Exposing Baseball's Most Dead-Wrong All-Time Scouting Reports
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Baseball scouts don't deal in certainties. They deal in observations and educated guesses. Occasionally, they're going to be wrong. It comes with the job.
Curious what it sounds like when a scout gets something wrong?
So was I, and that's what led me to spend my weekend digging around on Diamond Mines—the mega-awesome new website that features tons of old scouting reports—for scouting reports that totally missed the mark. I ultimately dug up 10 worth sharing.
Before we go take a look at these 10 dead-wrong scouting reports, there are a couple things that must be noted.
As awesome as Diamond Mines is, it's not perfect. There are a lot of scouting reports that are either missing or haven't been added yet. Likewise, there are a lot of scouting reports that don't feature the kind of comments that we're about to discuss.
Most notably, I found it hard to come up with telling scouting reports for notable draft busts from years past. So the following discussion is going to be focused on players who panned out not to be busts, but to be way better than expected.
Let's take it away.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
10. Ozzie Smith
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You know him as "The Wizard." Either that or as the guy who fell into some weird vortex thing on The Simpsons way back when.
But back in 1977, a scout named Bob Fontaine Jr. knew Ozzie Smith as a guy who had a decent glove. He wrote of Smith:
Has good life and quickness to his body. In the infield he has good range with smooth quick actions. Arm strength is a shade below [average] but he has a smooth short throwing style with a quick release of the ball. Has an accurate arm.
Sounds about right, but Fontaine wasn't drooling over Smith's defensive abilities when it came time to score them. On a 1-to-7 scale, with one being "outstanding" and seven being "poor," Fontaine gave Smith's fielding abilities a three for both the present and the future.
In other words, he thought Smith was "above average" in the field and that he would remain "above average." He didn't see Smith becoming the greatest defensive shortstop the game has ever known.
That's what Smith became, of course. He won 13 Gold Gloves in his 19-year career and is the top shortstop of all time in Total Zone Runs.
He also made that one play that one time. You know, the one that MLB Network ranked as the single greatest defensive play in MLB history.
9. Mariano Rivera
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Before he became the greatest closer the game has ever known, Mariano Rivera was a starter once upon a time.
The year was 1995, and that's when John Stokoe got a look at Rivera as a member of the Yankees rotation. Stokoe liked what he saw for the most part, but he did have a minor gripe.
"Did not see an off-speed pitch," he wrote. "He needs one for the future."
OK, here's where I have to note that I understand that Stokoe was scouting Rivera as a starting pitcher and that, yes, it's very true that starters need to have at least one off-speed pitch. Stokoe was not wrong.
But still, I have only one thing to say in response to the notion of the great Mo Rivera needing an off-speed pitch:
We all know the story. Rivera became a full-time reliever in 1996, discovered his cut fastball out of thin air in 1997 and used it to rack up a record 623 career saves. Opponents have known to look for his cutter for a long time now, but it's still as effective as ever.
If Mo does develop a go-to off-speed pitch at this stage of his career, it will be because he's bored.
8. Nomar Garciaparra
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Coming out of Georgia Tech in the mid-1990s, Nomar Garciaparra was all glove and no bat.
That's how a couple of scouts saw him, anyway. Mark Bernstein wrote that Garciaparra was a "defensive player" who needed a "new approach at [the] plate." George Bradley pretty much agreed, writing that Garciaparra had a chance to be a .260 hitter.
How about a .360 hitter?
From 1997 to 2003, Garciaparra was a .325/.372/.557 hitter who averaged about 25 homers per season. He won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 (.357) and 2000 (.372). He actually made a spirited run at .400 in 2000, as he was hitting over .400 as late as July 20.
Though his career slowed down greatly after 2003, Garciaparra still retired with a .313 career batting average. That ties him for fourth-best among shortstops with at least 1,000 games played with none other than Derek Jeter.
Ironically, Garciaparra was never the great defensive player he was projected to be, ultimately retiring with minus-16.4 Fielding Runs Above Average, according to FanGraphs.
7. Tony Gwynn
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Before Tony Gwynn was a San Diego Padres lifer and an eventual Hall of Famer, he was a merely decent prospect coming out of San Diego State University.
According to a scout named Gordon Lakey, anyway. His bottom line on Gwynn in 1981 read: "Aggressive free swinger with good bat speed and power potential. Restricted to IF and must hit to play but is desirable. Could be a good hitter someday."
Lakey also told tales of a "timing hitch" in Gwynn's swing and of problems adjusting to off-speed pitches. Hence the reason he probably thought Gwynn was only ever going to be a "good" hitter.
Yeah...he ended up being a lot better than "good."
Gwynn went on to win eight batting titles in a 20-year career, including four in a row from 1994 to 1997. He hit over .300 in ever single one of his full seasons and retired with a lifetime batting average of .338.
On the all-time list, that's tied for 18th.
So Lakey clearly misjudged Gwynn as a hitter, and he was also off on the part about him being restricted to the infield. In 20 seasons, Gwynn never played a single inning on the infield.
6. Jim Edmonds
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When Jim Edmonds was being considered for the draft in 1988, one scout had his doubts.
The scout was Steve Gruwell, and he didn't like much else about Edmonds besides his bat. He wrote that Edmonds "lacked pure run/throw tools" and that he was an "indulged child" whose off-the-field habits had to improve.
More importantly, Gruwell didn't have Edmonds pegged as a guy who could cut it in center field. He wrote that the "best possibilities" for him were going to be either left field or first base.
As it turned out, Edmonds didn't play a single inning in left field in the minors after the Angels drafted him in the seventh round of the 1988 draft, and he played only a couple games at first base. His primary position was center field.
