The High School Baseball Scouting Process Revealed by MLB Scout Willie Romay
Willie Romay is the Head Scout for the South Florida area for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau. Willie also works as an international scout for the MLB. Today, Willie sits down with HSBN Editor Anthony Uttariello for an in-depth discussion covering topics such as what scouts are looking for in players, college recruiting, coach and parent involvement, and several other topics relating to the scouting process.
This is a part one of a two part interview. The second part of this interview will be released next Sunday.
WILLIE ROMAY INTERVIEW PART 1
Anthony: What is your position with Major League Baseball and what are your responsibilities in South Florida?
Willie: I’m a professional scout for Major League Baseball. There’s different levels of scouting. You have the scout that handles the pro-side, if you do pro-scouting it means you scout guys in pro-baseball and the minor leagues, I do that. You also have international scouting, which you have to go scout guys playing international ball in other countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries that aren’t part of the draft. Then there’s the amateur draft scouting, which involves scouting guys that are eligible to get drafted in the June amateur draft every year. So I do all three scouting. I do pro, international and amateur scouting for Major League Baseball.
Anthony: One of the reasons we wanted to do this interview was to bring awareness to the public about the scouting process. So take us through a typical year for a Major League scout.
Willie: The typical year varies, because for us, years roll from one year to the next. We never stop. We always, once the calendar year turns over to a new high school or college season, are looking at the guys who are eligible for that calendar year’s draft and any other underclassmen that stand out. So we are always looking ahead, but also scouting the guys that are eligible for that year. We watch them in the fall, actually summer and fall, to see how they are coming along. Then in the spring, is basically where they become eligible for that year’s draft.
Anthony: We get dozens of emails from parents each year concerned about minor details relating to their child’s stats. Can you please clarify for the parents how much of a role the stats play in the scouting process?
Willie: You know, stats are good. They play a role, and they don’t. It’’s both ways. One, they play a role ’cause if a kid’s hitting a certain average that tells us that a guy is making contact. If he has a certain amount of home runs it shows us that the kid has some kind of power. If he’s doing well with RBIs that means the kid, when there’s guys on base he’s putting the ball in play. You know what I mean? So that gives us some kind of a key to say, “hey you know, there’s something going on here with this kid. He’s having some success.”
For pitchers, if he has a low ERA that tells us that the kid, you know, keeps his team in the game, and he’s always throwing strikes. We watch the K/BB ratio. How many strikes does he throw? Does he walk a lot of guys? How many guys does he strike out? So stats give us indications of stuff like that. About how much success he’s having right now.
But then again, we always take into consideration who is he doing this against? What’s the level of talent he’s playing against? Because that’s a big issue, you know what I mean? If you’re playing against weak competition and you’re putting up really good numbers, we have to take that into consideration. He’s doing well, but who’s he doing it against? So, there might be a kid that might not be doing that well stat-wise, but he’s playing against strong competition and he has ability and projection. He might be a guy that will be heavily scouted. So, it’s definitely not all about who has the best stats.
Anthony: So as a coach, if I’m setting up my schedule, the best thing from a scout’s point of view – is it my record or the level of competition for my team?
Willie: I think that comes down to a philosophy for each coach. I can’t tell coaches what’s best for them, because only coaches know what’s best for their own particular school or high school team. They each know what level of talent they have, and how each team in the district looks like. I can’t advise them either way. You know what I mean? The coaches are going to have to do what’s best for them in their own particular situation. For me, my job is to go out and watch all kinds of baseball. Whether they are playing a strong team or a weak team. I could get something out of every game. When a very talented team is playing against a weak team, I could observe a player’s character and make up. I can watch players, see how they act, how they play in those situations when they may not be playing a strong opponent. Do they still take the game seriously, or do they let up? If they play against a really strong team I can see how they act and play in those situations. So, I’m always evaluating, but as far as scheduling, that’s a decision that goes to their particular coach.
Anthony: Touching again on the stats issue, a lot of the questions we get are, “Well, our coach is real tough on the pitchers.” Or, “Our coach is real tough on the hitters.” You guys, as scouts, understand that whole concept when you’re evaluating players, correct?
Willie: Do you mean, like what? When stats are put out there and they are not accurate or something?
Anthony: Yeah, if a kid has a 2.00 ERA or something like that, and the parent thinks, “Well, there were some errors made and he really should have a 1.25 ERA, but the scouts are seeing the 2.00.” As scouts, you guys understand that, correct?
Willie: To be honest with you, a lot of the scouts don’t even bear down on stats. We will look at stats just because it’s something to look at, like I said before, to see how kids are sort of doing. But there are a lot of guys that I like this year that are having bad stats right now. I like them because of their projection. I like them because their body. I like them because of what they could do in the future. We’re scouting guys for the goal of them getting to the big leagues when they are in their 20’s, not right now. We all know they are going to have something that they need to work on at this young age, but as they get older do they have the body to continue to grow? Do they have the ability to continue to develop? This is what we look at. So, there’s a lot kids that I look at that might not be doing good stat-wise, but I like their mechanics. I like the way they go about the game. I like their make-up. I like that they respect the game and go hard everyday. And to me, that’s more important than any stat because I know that when they get older, and better, the numbers will be there for them.
