Arguably the greatest player of this generation in baseball, what did the reports on Albert Pujols look like when he was in St. Louis' system?
The National Baseball Hall of Fame has finally given credit where it was due, to the people who make the sport tick. Year after year and generation after generation, scouts have been the life blood of Major League Baseball.
All of the players that you see in the big leagues, and the countless others in the minors and in the various leagues around the world, get looked at by scouts. They travel thousands of hours every year just hoping to find the next Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds or Bryce Harper.
But while those are marquee players you can look at and see they have superstar written all over them, scouts also have to separate the wheat from the chaff in the high school, collegiate and minor league ranks.
With the new scouts section at the Hall of Fame opening this week, a great addition has also been made to the Hall of Fame's website, called Diamond Mines.
This special site presents scouting reports and signing information on players dating back decades. What we wanted to do is have a little fun with this database, by taking a look at the 10 best players from this generation of baseball and what the scouting reports said about them.
We are looking at the entire body of work, not what they might do, so you won't see names like Harper, Mike Trout, Matt Harvey etc. here. We want to talk about players like Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
The names on this list can still be active or have recently retired (within the last five years, dating back to 2008).
Note: All scouting reports courtesy of the Diamond Mines section of the Hall of Fame website, while all stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. For reasons "completely unknown" the reports for Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez are not on the site, so that is why they are not on the list.
Did scouts always love Greg Maddux?
1986 Scouting Report by Larry Monroe (link)
"He's gonna be a good one. 88 fastball tails when up and sinks when down. Pitches inside very well, and good command. Good curveball but needs more consistent bite. Change only fair and doesn't have command of it. Needs 1 year more for work on curveball and change, but very good potential to be a consistent winning starter."
The Career (1986-2008)
To say that Maddux turned into a "consistent winning starter" would be a huge understatement. Even though a lot of people scoff at pitcher wins—myself included—the right-hander wound up winning 355 games, including 17 straight years from 1988-2004 with at least 15 victories.
Maddux's changeup did end up turning into a plus-plus pitch for him in the big leagues. Even though there has been a misconception that he only worked with a mediocre fastball, at his peak he was throwing 92-93 with movement. Add the changeup and 80-grade command to the proceedings and you have a Hall of Famer.
Monroe's advice that Maddux spend one more year in Triple-A paid off, because he made a brief appearance with the Cubs late in 1986 and kicked off a legendary career in 1987. For the record, he posted a 5.61 ERA and a 101-74 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 155.2 innings as a rookie.
The No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft, Chipper Jones had star written all over him from day 1.
Pre-draft Scouting Report by Luke Wrenn (link)
"I have known this boy since he was a freshman in HS. Transferred his soph. year to a private school in Jacksonville (Bolles) after playing his freshman year in Pierson, FL. Lives away from home at the private school now. Father was a coach and just teaches at Pierson Taylor HS now. This boy has all the tools. Has power and good basic approach at the plate with bat speed. Similar to Travis Fryman in the field but he runs better and will hit with some power. This boy is a super kid that wants to play pro ball. Excellent make-up and work habits. Best prospect in Florida the past 7 years since I been scouting. Premium player and he plays a premium position. Coach is playing him and pitching him as well. Hope and pray his arm will survive. He will be difficult to scout this year due to his position jockeying. Fields like a player that has been in pro ball 3 or 4 years. This boy must be considered for our 6th pick. Does everything well and with ease.
The Career (1993-2012)
Unfortunately for Luke Wrenn, Chipper Jones never made it to Seattle with the No. 6 pick in the 1990 draft. The Atlanta Braves took him with the first pick and wound up getting everything Wrenn predicted, and then some.
Wrenn's report lists Jones' OFP (Overall Future Potential) at 64. On the 20-80 scale, where 60 is an All-Star and 70 is a potential Hall of Famer.
Jones certainly fits into the 70 category, but putting a 64 on a high school player and seeing him turn into what Jones did speaks volumes about how great Wrenn is at his job.
Even though he played shortstop in high school, Jones wound up moving to third base and became one of the best to play the position in history. He finished his career hitting .301/.401/.529 with 468 home runs, 1,512 walks and 1,409 strikeouts and won the 1999 NL MVP,
He has already had his number retired by the Braves and will walk into the Hall of Fame in 2017.
Derek Jeter's status as a beloved Yankee icon started the day Houston passed on him in the draft.
April 1992 Scouting Report by Stan Zielinksi (link)
Athletic looking body, loose, rangy, slightly bow legged. Good hand speed at plate, good whip in bat 4.2 runner, agg. @ plate, good range at short, showed an ave. arm but feel there might be more there. Got some hot dog in him, tendency to coast, be too cool, susceptible to off-speed or CB's by getting out front, receives groundballs at times in too close to his body. A SS who can play there cause his hands & arm are OK, QK bat w/ some pop & has good speed & QK acceleration, real athlete that seasoning will only make better, all tools are there.
The Career (1995-Present)
I won't lie, seeing that Derek Jeter had "good range at short" made me chuckle a bit considering all the jokes that are made about how lacking he has been in that area throughout his career.
