It has been over a year since I started this crazy baseball journey. It began last fall in Arizona instructs, when I literally had no clue what I was doing. Now, I’ve simply learned enough to know how bad I am at this—a stark improvement! The point of this post isn’t to rip on myself, even though that is kinda fun. I want to discuss the value in seeing different levels of baseball. This is something I also wrote about back in April, shortly after the NHSI (LINK ). My article generated a meager 11 clicks. I was disappointed by that total and a little bitter, but then I got to thinking. Do I want to be a dude who chases clicks? F*** no! For me, writing is a means to help formulate thoughts, improve as an evaluator, and put flags on hills. Digression aside, let’s dive into different levels of baseball and what you can gain from watching them.
September 2017 – October 2017 – Fall Instructional League
October 2017 – November 2017 – Arizona Fall League
January 2018 – March 2018 – Preseason/Early Season College Baseball
February 2018 – March 2018 - MLB/MiLB Spring Training
April 2018 – MiLB (Class A – SAL, Class Hi-A – CARL)
May 2018 – August 2018 – Independent League Baseball
Fall Instructional League – Instructs is a clusterf*** of talent coming together: recent draftees (whether college or high school), new J2 signees, and players carried over from the previous year. One reason instructs is fun to scout is the opportunity to see some J2 kids in their stateside debuts. Another reason is the varying degrees of competition; how does a 17-year-old J2 kid fare against a college draftee? This can be revealing about either party.
Arizona Fall League – The AFL is often viewed as a “finishing league” for many of MiLB’s top prospects, and it is hard to argue with that. Every year it is packed to the brim with elite talent, but there are other reasons to watch this league. For one, it’s interesting to get looks at upcoming Rule V draft candidates. Many teams send guys to AFL because they are on the proverbial bubble. Another reason (at least for me this year) is playing catch up. Having spent the majority of the season watching indy ball, I feel behind, like there is a year’s worth of juicy stuff that happened, and I have missed out.
Preseason/Early Season College Baseball – If we are sticking domestically, college baseball (including JUCO) is the only show in town in late January/early February. You can see about a month of baseball before pitchers and catchers even report. Even when that does happen, it takes some time before major league camps ramp up and are doing anything realllly worth seeing. If you find guys stretching, playing catch, and lightly jogging instructive, by all means hit up the Major League camps in mid-February. You heard about an intrasquad scrimmage? Now that moves the needle, but otherwise there’s more to be learned from the preseason college scrimmages or games. These scrimmages also allow for a head start on the draft and a head start on a player you may see later in the year in the minors. I am seeing lots of wins here. Bee Tee Dubs, many preseason scrimmages are open to the public AND free.
MLB/MiLB Spring Training – Around the third week of spring training MiLB camps start to heat up. One of the things I love about MiLB spring training is seeing where teams choose to put their guys. Is there a guy who finished in the SALLY last year who is getting reps with the AAA/AA team? Now that’s an eyebrow raiser. It would be a rarity, but seeing who teams are giving reps to at various levels gives us, the outsider, a reasonable finger on the team’s pulse with regards to how they value their own guys. Who is more likely to get promoted quickly? Who could be a fast mover? Educated guesses to these questions can be formed through spring training looks. Last spring the Rockies gave major league spring training PAs to Garrett Hampson, who had finished the previous season in Hi-A Lancaster, and I took notice.
High School – The value of seeing high school ball is learning about body growth and hopefully learning how to better predict the growth of players with similar body types down the line. How will these kids evolve physically and how will their raw tools eventually translate into baseball skills? I talk about this at length in my old post.
MiLB (Class A – SAL) – This blurb would be better if John Calvagno (@SALNotes) or Dan Victor (@slydanno70) were to write it, but I am going to take my best hack. To me, one thing that makes scouting the Sally valuable is seeing how players adjust to the grind of their first exposure to full-season baseball. Was the high school kid able to endure a full 140 game schedule or did he wear down? How will a pitcher new to pro ball deal with taking the bump every 5th day as opposed to once a week? These are some questions that Single A can help answer.
MiLB (High-A CARL) – High-A is the level where I begin to care more about baseball skills and less about athleticism. Are raw tools translating to skills? That is not to say the tools do not matter, but if you aren’t starting to show some semblance of baseball skills by High-A, I am starting to draw ponder face emojis in my notes.
Independent League Baseball – If you haven’t seen an indy ball game, do yourself a favor and get on that. You won’t truly have an appreciation for the professional baseball landscape as a whole until you do. Off the top of my head there are EIGHT LEAGUES OF GUYS just trying to get an opportunity in the minors, and that is mind-boggling. (Atlantic League, American Association, Frontier League, Can-Am League, United Shores League, Empire League, Pacific Association, Pecos League). This lends perspective as to how difficult it is to reach the Majors and how many people want to do this. From a scouting standpoint, it’s valuable because you are forced to think creatively. I found myself thinking of potentially obscure paths players could take to make the Majors. I.e. could this RF make it on the mound? Because these players need a lot to go their way, you have to use your imagination and leave no stones unturned when it comes to how a guy MIGHT make it.
Heading into September my checklist of baseball levels to scout was nearly complete: indy ball, MiLB, high school, college, MiLB/MLB spring training, and instructs. I am not sure if I want Eric Simms (@esim3400) following me on Twitter, but if he did, he would have surely lambasted me for having seen zero JUCO games. On September 14th I changed that.
The matchup was between Florida Southwestern and State College of Florida, two teams I knew zero about. I arrived 2 ½ hours early for BP and got rosters from the coaches. Two kids stood out to me. One was a 6’5”, 230 lb sophomore from Haymarket, VA. Tyler Solomon looked like a masher, and he pulled several out to RF during BP. There is uppercut to his swing, and he understands how to drop his back shoulder to create loft. He also used his lower half strength well (BP). Watching him in-game only made me more interested. Florida Southwestern had him hitting first, and he showed a solid eye and feel for the zone. In his first at bat, he waited back and took a pitch opposite field for a double. Later in the game, he drew a walk after fouling off several pitches. Despite the fact that he plays first base, I am really into this kid. Toward the end of the game, I overheard his grandfather talking to two scouts. The grandfather said Solomon played for Vanderbuilt last year. I found it unsurprising.
The other player of interest was another Tyler, Tyler Acosta. He piqued my interest due to the asterisk next to his name, which denoted “previously drafted”, but I want to believe he would have stood out regardless. His profile was completely different, and I spent much of the game trying to mentally weigh which player I liked better. Acosta is a 5’11, 170 lb CF. He showed good athleticism, making an impressive catch coming straight in toward home. He also displayed wrist strength and bat speed on a CB up that he flicked to the left field warning track for extra bases. I didn’t love Acosta’s swing mechanics—he utilizes a double toe-tap and appears to create unnecessary pause in his forward stride. He swung and missed on several fastballs that his bat speed suggests he should hit. Mechanics aside, there are skills to like, and I can see why the Diamondbacks drafted him.
Catching JUCO baseball was a good experience. There is some upside to be found here. These kids occupy a space between high school players and college Juniors/Seniors. Check it out. I am more than interested to see if/where the two Tylers get drafted. Hopefully, this post gives you a reason to want to see many different levels of baseball. Each level provides something a little different, and I honestly believe they are all worth seeing. Whether or not you agree, at the end of the day, there is no such thing as too much baseball.