A lot of writers focus on prospects these days and you’ll often see ‘Scouting Reports’ listed on their blog or site. Scouting reports are completely specific. And unless you’re a scout, you’re not writing one. Why label something inaccurately, when you can label it differently and communicate honestly with readers? This is a great time in our industry to expand our possibilities in this business. Trying to be something we aren’t shouldn’t be a desirable option.
You can call your work anything: an opinion piece, insight, how about “Prospect Report”? Maybe you could simply say ‘Analysis’. But calling an article a scouting report is misleading. What we do isn’t scouting. What you are providing is valuable on its own and here’s why: you don’t work for the big club. Readers will take that into consideration. You’re independently sharing personal observations. Readers want that and, your credibility will grow if they read your observations frequently.
If a writer does label something a scouting report, it’s because they have actual scout’s information. They’ve collected scouting data. Look at the MLB Pipeline site. Scouting grades are listed under each prospect’s name. There is also a short paragraph included with information on the player’s strengths and weaknesses. Scouts information is essential to the prospect business. We need their extraordinary experience and input. Mix in their information with your observations, and you’ve got yourself a solid prospect report. But just analyzing stats, and reading others thoughts that they obtained through genuine scouting information, isn’t a scouting report. You can offer much more with an honest approach. That approach isn’t to undervalue the importance of professional MLB scouts. It’s also not by undervaluing your own analysis.
The point is, get out there. Back to that access thing, if you have it you’re going to learn a lot. You’ll be able to talk to the hitting coach and manager, tap scouts on the shoulder and get bits of information about what the player is working on. You have a report that is worth a lot more than a stats write-up when compiled.
Part of the prospect-coverage business is learning to develop your voice, your eye; you’re learning to trust your instincts and experience in order to form an opinion. The craft of baseball writing is one thing. Writing about prospects is a whole other specialty. You polish that by seeing games, watching players over and over; that leads to your own strong observation of a player. That’s what readers want. They can get stats analysis almost anywhere. But a writer who has first-hand experience watching a player, especially in repeat performances, will develop a credible reputation. Readers may not always agree with you, but they’ll know your opinion is based on experience.
The unique aspect of covering a minor league team is the easier access to scouts. They’re at nearly every game, and you can easily spot them in the stands. Just look for the radar gun and clipboard. Chat with them as much as you can in the press box. Don’t overwhelm them with questions, but listen to what they’re saying. And, if you don’t already know, anonymity is guaranteed. You can’t identify scouts that give you information or you’ll break a major rule. A couple of years ago, an NFL reporter tweeted a critical comment about other sports reporters’ use of the word “source” to cover stories. I responded by saying I couldn’t do my job as a baseball writer without protecting sources. But the reporter insisted that was just a preference. While I genuinely respect that approach, there’s just no way that scouts will offer information without remaining unnamed. Earn their trust and, if possible, try to set up some sort of contact with them. At some point during the game, head down to the stands and take advantage of their availability. Be quick. You aren’t there for a lengthy exchange. You’re looking for pitcher’s velocity, quality of pitches, and what hitters are hitting and missing. You can ask for a little extra insight as well. Use the information in a story or tweet. Readers will instantly know you have exclusive and direct knowledge.
Conversations with scouts have provided me with great teaching moments. And your access to them can only enrich your work as a prospect writer. Hearing one say “Top guys need players to play with” in the minor leagues was eye-opening. The statement informed my understanding of the business, and deepened my empathy for minor league players.
There’ve been times they offered insight beyond the field. A few years ago, I was talking to a scout about the top prospect in a team’s system. We talked about his development overall, and how close he was to being in the majors. But he shifted the conversation.
“He doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to be a big league player,” said the scout.
That was another moment that helped shape my understanding of developmental league. The player’s outstanding skills and talent didn’t matter to that scout, as much as the fact that he seemed weak psychologically. It also helped me further understand the depth of their uniquely intimate knowledge, which comes from the hard work they dedicate to scouting.
Through the years, I’ve developed great relationships with scouts that are important to my work, but also on a personal level. I appreciate being able to talk shop with them and have them ask my opinion. I have such immense respect for the job they do. Prospect writing is a lot of spinning plates. You’re writing about so many different areas, both physical and mental, but they’re often seeing and hearing things we aren’t.
As I’ve developed my ability and trust in my own observations, I’ve never lost sight of the immeasurable impact scouts have on my work. It can’t be quantified.
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