It still was when Edmonds got to the majors, and that would be the case for many years. He was a darn good one too, carving out a reputation as one of the game's best defensive center fielders in his heyday. He won eight Gold Gloves and had 57.1 Fielding Runs Above Average in 17 years (see FanGraphs).
Edmonds was also a darn good hitter, compiling a .903 OPS and hitting 393 homers. He's not going to find his way into the Hall of Fame, but he was certainly one of the game's better all-around center fielders for the majority of his career.
5. Jason Giambi
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Jason Giambi has reached the "You're still here?" portion of his career, as he's 42 years old and still playing despite the fact his best days are well in the past.
Still, Giambi has done pretty well for himself. He wasn't even supposed to be good enough to be a major league regular.
That's not what David Littlefield saw when he looked at Giambi way back in 1992. He wrote that Giambi was cut out to be a "future 3A journeyman" or, at best, "maybe a bat off [the] bench."
Eight years later in 2000, Giambi was the American League MVP. He put together another brilliant season in 2001 and was sitting pretty on a two-year tear in which nobody could get him out.
Between 2000 and 2001, Giambi hit .338/.476/.653 with 81 total homers. He went on to hit a total of 82 homers in his first two seasons with the New York Yankees in 2002 and 2003.
All the same, we're talking about a player who's lasted 19 years in the majors. Not bad for a guy who was projected to be a journeyman.
4. Roy Oswalt
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Roy Oswalt never fit the mold of your typical power pitcher. He was shorter than most, and he used a high-effort delivery that probably should have kept him from enjoying a long, successful career.
When a scout named Warren Hughes got a look at Oswalt in 1997, he didn't even see a starting pitcher. Wrote Hughes:
Basically has to be a relief type and hope that he stays healthy. My feeling is that he will not and to smooth him out would rob him of his velocity and deception.
Oswalt was initially used as a reliever by the Astros when he first came up in 2001, but he found his way into the rotation and turned into one of the league's better starting pitchers for about a decade.
In fact, between 2001 and 2010, only Roy Halladay and Johan Santana compiled better WARs (Baseball-Reference.com version) than Oswalt. Pretty good company to keep right there.
For the most part, Oswalt owed his success to his fastball, which he could locate on the corners with velocity as well as anyone. But his curveball is one of the better ones the game has ever seen, and Hughes definitely didn't see that coming either. He wrote that the rotation on Oswalt's breaking ball was good, but that the quality was "inconsistent."
So much for that.
3. Craig Biggio
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Craig Biggio didn't get into the Hall of Fame this year, but he will sooner rather than later. The voters aren't going to keep a guy with over 3,000 career hits out forever.
That Biggio was able to compile that many hits is something that Donald Labossiere didn't see coming. When he summed up Biggio in 1986, he wrote that he didn't see a guy who was going to be much of a hitter: "Does not have ML bat or power. Bat appeared slow to me, although he did make contact, and hit behind runner when he had to. Good bunter."
It didn't take long for Biggio to prove Labossiere wrong. He hit .344 in parts of two minor league seasons in the late 1980s, and then he started racking up hits at the major league level.
Biggio never won a batting title, and he hit over .300 only four times in his 20-year career. But his batting average was in the high .200s fairly consistently, and he eventually got to a point where he was a decent power hitter.
Biggio ended his career with 3,060 career hits, 291 homers and 414 stolen bases. Only one other player in history managed to top 3,000 hits while collecting at least 290 homers and 400 steals.
That guy's name: Rickey Henderson.
2. Barry Larkin
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There was never any doubt that Barry Larkin was going to be a good one, but there was some doubt about whether he had the goods to stick at his position.
Way back in 1983, Jon Niederer observed Larkin and came away unconvinced that he was going to be able to cut it as a major league shortstop.
"Premium player, but feel lack of range will take him off SS," wrote Niederer.
The problem for Niederer had to do with Larkin's feet, which he didn't think were "quick enough." On top of that, Larkin didn't get good jumps, resulting in him not getting to a lot of balls he should have.
When Larkin got to the majors in 1986, he did play a few games at second base. But are you at all curious about how many games he played away from shortstop throughout the remainder of his career?
Try zero. Larkin was a fixture at short for the Reds right up until 2004, winning an MVP and several Gold Gloves along the way. He finished with 27.9 Fielding Runs Above Average (see FanGraphs).
A pretty good shortstop indeed.
1. Albert Pujols
When Albert Pujols burst onto the scene with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001, it was immediately apparent that he was going to be a superstar.
That wasn't apparent to Russ Bove when he scouted Pujols in 1999. He saw him as a future utility player, and he was largely skeptical about Pujols' future: "Heavy, bulky body. Extra wgt. on lower half. Future Wgt. problem. Aggressive hitter with mistake HR power. Tends to be a hacker. Chases."
Future weight problem? Aggressive and a hacker? Mere mistake home-run power?
Are we sure we're talking about the same Albert Pujols?
Pujols has been in impeccable shape his entire career, and he's only recently become an overly aggressive hacker at the plate. Per FanGraphs, his strikeout rate was under 10 percent each year from 2003 to 2009, and it was a given that his O-Swing% would be well under 30 percent for many years.
As for Pujols' alleged mistake home-run power, all I can say is that you don't get to 480 career homers just by crushing mistakes.
Maybe Pujols saw Bove's report and decided to prove him wrong. Either that, or Bove's vision of the future just happened to be extra hazy on the particular day he scouted Pujols.
If so, he can hardly be blamed for that. Scouts aren't prophets.
They're just scouts.
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