Thursday, February 25, 2016

Week 2 College Baseball Prospects on TV or Streaming

The following college baseball teams and their notable prospects can be seen on ESPN’s online family of networks this weekend. Check WatchESPN for times. Florida/Miami will have two games simulcast in Spanish on Saturday and Sunday, which is freaking dope.

Jose De La Torre, CKeegan Thompson,RHP

Anfernee Grier, OF
Penn StateSouth Carolina
Jim Haley, SS
Willie Burger (Fr.) INF

South AlabamaGeorgia
Kevin Hill, RHPRobert Tyler, RHP
Cole Billingsley, OFStephen Wrenn, OF
Mickey McDonald, 3BJordan Sheffield, RHP
Cody Bohanek, SSHayden Stone, RHP
Ben Bowden, LHP
John Kilichowski, LHP
Will Toffey, CIF
Bryan Reynolds, OF
LouisvilleOle Miss
Corey Ray, OFJ.B. Woodman, OF
Kyle Funkhouser, RHPErrol Robinson, SS
Zack Burdi, RHP
Drew Harrington, LHP
Blake Tiberi, 3B
Nick Solak, INF
Chad Smith, RHP

UMass LowellMississippi St

Zach Houston, RHP

Dakota Hudson, RHP

Logan Shore, RHPBryan Garcia, RHP
Dan Dunning, RHPWillie Abreu, 1B
Shaun Anderson, RHPJacob Heyward, OF
A.J. Puk, LHPZack Collins, C
Scott Moss, LHPDanny Garcia, LHP
Buddy Reed, OF 
Peter Alonso, CIF

Tommy Edman, 2BMorgan Cooper, RHP
Jackson Klein, OFBret Boswell, MIF
Chris Viall, RHPJosh Sawyer, LHP
Brett Hanewich, RHPTres Barrera, C
Sacramento StateLSU
Sam Long, LHPJared Poche, LHP
Gunnar Poleman, CRiley Smith, RHP

Jake Fraley, OF
Alex Lange ('17), RHP
North DakotaAlabama
Zack Muckenhirn, LHPKevin Hill, RHP

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Week 1 College Baseball Prospects on TV or Streaming

The following college baseball teams and their notable prospects can be seen on ESPN’s online family of networks this weekend. Check WatchESPN for times. UVA/Coastal and SHst/LA-Lafayette are only broadcast on Sunday, according to the current schedule. 

Central MichiganArkansas
Nick Deeg, LHPZach Jackson, RHP
Zach McKinstry, MIF
Logan Regnier, OF
Sean Renzi, RHP
AlbanySouth Carolina
Stephen Woods, RHP
Ryan Stinar, RHP
Sacramento StateAuburn
Sam Long, LHPKeeganThompson,RHP
Gunnar Pollman, CAnfernee Grier, OF
San DiegoVanderbilt
Troy Conyers, LHPJordan Sheffield, RHP
Bryson Brigman, SSHayden Stone, RHP
Ben Bowden, LHP
John Kilichowski, LHP
Will Toffey, CIF
Bryan Reynolds, OF
Florida InternationalOle Miss
J.C. Escarra, CJ.B. Woodman, OF
Cody Crouse, RHPErrol Robinson, SS
Chris Mourelle, RHPChad Smith, RHP

Georgia Southern

Robert Tyler, RHP
Stephen Wrenn, OF
Florida AtlanticMississippi St
C.J. Chatham, MIFZach Houston, RHP
Stephen Kerr, MIFDakota Hudson, RHP
Colyn O’Connell, RHP
Christian Dicks, OF
Justin Jones, 2BMorgan Cooper, RHP
D.J. Myers, RHPTres Barrera, C
Josh Sawyer, LHP
Bret Boswell, MIF
Florida Gulf CoastFlorida
Jake Noll, MIFLogan Shore, RHP
Nick Rivera, CIFDan Dunning, RHP
Shaun Anderson, RHP
A.J. Puk, LHP
Scott Moss, LHP
Peter Alonso, CIF
Buddy Reed, OF
Tom Marcincyzk, OFBryan Garcia, RHP
Willie Abreu, 1B
Jacob Heyward, OF
Zack Collins, C
Danny Garcia, LHP
HofstraTexas A&M
Alec Eisenberg, RHPRyan Hendrix, RHP
Nick Banks, OF
Mike Shawaryn, RHP
Nick Cieri, C
Cincinnati LSU
Riley Smith, RHP
Jared Poche, LHP
Jake Fraley, OF
VirginiaCoastal Carolina
Daniel Pinero, INFMichael Paez, C
Matt Thaiss, CAdam Hall, RHP
Connor Jones, RHPG.K. Young, C
Alex Cunningham, RHP
Sam Houston StateLA-Lafayette
Bryce Johnson, OFStefan Trosclair, CIF
Sam Odom, RHPSteve Sensley, OF
Ishmael Edwards, OF
David Bednar, RHP
Reagan Bazar, RHP

