see a single player but you're looking at two teams," Merullo explained. "You make a note when you see a skilled freshmen running around."
He would just as soon do his job undetected. "Some guys like it but I can do without the hype," said Merullo, who admits to sometimes actually avoiding people. "You don't want to see an act. I want to see pre-game preparation, the intensity level of getting ready. Hype is not a good thing."
Scouting is involved with looking ahead but it starts with determining if a prospect has what it takes to survive within a basic baseball truth: the speed of the game picks up the higher up you go.
"Once I identify a kid as a player I want to start talking to his family, feeling out the kid a little bit. Finding out where his head is," he continued. Interestingly enough, how a prospect will deal with failure is a big part of Merullo's report. Prospects, often big fish in little ponds, are not terribly familiar with failure.
"You have to know the organization you work for and you really have to know the kid," explained Merullo. "Every kid has his own set of circumstances. You are the doorway that leads the kid into the system. You have to have an idea of how he's going to adapt to mechanical changes they're sure to make. How is he going to react to failure when that happens?"
Most prospects are looked at several times - "you got to have something to keep us coming back" - and Merullo hopes at least one of the visits is on a bad day.
Merullo has to determine, especially with high schoolers, "what is that kid's life going to be like when he goes off into pro baseball? Is the kid ready for Yakima, WA (Pioneer League) or Missoula, MT (Northwest League)" - the bottom rungs in Arizona's system....
Pete Zanardi, a freelance writer from Chester, writes about a variety of subjects for Shore Line Newspapers. Read the complete article here.