Anthony: Can you give me from a scout’s perspective the role summer and high school baseball play in the scouting process?
Willie: Well, they’re both different. I think the summer has become big because all of a sudden you’ve got teams playing with wood bats; they’re playing in different tournaments against really strong competition. So you get to see these kids against other really talented players and a lot of these teams have five, six, seven, maybe even eight players that are the best in their area, so you get to see them against other talent across the country. And it’s good to start getting a measuring stick of who are the guys to come in the future.
But then high school baseball for me is also extremely important. You may have kids that might not be able to play summer ball. They might be doing other things; they might be playing other sports. Maybe the parents are taking a summer vacation. Maybe the kid doesn’t want to play ball, maybe the kid has been hurt. You know, there are a lot of factors that come into it. So then you go see them during their high school year. And you can see the kids and where they are at this point. And this also gives us the last chance to see players before the draft. So it gives us a chance to see them in the months coming up to the draft. How have they come along? How much have they developed?
So, I think that they both have a lot of value and they both come hand in hand, they all work together. And when it comes to the scout’s calendar year, we start in the summer, we go to the fall and we end up in the spring. So the spring is the last impression a player will leave in an evaluators mind. How are they at this point leading into the draft?
Anthony: At what age do you start tracking players in high school?
Willie: I start tracking players as soon as one stands out to me. I’ve written up players that have been freshman in high school, that I see the projection and I see their body and their ability to continue to grow. So, I write up guys, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th. If a kid stands out, I’m writing him up. I’m going to go see him; I’m going to evaluate him. I like evaluating players younger because that gives me a track record and I can see them every year for four years. I might see a kid as a 12th grader and I’ve never seen him, is he peaking with his talent or is he still getting better? It’s hard to say when I see a kid for the first time as a 12th grader. But if I see him as a 9th, 10th, 11th grader, it gives me a history. You see him growing with his body; you see them getting better physically. I tend to like to follow kids and have more of history with them, so I like to write them up early.
Anthony: When you go to a game to scout a player, what is it you’re looking to see, and is it different depending on the player’s age?
Willie: No, I’m looking to see what we call “tools.” In scouting there are five tools for a position player. Can he run? How fast can he run? That’s why when a kids comes up to run we have our stop watch, we’re pressing from the moment he makes contact to the moment he steps on 1st base. A lot of kids don’t run hard in high school ball because they don’t think it’s important. But we’re constantly evaluating kids on their speed. The time that it takes from home to first gives us an indication of what kind of runner he is. Is he an average runner? Is he an above average runner? So, running always from home to first or running on the bases is extremely important because that gives us an evaluation grade, even if its a routine pop-up or a ground ball right back to the pitcher.
We also evaluate a players glove and arm strength, and we do that during infield/outfield. A lot of kids take infield/outfield and they go through the motions, but that gives us a chance to evaluate the kids. He might not get a ball hit to him all game long, but in the infield/outfield I get to see him throw five or six times. I get to see him receive and make some plays with his glove, five or six balls. So it gives me an indication of a players ability.
Then we also evaluate the bat. Can he hit? Does he make contact? Does he have bat speed? Does he always drive the ball to the opposite side of the field, not just a pull hitter? He gets a grade for hitting. And also, the last one is the power. Is he a guy that has power? Power to me is not just a guy hitting balls high in the air. It is a kid that’s gonna always show power, that hits home runs, drives balls into the gaps, a kid that’s gonna project to have power in the future. So, those five “tools” are the ones we grade.
The running ability, the throwing, the fielding, the hitting and the power. Those are the 5 tools when they talk about players.
Anthony: Following up, coaches are always telling their kids, “Run everything out, you never know who’s watching.” And kids have a real hard time with that. A kid makes a bad throw in infield/outfield is his make-up after that something you’re looking at? Also, how he’s reacting to making a bad throw, or like you said, hitting a ground ball, is he running down the line hard? I’m getting from you that the answer to these questions are some the most important things you’re looking for. Is that a fair assumption?
Willie: Oh, of course. The only person that doesn’t make errors are the moms and dads and the scouts and the coaches because we’re not playing. The only people that are going to make errors are the one’s playing and that’s part of the game. So for me, when I see a kid that misses a ground ball, I don’t take that against him, you’re gonna miss ground balls, that’s part of it. Now, how you react after you miss a ground ball? Are you upbeat? Do you get right back in the game? You make a bad throw, how do you act afterwards? Do you want to make another throw? Do you want the ball to be hit to you? I want to see how you react after those balls because everybody makes errors. All you have to do is watch in the big leagues, even big leaguers miss ground balls, drop fly balls, make bad throws. That’s part of the game. But how you bounce back when things don’t go well is what gives us an indication, are you a kid that can play professional baseball?