Friday, December 18, 2015

Seek First To Understand: Why the Four Peaks Sale Feels like Shit

I could give a shit about beer. I don't drink often and when I do I drink whiskey. The news that Anheuser-Busch purchased Tempe-based craft brewery, Four Peaks, is not concerning to me because I fear AB will turn the Kiltlifter into Clydesdale piss but rather because the Phoenix Metro Area has lost one of its very few homegrown cultural banners to a cringe-worthy conglomerate.

The Valley is a cultural wasteland, full of strip malls, isolationist libertarians, dust, young transplants from the northeast looking for work, cacti, young transplants from California looking for affordable cost of living and, during the winter, rich people escaping the chill of Chicago. A large percentage of people here come when they need to and leave when they can. Like Las Vegas, Phoenix exists as an affront to nature, a place built here just because it could be and not one that's benefited from multiple generations of people coming here, setting roots, and building something layered and interesting because this was a place that made sense to live.

Now look, I like it here. The baseball and food has been enough to keep me satisfied. But for people looking for an energetic, invigorating place to live, Phoenix is outpaced by plenty of other metropolises. People in search of the things Phoenix can provide can find more concentrated doses of those things west of the Mississippi if they want to in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio or Denver. Folks living west of the International Time Line looking to move to the United States have cultural lubricant in San Francisco, Seattle or Los Angeles. Phoenix has plenty of Mexican immigrants but the political climate here hasn't exactly allowed their culture to thrive and permeate into the local zeitgeist.

So when something like Four Peaks, which was founded in 1996 and rests in a building from the late 1800s, begins here, grows here and thrives here it is good. Precious few things do.

You know when you're making your bed and you go to put on the fitted sheet, you stretch it around the corner of you mattress and then move on to the other three only to find that your original corner has slipped off? That is what it was like to read this morning's news. Only the cultural backtracking that the deal signifies isn't as easily fixed. People who live here and want to continue to do so while, hopefully, something better grows around them just saw a beacon of light older than the Diamondbacks snuffed out with a few signatures.

Friday, November 20, 2015

40-man Additions

These are the 40-man additions that I've seen in the past year. If your team isn't on the list, then I didn't see any of your dudes. Sorry, but I'm not going to write on anyone I didn't personally see. Not for this exercise, anyway.

Gabby Guerrero -  He's got power but the approach and body are major concerns and I can't put more than a future 4 on him because of them.

Mallex Smith, OF - Stocky, twitchy, fast fourth OF type.

Parker Bridwell, RHP – Will bump the mid-90s in relief (he did last AFL) but doesn’t have it when he starts. Has a 55 changeup, 40 curveball. Lots of effort here and likely a reliever

Red Sox
Marco Hernandez, SS – Was just told by an ops guy this week that he’s had a resurgence of sorts. No in-person looks but I’ll ask around and get some info here if I can because he might be a guy again.
Williams Jerez, LHP – A 2011 2nd rounder as an outfielder who converted to pitching in 2014. He’s had success and been up to 94 with an above average slider.
Pat Light, RHP – After a disappointing start to his career Light was up to 99 early this year.