Also, the comment about Jeter being "too cool" seems perfectly appropriate with what we have seen or read about his personal life in the New York tabloids over the years.
On the field, Jeter certainly made that scouting report look like it was on the right track. His bat wound up being better than expected, as he turned into one of the most prolific offensive shortstops in baseball history. He collected his 3,000th hit—a home run, of course—off David Price in 2011.
In addition to being one of only 28 players in history with 3,000 hits, Jeter ranks fifth among shortstops with a .313 career average and sixth in Fangraphs version of Wins Above Replacement (74.6).
Any issues Jeter had against off-speed stuff clearly got figured out from the time he was drafted and promoted to the big leagues in 1995. He has made a habit of being able to wait on slow velocity to drive the ball to the opposite field.
While not the monster he used to be, Albert Pujols was one of the great steals in draft history.
May 1999 Scouting Report by Russ Bove (link)
Heavy, bulky body. Extra wgt. on lower half. Future Wgt. problem. Aggressive hitter with mistake HR power. Tends to be a hacker. Chases. Running speed from Mike Farrel. Soft hands. Throws easy. Accurate arm. Moves better than size indicates.
The Career (2001-Present)
Wow. You look at that report and see what Albert Pujols became, it goes to show just how fragile the nature of scouting is—as well as an indication of how much Pujols improved as a player from a few weeks before he was drafted to the player he became in less than two years.
Before we say Bove was completely wrong, he did get the part about Pujols having a heavy body and extra weight in his lower half, right. But everything else is not even close, with the exception of running speed, to what happened to Pujols.
Pujols has been called many things as a hitter in the big leagues, but hacker was never one of them. He had one of the best hitting eyes we will ever see, as well as one of the greatest swings that produced such loud contact.
Three MVP awards, a first-ballot Hall of Fame career and one of the richest contracts in baseball later, you wonder if Pujols ever thinks back to this time in his life and just smiles.
Bove also had Pujols listed as a ninth-round pick, which was actually four rounds better than where he wound up going in the 1999 draft.
Doesn't it seem like Ken Griffey, Jr. has been gone longer than just three years?
June 1987 Scouting Report from Steve Vrablik (link)
Son of Ken Griffey now playing with the Atlanta Braves. Ken Griffey, Jr., just 17 years old,will not be 18 until Nov. of this year. Has above-avg to outstanding tools in all 5 categories. Future hitting ability above avg. Over-anxious at times at the plate when he wants to go for the long ball. Will drop his hands with a slight hitch and a tendency to uppercut. Quick stroke with good bat speed and outstanding power potential. Gets a late start out of the box with his big swing, but he has good running ability. Very good instincts in the OF, gets a good jump with above avg. range. Top prospect for me with outstanding skills.
The Career (1989-2010)
Wow. I had never seen an actual scouting report for Ken Griffey, Jr. before, but you always hear legends about how great he was in high school and as a prospect. He was the clear-cut No. 1 pick in the 1987 draft, so you knew he was a special talent.
But to see the way that Vrablik talks about Griffey, especially now that we are able to look back at his career as a whole, to see just how on the nose this report was.
To put this glowing report in a little more perspective, Vrablik put an OFP of 73 on Griffey. That is as high as you will see any scout go on any prospect—either in professional baseball or in the draft—ever.
From 1991-98, Griffey had six seasons where he was worth at least 6.7 wins above replacement (per Fangraphs).Two of those seasons (1996 and 1997) he combined for a WAR of 19.1.
Things did fall apart quickly for Griffey after he was traded to Cincinnati, though his first year with the Reds was very good, as he hit .271/.387/.556 with 40 home runs, but when he was at his peak, there was no one better or more fun to watch than Junior.
Frank Thomas had the power you love in a first baseman, but he was such a natural hitter he still would have been successful.
March 1988 Scouting Report from Mike Rizzo (link)
Power and bat are very exciting. Does not move bad for size & position. Hands are ave. around 1st base. Bat and power will take him as far as he goes. Top bat around. Needs some adjustment with bat but potential to be very good. Good impact major leaguer.
The Career (1990-2008)
Quick side note: Mike Rizzo, who filed the scouting report you see above, is now the general manager for the Washington Nationals.
Perhaps it's because his peak was nearly 20 years ago, but Frank Thomas tends to get lost in the shuffle of great hitters. He never got in that McGwire, Griffey, Sosa category as far as hitting home runs, but he had five-straight years where he hit at least 38, hit over .300 in nine of his first 10 years and led the league in OBP four times in seven years.
Few hitters could match Thomas' keen eye at the plate, as evidenced by his 1,667-1,397 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He also contributed 495 doubles and 521 home runs in his career.
You can see the scouting report the year before Thomas was drafted by the Chicago White Sox saw plenty of evidence that his bat was going to be something special, even though it was far from a finished product.
Despite the baffling voting process for the BBWAA, Thomas should have no problems getting into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility next year.
Once you look at his career, Jim Thome quickly becomes one of the best players of this generation.