Professional baseball is everyday, 162 games. So if every time you make an error you get down on yourself, awww, you’re going to have a long year! So you gotta learn how to shake it off, and hey, the next ball, be ready for it. Just like hitting. When you go see a kid hit, there could be a kid that strikes out twice in a game, and doesn’t get a base hit, and I might actually leave there liking him. Why? He took good at bats, he fouled off balls, he was tough on the pitcher, he made good swings. You don’t know what happened. The umpire could have made a bad call. Hey, maybe the pitcher was pretty good. But how does he handle himself going to the dugout? How does he handle himself going to the field? It’s extremely important. You might go 3-for-3 with three little flares and I might leave there not liking you because I know those flares aren’t always going to fall. You know what I mean? So there are different ways that we look at players, it not just all about game performance. It’s about how you handle the game and how you play the game.
Anthony: If you’re out scouting a prospect, how does another player on the field catch your attention and how often is something like that happening?
Willie: It happens everyday. That’s why for me, it’s so important when our scouts go to games that we’re able to receive some kind of roster from the coaches. Because on the roster it tells you all the names of all players along with position, class, height and weight. I might go there to see one particular player, but as I’m looking at that one particular player I’m watching the whole field. And during the infield/outfield there might be kids that stand out. And those kids, I want to know who they are, and I want to start making notes. If they are young kids then they start going on my follow list for the following year. And it always happens. I always go see one player but there are other players out there that stand out and they create opportunities for themselves by their performance and how they go about the game.
Anthony: Following up on that, we’ve talked before about how important the rosters are and the fact that you might see a kid playing left field with a certain arm or something and you think he’s a senior, you’re going to look at him a lot different then if you think the kid is a freshman in your evaluation. So talk about that a little bit.
Willie: Well you know, the important thing about the roster is for one, you get to know who everybody is on the team. You might be going in to see one particular player but if we know everybody, I want to know the freshman is, who the sophomore is because those are going to be the kids of the future. And you want to know who they are and see them, and start creating a track record with them. So you want to know who the kids who are going to continue to get better. I might see a kid that’s a junior or sophomore and he’s making certain throws but I see his body and all of a sudden I feel like, oh wait…that kid is going to get better. A couple of more years that throw is going to get harder, he’s going to be able to throw more on line to the bases. He’s going to develop. Sometimes I might see a senior and he might not be as developed and that helps me out to know, is he still going to get better, or has he reached his peak? And that’s what we’re thinking about. We are evaluating for the future, not for right now.
Anthony: What are some of the main resources scouts use to find top players in South Florida?
Willie: Well resources, we’re scouting all year round. So everywhere we go, to a showcase or go to an event, we have rosters, we have information. When we see a certain kid and mark down who they are and we keep following who they are, what school are they going to go to, that’s very important. But one of the things we have been using a lot locally which has been very helpful is your website. You know, BrowardHighSchoolBaseball.com, which is how it started and now the Miami and Palm Beach websites, along with HighSchoolBaseballNetwork.com. which is really a great website because you guys are giving us so much information about all three counties.
So, me particularly I like to go in there and see who’s scheduled to play that particular day. I can see all three counties, who’s playing for the day. I can click on any of the high schools and see their schedule for the week to see if something stands out. And I can also go in there to see a storyline on who played last night, who did well, who’s the kid that’s getting better. ‘Cause I’m one person and I can’t be at every game scheduled. So we might go see a game but if we could read somewhere about what happened in that game, we’re not looking to evaluate based on that information, but it’s good for us to know. Hey, so and so had three hits or so and so pitched five innings of scoreless baseball or so and so had 10 strikeouts. So we go to that website which gives us a lot of information about local talent. It’s really a valuable tool for us scouts.
Anthony: Thank you for the kind words. Moving along, we try to stress to parents, not even for ourselves but for their sake, how important it is for their kids to have a profile for you guys to find. Whether it’s our site, another site, or whether it’s a scouting service, this information needs to be out there, and that’s one of the reasons we started this business was to raise the amount of exposure these players and programs receive on a daily basis. How important are profiles for these parents?
Willie: Well, for the parents that’s their particular opinion. You know, how they spend their money. That’s not up to me. But I think that for us scouting, the more information for us that we’ve gathered on players is very important because we like to gather information so that we can make our own opinions and follow certain players. So there’s a lot of times I go to a game and I see a kid that I like but if I can’t get a roster and I don’t know who the parent is, it’s hard for me to get that information. So I then have to lean on more of the team’s coach. I have to hopefully call the coach, find out, ask the coach, “Coach, how can I get a phone number? How can I get a contact number on this player so that I can get more information on him?” So if there would be a site where there is more information, like you know, maybe an e-mail address or someway of contacting players it would be beneficial because then you go to a place, you see the kid, you like the kid and you don’t have time to talk to the parent or stay, you could always go online and get that information and contact player afterward.
END OF PART 1 OF THE WILLIE ROMAY MLB SCOUTING INTERVIEW