Willson Contreras, C - Contreras was a sexy target for sellers during the deadline but the Cubs wouldn't move him. He's got all the traits of a big time power hitter. Plus-plus bat speed, some natural loft, huge torque, the ability to move the bat around a's all very enticing. On top of that he has a chance to catch though he won't be great back there. This guy was Rule 5 eligible last year and nobody took a shot. Now he's a top 100 prospect for sure.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B? - Candy can hit. I put a future 60 on the bat after seeing plenty of him this Fall and he's got 55 raw power that plays down in games because he's willing to swing at (and hit) pitches he can hit for singles instead of waiting for something he can really drive. It's a mild case of Vitters Disease. Defensively he's a butcher at third base but you hate to waste the arm across the diamond so maybe he ends up in an outfield corner where you just deal with a lack of range and hope the arm makes up for it somewhat. If the body goes backwards (it truly might, this is a squat, thick young man) then it's to first base he goes and he's a fringe regular. If he somehow becomes viable at 3B we're talking a 50/55 OFP with an chance to make an All Star team or two during his prime, but that outcome is pretty far right tail.
Pierce Johnson, RHP - Johnson's got decent stuff; a low 90s, moving fastball, an above average breaking ball and average changeup projection. The delivery is more about hip swing than leg drive, and it's tough to repeat that, especially deep in games, and the control Johnson shows in the first inning isn't there in the fifth or later. I think he's a Vance Worley-esque backend starter.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B - Yes, there's bat speed but there's a lot of effort, only 50 or 55 power and a bad approach. It's not for me.

White Sox
Brandon Brennan, RHP – 92-93 this fall with armside run, slider and change are both 40s. AA depth relief arm for me.
JB Wendelken, RHP – Low 90s, average change.

Stephen Johnson, RHP – John was acquired in the Marlon Byrd deal and was sitting in the upper-90s, touching 100, when I saw him early in the spring. In Fall League the velo was down (94-95), the slider was fringe-y and the delivery doesn’t allow for average command. He’s a middle-inning arm at best unless the slider or command improve.

Dylan Baker, RHP – His stuff is great but he can’t stay healthy. He threw five innings in A-ball this year so it’s hard to say how he looks, but right before he blew out last fall he was up to 96 with a 55 slider and average changeup.

Raimel Tapia, OF -  I'm very skeptical of Tapia. Yes, there's feel for the bat head. Yes, he can run. Yes, his measurables indicate projection. But the approach turns me off. Not simply because of the oddities associated with it, I can live with different, but the fact that he does things that actively undermine his ability to hit. I can see why some think he's a future above average everyday player but I'm gonna take the under.
Carlos Estevez, RHP- Mid to upper 90s fastball, slider that comes in anywhere from 45-55. If he can learn to locate that slider consistently then we're talking about a high-leverage arm. He's a big leaguer regardless, in my opinion.

Jairo Labourt, LHP – Part of Detroit’s return for David Price. 93-96, 55 slider, mature body, reliever delivery and command. He’s young so there’s more hope for him than most with overwhelming bullpen traits. I think he’s a setup guy.

Montreal Roberton, RHP – 93-96 with an above average slider and fringe average changeup. The control isn’t where you’d like a 25 year old relief arm’s to be but he throws enough strikes to be a big leaguer as far as I’m concerned. He was a great find in the 29th round out of Coahoma CC in Mississippi, though Robertson did fall in part because he had TJ in college.

Bubba Starling, CF -  Starling can absolutely play CF and has a comfortably plus arm but the bat simply hasn't come. He's made some changes to the way he strides over the past year but his footwork is still harsh and clunky and the bat path is still inefficient. The fact that he's made adjustments to his footwork and not the hands (which really need the work) is kind of frustrating, but altering the way hands work during a swing is much harder to do. I think he's a big leaguer and the possibility that he somehow puts it all together will always exist (it always does with athletes of this caliber) but the clock is ticking.
Brett Eibner, OF - Plus raw power, can play all three outfield positions. Lots of swing and miss though, as he doesn't move the bat around the zone very well. He could carve out a role as a platoon guy or be a bat-first 4th OF. 

Jharel Cotton, RHP - I wrote about Cotton in my ESPN AFL piece from Sunday so I'll let you check that out for more extensive coverage. In short, I think Cotton is very good and has the stuff to be a third or fourth starter. 90-95, 60 change, 50 curveball and cutter.

