MLB.com's Christine Destefano attended the Major League Scouting Bureau's first "scout school" in the Dominican Republic for a week and a half. She wrote daily reports on her experiences as she attended the school as a student, learning how to properly scout and evaluate international baseball talent.
Yesterday, I included my e-mail address for you to send questions in regarding Scout School. The first several responses I received all asked the same question, so let's get it out of the way first: How do I become a scout?
The first thing you need to learn about scouting is that it's tough to get into. You have to be 100 percent sure this is what you want to do. It's not just sitting around watching games all day. The second thing you have to learn is that if you want a job in scouting you're not going to pick up the classifieds one Sunday morning and see the job posted. You have to pursue the path on your own.
The best, and perhaps only way to start is, "finding a scout and getting to know a scout," says Rick Arnold, a scout with the Major League Scouting Bureau, who has also worked in the scouting departments of Major League clubs. Former players and managers have the biggest advantage in this area since they already know an organization's personnel. Clubs remember players who have played for them, and can be helpful in getting a career started in this direction. For example, they could send you to one of these Scout Schools that the MLSB puts on every year.
If you didn't play ball or manage or coach, the road is tougher, but not impossible -- if it's what you really want to do. So do some research and meet a scout.
After you get to know a scout, you can advance to what they call an associate scout, which is an unpaid position with a club helping an area scout. If a scout has a region of let's say, California and Nevada, you could be an associate scout in your hometown of Reno.
"You would have to know the high school coaches in the area and serve as an information source to your scout, while getting knowledgeable in player evaluations and reporting," says MLSB scout Jim Walton, a 40-plus year baseball veteran.
From that, some part-time opportunities may arise and you may have some contact with a club's scouting director. "But there's no set procedure on becoming a scout," says Walton, who began his scouting career alongside current Mariners GM Pat Gillick.
If you're lucky enough to land a gig as an associate scout, the next level is area scout, which means you are responsible for covering a geographic area the club specifies, such as Southern Florida or Virginia, West Virginia and Washington D.C. A step above that is area supervisor, who oversees the area scouts in a region. So the area supervisor for the West may oversee all of the area scouts in California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada. A scout may then be promoted to national cross-checker, who mostly takes the scouting reports of the top players in an organization and evaluates those players in person to make sure ratings are consistent.
So how did most scouts start? "Most come from having a connection with the game," says Walton.
And he means a deep-rooted, passionate connection. Scouting isn't something you just all of a sudden choose to do because it sounds like fun.
"Since you were a kid, you had this affliction ... and it grows," Walton says. "You may have to sit in a low chair for awhile, but if you want to do it bad enough, it can happen. You have to pursue it until you make it happen. It's non-definitive, there's so much gray."
Back when Walton started scouting with the Houston Colt 45's/Astros after his playing days were over, there weren't any guidelines, or any scout schools like this one to teach him the ropes.
"I was handed a stopwatch and a notebook and told to 'go get a player,'" he said.
Now, because of scout schools like this one, there are some more detailed guidelines.
Taken from my scouting handbook:
Scouting is: Discipline, organization, judgement, making decisions, writing, building relationships, liking people, sitting on hard chairs, long hours on the road, long days and nights, noisy motels, being on the phone, digging out information, being a good listener, planning ahead, talking to people, being aggressive and hard work.
Scouting is not: Sitting around enjoying a game, enjoying time off during the offseason, being home every evening, someone else making a decision, going to games near your home, having players come to you, being influenced by other scouts, offering advice and sitting in the sun putting numbers in little squares.
A scout's purpose is to find players, evaluate them and sign them. Scouts tell the scouting directors who the players are that will make it to the Major Leagues, and report on the player's level of competence, explaining what that player will do for the Major League club. So you must know the game, and know how to properly evaluate the talent. You have to remain strong in your convictions, as it's your responsibility to convey your evaluations, and then stick by them.
But aside from the baseball side of things, there's the other side that gets overlooked -- the administrative work. A scout must have good organizational skills not only to cover a territory, but also remain aware of school, league and regional events that may include some prospects. A good scout maximizes time efficiently so paperwork, writing reports, phone calls and driving don't take away from time spent actually scouting.
Good scouts also have the right mentality. It's a tough, competitive field, but you always must be a positive thinker and remain professional. Remember, with young prospects, scouts are often the first representative of a club that a player (and a player's family) meets. Since scouts are setting an example for their entire organization, they should pay attention to little things, like dressing professionally (no shorts and T-shirts) and not speaking of a player's weaknesses in public (you never know who you might be sitting next to, such as a player's friends and family).
Scouting has developed as the game has, and there are scouts in all areas of the world, instead of all areas of the country, especially Latin America and more recently the Pacific Rim. So the opportunities are out there, but if you love baseball and want to work in the sport, your first step is realizing this is something you really want to do. Then it's up to you to make it happen.
"It's a long, arduous road to stay in the game," says Walton.
There's 10 other chapters to this, but I stopped with the intro. Here are the Headings for the other chapters:
Day 1: Intro to Scout School
Day 2: So you wanna be a scout
Day 3: Evaluating arm action
Day 4: A closer look at pitching
Day 5: Really liking a player
Day 6: A game of adjustments
Day 7: Refining our reports
Day 8: Reviewing the report
Day 9: One more trip
Day 10: Graduation Day
Scout school recap