By far my favorite part about scouting amateur players is getting to know them. Its finding out what makes them tick, what got them to this point in their career and what is their story? Knowing all this fills in all those gaps when it comes to deciding on them. If you are a reader of the site you may have come across the post, “Projecting on Players.” There are six elements of projecting on players and numbers 3, 4 & 5 are non-negotiable. They are make-up, work ethic and toughness. This is what I call the sixth tool, what doesn’t show up on the stat sheet and what should be called the first tool. This tool tells you the ceiling and the floor of a player.
If you are reading this and you are a coach or a father of a young player, I encourage you to share it. Let them know this stuff is important! It goes way beyond your given talents and what you can do on the field. This is not only for the game of baseball it can be applied to any game. A lot of what I use when evaluating make up I learned from an NFL scouting department.
What I have created is a makeup model. Now when I say model(not a finished product) it is to be applied, tested and improved upon. When I started, I came up with as many characteristics that I felt were important for players to have and for me to know. Then I circled what I felt were the ten most important and created questions under each of the characteristics. In the pro game we do get the opportunity to sit down with prospective players and have one on one conversations. This is the format that I follow:
Their environment - It is important to know where players came from. It's the story, what brought them to this point. I have them take me back as far back as they can remember. This also allows me to establish a level of comfort by just having a casual conversation.
- What kinds of influence did your parents have you with your upbringing?
- What experiences best prepared you for where you are today?
- Did you ever play any other sports?
Character - This is HUGE! Remember character and personality are separate. Just because someone has a rough personality doesn’t give them bad character. This can be misjudged.
- What are your natural strengths?
- What are your principles? What are the “musts” you live by or do routinely?
- Who inspires you? Who do you want to inspire?
- If I checked with former coaches and teammates what would they say about you?
Leadership - Some are naturals, and some are not. Even if it is led by example there is still value in that.
- How would you handle a teammate that is not giving their best effort?
- Have you ever been captain? Coach appointed or team voted?
- Who is your role model? And why?
Drive - In the professional game this must be present. Coaches will push players but not to a great extent. There needs to be an inner fire.
- Are you early or late?
- What are you currently working on? What do you wish you could do better?
Goal Setting - This one can be tricky. Personally, I hate goals. Everyone you ever talk to will tell you they have goals. What I try to get out of this is are they goal oriented? Do they think in those terms?
- What are your goals?
- Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself and followed through?
Process(Growth Mindset) - Likely the single most important characteristic. This ties back into goal setting. Don’t tell me about a goal tell me about the process you took in order to achieve your goal. If you have never read the book Chop Wood, Carry Water I highly, highly suggest it! This book is the bible of understanding the process.
- Tell me about a time where you failed or had a setback at something? How did you adjust to improve it?
- Do you seek out information?
- Would you rather take the approach“if it isn't broke don’t fix it” or“break it and make it better?” Why?
- Have you ever lost confidence in your abilities? Question yourself?
Mission - This is understanding what they want to get out of this. In baseball there are a lot of players who just want to be drafted and are content with that. We aren’t interested in signing minor leaguers.
- There is money to be made in this game, if you were to get selected and are fortunate enough to have a substantial signing bonus does that change you? Would you use it to reinvest in yourself? How?
Passion - There needs to be a love for the game. Watch how they answer this section. Can usually tell how genuine it is by how they respond.
- What separates you from the pack? What makes you different than the others that we are evaluating?
- What are your passions? Passions outside of baseball?
Commitment - If this is lacking, good luck.
- Have you had to make sacrifices for the game of baseball?
Adversity - This is important because they will face it. Love hearing stories of players tell me how they overcame a situation. If they have never failed need to dig more because they will fail. This is a football reference but how many 5-star HS recruits are stars in the NFL. Go look, you will be shocked. Why? Breezed through HS. In college was given every opportunity to succeed in a structured environment. Get to the NFL, a level playing field, struggle and never overcomes.
- Have you been doubted by a coach or player?
- How do you react to criticism?
- Have you ever had to prove someone wrong?
- Have you ever had a coach you didn’t like? Why? How did you handle that?
- What's the most challenging environment that you have been in? Did you prepare for it? How did you respond?
- If haven’t failed, how have they handled success?
There you have it the ten characteristics that I use during initial player interviews. By the time I am done I feel I have a strong idea of what the player is about and what kind of mindset they operate with. There is no one way to go about this and in a year from now it will likely be altered in some way. Recently I wrote about how I missed on Paul DeJong. He checks all these boxes. Paul is still to this day constantly trying to get better.
Now don’t get me wrong there are exceptions to every rule. If I am going to bat for a player, I can promise you, they will have these characteristics. The ones that do I believe have longevity. Talent will get you only so far. It’s how will they overcome when talent alone isn’t enough.
As I said, I absolutely love this topic and can talk about it for days. In the interest of time will leave it off here. If you want more or have additional thoughts would love to hear them.