Austin Brice, RHP -  He's a reliever all the way but has been up to 97 with an above average slider. One of the higher-probability big league arms I saw this year. Think he's a middle relief arm.
Jake Esch, RHP- 89-93 with run, average slider, 35 changeup. That's what I saw, but scouts were talking him up as Fall League progressed. He was a two way guy in college so patience is acceptable here and, honestly, the discrepancy between my notes and the public discourse here means I need to double back and get some second opinions from scouts.

Orlando Arcia, SS – He deserves a much more extensive writeup than I care to give him on a 40-man additions list. A truly impressive talent who I think is an All Star talent.
Jacob Barnes, RHP  - 91-96 with varying sink (two seamer and four seamers mixed in there) with an above average mid-80s slider and plenty of strikes. He’s a high-probability 7th inning arm.
Damien Magnifico, RHP – One of many Fall Leaguers to touch 100mph, Magnifico will also show you a 55 slider but he really struggles to repeat his release. It impacts his control and slider quality. You hope he can find some modicum of consistency because the arm is so good but we’ve seen guys like this flame out more often than we see them succeed. If it clicks though, look out.

Taylor Rogers, LHP – It’s simply not for me. Fringe stuff across the board, though he fills up the zone. Depth arm who makes a spot start on double headers and the like.
Adam Brett Walker II, OF – I never got a chance to see his fabled power because he never made solid contact in front of me. 30 future hit, 30 arm, a chance the body gets to the point where 1B is the only option left. I’m out.

Brandon Nimmo, OF – Not corner-worthy power but he works counts and hits and should be a good defender in a corner. Second division regular.

Roman Quinn, CF – A 70 runner who might hit enough to play every day in CF and be an average regular, though his injury history presents more risk than is already associated with a profile like this. Sometimes bodies like Quinn’s get to the big leagues and are simply physically overmatched.
Jimmy Cordero, RHP – Purely an arm strength stash like many of the other names on this list. Keep the arm, cross your fingers.
Edubray Ramos, RHP – 93-96 with a mid-80s slider that’s anywhere from a 50 to a 60. Not athletic. I think he’s a middle-reliever.

Josh Bell, 1B/OF -  Bell looked horrendous at first base during his early work there. It was so bad that I'm concerned it simply won't work and he'll just have to be an outfielder, which is just fine for every org that isn't the Pirates. Bell's much better hitting from the left side where I have a future 55 on the bat and 55 on the power. From the right he's a 40 bat with 40 power. So much of Bell's swing is derived from the upper body and hands as his lower half just isn't very coordinated.
Gift Ngoepe, 2B – It’s pronounced en-WEE-pay. I love that he might wear a big league uniform but he isn’t a prospect for me. Depth bat without much going for him.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP- I'll tell you right now that I'm the low man on Glasnow so if you're looking for me to tell you that he's got ace potential just move on now and save yourself the frustration. I think this guys is a reliever. I know the stuff is incredible. Mid to upper 90s with some natural cut, a future 70 breaking ball. I get it. I just don't think he's going to throw enough strikes and, at 6-8, have a hard time buying into it ever coming. If I'm wrong I'll eat a whole murder of crows.

Jose Rondon, SS – I’m a big fan of the glove and think he hits enough to get on the field.

Clayton Blackburn, RHP - His stuff was so bad during last year's AFL that I NP'd him. Reports are much better than that but it's what I saw.
Adalberto Mejia, LHP - Mejia is ready to pitch in t he big leagues right now and I expect him to make an impact in the Giants rotation in 2016. He'll sit in the low 90s with an above average breaking ball and changeup and above average control. No true plus pitch, but he knows how to move all three of his pitches around to toy with hitters and get swings and misses anyway. I think he's a good fourth starter.
Kyle Crick, RHP - The velo was down when I saw him but he's usually 92-96. The slider is still above average while the other pitches lag behind. It's a reliever's command and might be so bad that it strikes a fatal blow to his career.
Steve Okert, LHP - Jeremy Affeldt reincarnate. And maybe better than that.