April 1989 Scouting Report from Tony Levato (link)
Generates ex. bat speed right from the shoulder with a short stroke. Line drive type hitter with extra base power to all fields. Will turn on a ball and show HR power to RF. Ball jumps off his bat with authority. LHP do not back him off the plate when they throw inside. Aggressive player that runs the bases with abandon and shows base stealing instincts. Always in the game and shows leadership skills by example.
The Career (1991-2012)
At first glance, Jim Thome might seem an unusual choice to include on this list. He was never regarded as the best first baseman in the league at any point, never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting and led the league in home runs just once.
That is where appearances can be deceiving, because the things that Thome did well put him in very elite category and are one of the reasons he should have no problems walking into the Hall of Fame when he decides to officially retire.
Walking is an appropriate word to use, because Thome did that particularly well. The slugger had nine seasons of at least 100 walks, including six straight from 1999-2004. He also slugged over .575 seven times and hit 30 or more home runs 12 times.
Thome's .402 career on-base percentage is actually better than Rickey Henderson, Chipper Jones and Joe DiMaggio. His swing and ability to smash the ball in the zone were the first things you noticed about Thome when he was at his peak.
He was also lauded for his make-up and clubhouse presence, winning the Roberto Clemente award in 2002.
His success may not have lasted as long as that of a typical Hall of Famer, but Pedro Martinez's peak seasons were as good as there has ever been.
1994 Scouting Report from Tom Ferrick (link)
D.R. Starter, Dodgers org for Delino DeShields. Young, good future. Good control...Will move hitters off plate. Real mental toughness. Front line starter. Power pitcher.
The Career (1992-2009)
While not the most detailed report we have on this list, Pedro Martinez's is the one that surprised me. You could tell that he was highly regarded as a prospect coming up, especially in 1994 when he was just months away from making his big league debut.
The surprise comes from just how well-regarded Martinez was given his size and physical limitations. Usually if scouts see someone who succeeds despite not having the typical "look" they will try to find fault in the player.
Martinez had no such problems, at least with Ferrick, as the scout put no grade on him lower than a 5—or league average—in his present skills and was mostly 6's and 7's when projecting for the future.
We would see what Martinez became, first with Montreal and then with Boston, when he was the best and most dominant pitcher in baseball. During an era when offenses exploded, seeing Martinez actually post an ERA of 1.74 in 2000 is still one of the great accomplishments in any sport over the last 15 years.
Oh, by the way, Martinez's highest single-season ERA from 1997 through 2003 was 2.89 in 1998 during his first year with the Red Sox.
There are a lot of people who would argue for Manny Ramirez as the best hitter they have ever seen.
May 1991 Scouting Report from Jon Niederer (link)
Makings of fine offensive player. Smooth, fluid swing and plus bat speed, can drive the ball in the gaps. Powerful, average runner who will be better than avg. baserunner because of instincts and aggressiveness. Moves well in outfield, should be at least average defensively, although will need to go to left to make his arm playable. Don't see as home run hitter early in career, but is strong enough to have over the fence power when he gets some loft in his swing.
The Career (1993-2012)
The first thing that jumped out at me reading the scouting report for Manny Ramirez is about his base-running ability and moving well in the outfield.
A lot of things can change between high school and professional baseball, as well as the difficulty of evaluating just one game, but seeing how goofy and awkward Ramirez became on the bases and in the field, it is hard to imagine he was ever competent enough to do either one.
On the flip side, the bat came along swimmingly. Ramirez did add some loft to his swing and found that over-the-fence power. Despite starting in right field when he was with Cleveland, Ramirez did end up moving to left field after joining Boston in 2001.
A .312/.411/.585 career line with 555 home runs should be good enough to Ramirez into the Hall of Immortals, but his repeated performance-enhancing drug violations will likely prevent that from ever happening.
Aside from Walter Johnson, there may not have been a better lefty in baseball history.
October 1985 Scouting Report from Larry Monroe (link)
Shortarmer with M.L. fastball but change-up and curveball-slider pitch too big. Gives away change now and don't like his inconsistency with all stuff. Poor fielder, no move to first, and I don't see enough consistency to like major league, although he has the arm.
The Career (1988-2009)
Randy Johnson is a unique study because of the way his career went. Despite pitching in the big leagues for 22 years, he developed really late. And when I say developed, I mean was throwing the way that we remember at his peak.
Johnson didn't really start hitting his stride until 1994 with Seattle. Even though he led the league with 304 strikeouts the year before, he was still walking 99 in 255.1 innings with 16 wild pitches.
It wasn't until Johnson learned to command his fastball and throw the slider on the back foot of right-handed hitters that he became "The Big Unit." The level of dominance and power stuff he had was as good as there was in baseball.
Johnson actually had four straight years with at least 300 strikeouts from 1999 through 2002. To put that in perspective, the number of combined seasons with 300 or more strikeouts by Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay is zero.
On the list of highest career WAR for pitchers, Johnson ranks fifth at 110.3 behind Roger Clemens, Walter Johnson, Cy Young and Greg Maddux. That's not too bad for a pitcher who couldn't throw enough strikes to get recommended for a big league job by a scout just three years before his debut.
For more scouting talk, or anything else bugging you in the world of baseball, feel free to hit me up on Tiwtter with questions or comments.