Charlie Tilson, OF – Plus runner, plus arm, doesn’t have natural plate coverage and the swing gets slappy if he has to protect the outer half. He tracks well and I think he’ll make a good amount of contact (55 hit) but produce very little power (30). If I knew he could play a good CF then I’d say he’s got a chance to be a second division regular but 4th outfielder seems more likely as I believe the body will fill out and slow him down a bit.
Dean Kiekhefer, LHP – Short armed delivery from a low slot. Those two things don’t often go together. LOOGY at best. Fastball 85-89, average breaking ball, change below. I don’t know what this delivery looks like from the left-handed batter’s box and I haven’t seen enough guys who throw like this to gauge how hitters deal with it based on observant experience either.
Aledmys Diaz, 2B – Stocky, strong, contact-oriented bat path. He was a late Fall League addition so I’m still combing over video and notes but for now I think he’ll hit (50/55) and the body might be strong enough for some of that contact to be authoritative because he’s just a physical dude so average game power is possible. It’s 2B only for me so it’ll have to get there for him to profile.\

Patrick Kivlehan, OF/1B/3B – I think he’s a AAA depth bat but there’s definitely sneaky power here. I just doubt he gets to enough of it to profile in a corner and righty-hitting bench OFs need to be passable in CF or be able to play somewhere on the dirt if needed. Kivlehan has played 3B but never in front of me so maybe he has a way up at the hot corner.
Boog Powell, OF – Bench OF.

Connor Sadzeck, RHP - Another of the many Fall League arms who touched 100 and whose pure arm talent merits continuous looks and developmental resources just in case things click. Post-TJ Sadzeck was 96-101 with a 45 breaking ball and 40 change.
Nomar Mazara, 1B/RF - Quite simply the best combination of power and hit in the minors. Middle of the order bat of the future.

Blue Jays
Brady Dragmire, RHP – 92-95, low 3/4s slot, fastball has some sink when located down and to arm side. Average slider. Premium middle relief arm who will be death to righties.

Chris Bostick, 2B/OF – Everything is a 40 or 45 and that package might be enough for an injury-induced cup of coffee here and there but he’s a AAA depth guy for me.
Spencer Kieboom, C – He juuuust does enough to catch (had him popping 2.00 and 2.06 this Fall) and has above average pull power though it requires a high-effort, stiff swing to get to it. He’s got a backup’s profile on paper but beauty is in the eye of the evaluator when it comes to backup catchers. I’m a glove-first guy myself.
Nick Lee, LHP – Low 90s, average changeup, below average slider. Reports on his curveball are good but I didn’t see one in the Fall League.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fantastic Leg Kicks and Where to Find Them

Thousands of hitters dig into a professional batter’s box every season and all of them, despite sharing a common goal, do their jobs in a way that is individually exclusive. The moments between when a hitter decides to swing and when he impacts the baseball – or doesn’t – are filled with countless, hitter-specific traits that comprise a baseball swing. Bat speed, load depth, load height, lever length, head movement, stride length, stride timing; the list of the bio-mechanical variables is comically long. These swings, and the constant adjustments hitters are making to them are the snowflakes of summer. They are wholly unique works of art, tirelessly crafted until some advance scout or opposing catcher sees a hole, exploits it, and forces the hitter to patch and rebuild.

A recent pervasive and effective swing adjustment which has aided some of the most notable leaps in performance among Major Leaguers is The Leg Kick. An increasingly popular style of hitting footwork, the leg kick (that’s what we’re calling it in this piece, anyway) occurs when the hitter lifts his front leg high off the ground and draws his knee up toward his body before taking a big, aggressive stride back toward the baseball during the swing.
This has a few functions. First, it allows the hitter to utilize their lower half in an athletic way by loading all their weight onto their back foot before that potential energy becomes kinetic and explodes back into the ball. Simpler, more conservative strides simply don’t add as much to a swing. It also, as some hitters have described, aids with a hitter’s timing as certain aspects of the swing get set earlier – often before the pitch is even thrown – which gives the hitter less to do later in the process.
Some of the hitters who have integrated an aggressive leg kick into their swing have become monstrous offensive contributors of late. Most notable of these is Josh Donaldson whose early big league swing featured a little toe tap before it evolved into the MVP caliber cut we know today. 
Then Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis -- who has played a role in a number of late-blooming hitters' careers -- had the following to say in a Jon Morosi piece on Donaldson's life:
"His swing, when it’s under control, is a power swing. He generates a lot of power through his body. And when he’s making good contact, he can do damage to a team in a lot of ways. Now, that swing would be pretty hard to teach because of all the movement in it — the leg kick, the hands dropping and coming back up. But the key to that swing, and that approach, is being under control — being slow and early with the leg kick, not stompy or jumpy. Being under control with your mindset, not trying to force the issue. Get a pitch I can hit and square it up. And trust that, if I square it up and get through it, I’ve done all I can do and something good can happen."
Note how often Davis mentions the need to be "under control" and stash that in the back of your mind because we're coming back to that later. 
Donaldson, at his kick's pinnacle. From the Morosi piece.
Here's what Donaldson said about the change:
I’ve watched unlimited hours of Jose Bautista on film. What led me to leg kicking was him. I was always in between — doing a leg kick, toe tap, getting my foot down. When I saw that, I said, “I feel like I can do that every day.” So I’ve stuck to it.
Yes, Jose Bautista (old, new) is another of many hitters who have benefited from the change. Marlon Byrd (old, new, in-depth) Justin Turner (old, new) and the suddenly healthy and elite A.J. Pollock (old, new) have all made similar modifications that have coincided with dramatic statistical improvements.
Justin Turner
Perhaps the most successful implementation of the leg kick came more than 50 years ago when Yomiyuri Giants 1B Sadaharu Oh, after converting to hitting full time, adopted his famed “flamingo” leg kick.  As outlined in his auto-biography, The Zen Way of Baseball, Oh was craving something to aid with his timing and, with consultation from hitting coach Hiroshi Arakawa, developed the kick which helped turn Oh into one of the greatest hitters ever to walk the earth.  

Lest ye believe this sort of mechanical adjustment is some sort of magical slugging elixir that would benefit any hitter who might adopt it, the leg kick is a double-edged sword. Such a boisterous mechanical feature can be difficult to control and it can create issues with balance, posture and embarrassingly early weight transfers that result in the world’s ugliest swings. Oh also notes these concerns in his book and describes his own tireless practice sessions which included repeatedly swinging in front of a mirror. With a samurai sword. All to train himself to avoid the leg kick’s many potential pitfalls.
Cubs infielder Javier Baez has struggled to tame his own leg kick and is in the midst of mechanical adjustments to tone things down. Baez has some of the most electric bat speed scouts have ever seen from any hitter, let alone a middle-infielder, and elite raw power but his 2014 debut was mired by strikeouts. A .169/.227/.324 line and 41% strikeout rate won’t cut it, even at a 30 home run pace and evaluators league-wide were concerned that Baez’s problems went far beyond the usual struggles newly risen prospects often endure. 
Baez began his season rehabbing in the rookie-level Arizona League and was clearly trying to dilute things. I attended some of his rehab appearances and, as you can see in the video below, Baez has been working to either situationally or completely eradicate his big stride and try to find a happy medium between his natural power and his ability to tap into it. Early returns have been positive as Baez has a .798 OPS in 53 Major League plate appearances this year.

Pederson's ground balls per
Another young hitter who might benefit from by reexamining his own extreme stride is Dodgers CF Joc Pederson. His leg kick is so violent and aggressive that he often has difficulty maintaining his posture and will begin falling down the first base line mid-swing. This has resulted in lots of groundballs to the right side of the infield, enough that opponents are now shifting Pederson and suppressing his BABIP down to a career-standard .275 after it was hovering over .300 in April and May. This corruption of Pederson’s posture has also made him vulnerable on the plate’s outer half and pitchers have taken notice. According to, twenty-five percent of the pitches Pederson has seen this year have been down and away out of the strike zone where Pederson can’t do damage. It seems to be working. Pederson has seen his average exit velocities dip as the season has gone on. They’ve been below league average seven of the last nine weeks.
2015 pitches to Joc Pederson, from catcher's perspective. (Via

Yes, Pederson has had a tremendously productive rookie season as a three-true-outcomes hitter who plays an up the middle position. He’s been worth nearly 3 Wins Above Replacement. But he’s been trending in the wrong direction since July and is going to have react to the adjustments the league has made to him to repeat that level of value next year. Perhaps simplified footwork would be beneficial, though it’s difficult to imagine Pederson undergoing a mechanical overhaul in the middle of a pennant race. Dodger's Digest writer Chad Moriyama posited that Pederson actually embellished his leg kick coming into the season. As I saw last weekend when the Dodgers were in Arizona, it generates mixed results.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Pitching Doctor

Rod Fridley clamored to stay in the sun on what, for Phoenix, was a brisk, early December Saturday morning, his advanced age no doubt intensifying his earthly discomfort. The sun seemed to rise skyward more slowly than usual, casting long shadows across a humble, browning high school baseball field at the north end of the city. Baseball fields are usually built facing the northeast so that, as most games begin in the evening, the sun is at a place in the westward sky where it can do the least amount of damage to spectators and players. At just before 8am, however, if you want to head down the third base line and look at hitting and pitching mechanics as a scout like Rod Fridley is apt to do, your retinas are right in its crosshairs. It matters not for Fridley whose eyelids sag down from his brow after decades of squinting into the glare, providing him with a sort of natural, Darwinian ocular shade. Forehead wrinkled beneath a cap he bought while the Clinton administration was in office, Fridley wears a permanent frown, the corners of his mouth having succumbed to gravity over time. This is the face of a baseball lifer, someone the game has chewed up and spit out times over. Once near the top of the industry, Fridley now struggles to make ends meet.

A native Virginian, Rod Fridley has been around baseball for four decades now. Along that road, which has become unquestionably rocky, he’s been a player, coach, scout and executive. His resume reads like baseball’s version of the Abraham to Jesus lineage passage of the Bible. The most successful stretch of that journey came with the Chicago White Sox in the late 1980s. “I was first brought on as an area scout,” said Fridley in a bourbony drawl that sounds as though it aged a bit farther south of the Mason Dixon line than Virginia, “and on my own had to cover all of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.”

It’s not unusual for a scout’s area of coverage to be that vast despite how daunting it may seem to those unfamiliar with the job. Eventually, Fridley’s area grew and changed to incorporate the talent-rich Southeast. This included Georgia where Fridley would pluck future All-Star Mike Cameron out of, as Fridley puts it, “that awful football factory in LaGrange” in the late rounds of the 1991 MLB Draft. It was another feather in the cap of a successful talent evaluation regime in Chicago led by then Scouting Director Al Goldis. Jack McDowell, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Ray Durham, Alex Fernandez, Mike Cameron. All stars, all drafted while Goldis and/or his staff (including Fridley) were doing the picking. “I think, years later, Baseball America called our 1990 draft the Draft of the Decade,” Fridley remembers, “We got an awful lot of big leaguers out of that draft. Six if I remember correctly.”

More than 20 years later on this particular Saturday morning, Fridley isn’t at Roadrunner Park in North Phoenix to look at any significant young player, no prospects of note who might be part of some historic draft class. He’s simply here to stay sharp just in case someone comes calling for work. That hasn’t happened in some time now. Fridley has spent a good deal of what little money he has scampering about at various baseball networking havens like the Winter Meetings in San Diego or at Fall League games from Surprise to Mesa as he tries to remind executives with hiring power that he exists. “I’m just tryin’ to scratch together enough to get out there,” Fridley said without specifying where “there” is, though it’s likely wherever Social Security and his pension will take him and no farther.

Fridley is regarded by those who know him (this qualifier is important) as one of, if not the best, scouts they’ve ever come across. The adjectives thrown around by Rod’s peers are comically hyperbolic, especially for men who are paid to be abject realists and fawn over players whose skills can be deemed “average” as it pertains to the Majors. One of those peers is Dave Perkin, a scout and author who has known Fridley since 2007. “Rod is the best scout I’ve ever come across. He’s the most knowledgeable, the most thorough. He’s the best in the business at breaking down pitching mechanics,” says Perkin, “I would stop him and ask what he was seeing. Arm action, hip and shoulder separation…Rod has a checklist of things he’s looking for and he breaks down every one of them.”

While effusive praise is common from those who do know Fridley, it’s strangely difficult to find people who recognize his name. Baseball’s scouting community is a narrow social group made up exclusively of men. This social structure is put together like Russian nesting dolls. Scouts develop relationships with high school and college players, those players turn pro and some become scouts and the cycle repeats. In essence, scouts know the guys they’ve scouted, the scouts they’ve scouted with and the elder statesmen who scouted them as amateurs. This results in a remarkable amount of social rapport among men who are, professionally, at odds with one another in one of the most competitive industries on Earth. Everyone knows each other in the scout section of your local college game. They eat together, drink (heavily) together, discuss where they’re staying, how many travel points they’ve accrued on their credit cards, what a pain in the ass it is to log their expenses in the team’s new system, etc. Not Rod Fridley. He sits in solace with remarkable posture and is rarely approached by anyone while he scouts.

Despite the success of their amateur talent acquisition during Fridley’s tenure, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf mutually parted ways (though not on good terms) with General Manager Larry Himes, Goldis and the rest of the staff after the 1990 season. Goldis caught on with Milwaukee in ’91 and left less than a year later after a spat with the team over the extent of his duties. All this left Fridley in limbo as well. Himes, who had become the general manager of the Chicago Cubs, brought Goldis to the North Side, Fridley in tow. After a disastrous 1994 season, Himes was fired and Goldis was canned a year later. Fridley was left floating again before he latched on as an area scout with Cleveland until he was part of a classically bro-ish in-office altercation that could not be properly fact checked for publication. He was let go and has struggled to get both feet back in the game ever since.

The grotesqueness of that unverifiable incident isn’t enough to blacklist anyone for twenty years, especially when that person is purportedly at the top of his field. Much more marginal talents have been coddled through their improprieties, some quite severe. Baseball is, almost to a fault, an unwavering meritocracy. If a team thinks you can help them win they are going to hire you. After spending months talking to and observing Fridley, his issues run a bit deeper than one intense verbal altercation with another scout. Fridley has some communication issues. His circuitous way of storytelling is endearing but inefficient and often confusing. Forty years of knowledge and experience forces itself out of his mouth like Coke from a shaken bottle and it often results in a verbal stream of consciousness that leaves the listener weary or, as Fridley calls it, “with a tin ear.”

In a line of work where communication skills are just as important as one’s ability to identify talent, executives don’t want to sift through metric tons of verbal and written rubble to extract a few nuggets of gold. Even if Fridley is an excellent scout he may not be able to delineate his observations in a way that is useful to someone willing to pay him. That could be impeding his ability to find work.
Another issue plaguing Fridley is his unabashed disdain for nearly everyone he’s come across during his years in the game. Plenty of scouts, coaches and analysts that have gone on to achieve resounding success can’t escape Fridley’s ire, and he’s not afraid to say so, even to people he’s only just met. He describes many of them as “perfectly nice guys,” or “nice enough” before adding an omnipresent “but” as he begins to rip their baseball acumen to shreds. The term “Pitching Doctor” is a particular favorite pejorative label Fridley likes to apply to coaches he thinks are ruining pitchers by altering their mechanics in inefficient or harmful ways. He often discusses past colleagues the way an old man might talk about the way his young neighbors take care of their lawns. The only men Fridley seems to have professional respect for are his former bosses, Al Goldis and Larry Himes. This is an issue in, again, an industry as socially inclusive as professional baseball.

“I’ve lost my sponsors,” Fridley says of Himes and Goldis, the latter having been inducted into the Scouts Hall of Fame in 2009, both gone from the game. “I think that and some of it is a bit of age discrimination. Lotta the guys doing things now are young guys from Ivy League schools who have never set foot within a mile of a baseball field. I don’t have that background, but they certainly don’t have mine.”

Dave Perkin seemed to agree, adding “There’s an increasing rate of numbers guys doing baseball jobs and it’s shutting out guys like Rod who have probably forgotten more about baseball than these guys will ever know.”

The statistics vs. scout strawman narrative has existed for over a decade now. The truth is most teams use a heavy dose of both evaluation methods and the ones who don’t have a balance lean heavily on scouting and eschew stats, not the inverse. The idea that old timey baseball men are an endangered species is a misnomer. Perkins continued, “Money is likely another factor. He’s going to cost more with his experience and tenure than someone young will. Control is a big thing in baseball. People are hired to do what you want them to do. It’s full of acolyte sycophants.”

Whatever the reasons for Fridley’s extreme difficulty finding employment, his struggle is ongoing and gut wrenching to watch despite his petulance. “It is my life and my love, a little bit,” he said. It was ironically as clear and concise as a statement can be, ringing true with immaculate affection. Rod Fridley continues to clamor for the sun.