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Scouts Are Showing Their Class

Schools that teach people how to find great baseball players are popping up around the world.

December 27, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic — A top-notch baseball scout must be Columbus, Nostradamus and Carnegie rolled into one, the job requiring equal parts discovery, prophesy and salesmanship.

Throw in Michelangelo too, says Don Pries, an instructor for the Major League Scouting Bureau development program.

"A scout must paint a picture that enables his superiors to compare one prospect to another, often sight unseen, and determine which player to draft and pay huge sums of money," Pries said.

For the second time in four years, the scouting bureau in November conducted an exclusive eight-day school in the Dominican Republic. A similar 12-day program has been held in Arizona each fall since 1989.

At the Dominican school, a group of 30 students sat through hours of classroom instruction each morning, took bouncy bus rides over potholed roads to games at noon and wrote scouting reports on raw teen-age prospects well into the night. Rene Rojas, a student sponsored by the St. Louis Cardinals, left one evening because his wife had a baby in Venezuela. He returned the next morning.

"I really didn't want to miss a minute," he said.

Getting into the school is difficult -- students must be sponsored by a major league team -- and graduates often land full-time jobs. About 70% of the approximately 600 scout school products work in baseball.

Chicago White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams is a scout school product. So is former star outfielder Willie Wilson. Some students aren't interested in becoming scouts -- Cardinal vice president Jeff Luhnow and Dodger assistant minor league director Luchy Guerra took part in the Dominican program to help them do their current jobs better.

"It's evolved into more than a training program for prospective scouts," said Frank Marcos, director of the scouting bureau. "Anyone in baseball with front-office aspirations knows it helps to understand the scouting profession."

Sixteen major league teams wanting to strengthen their international scouting sponsored students from Puerto Rico, El Salvador, the Netherlands Antilles, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

One of the first lessons was learning the peculiar language used in evaluating prospects. Scouts grade on a scale of two through eight, rating five "tools" -- running, fielding, throwing, hitting and hitting for power. A grade of five is considered average for a major leaguer. The total score is a player's OFP, meaning Overall Future Potential.

Until this fall, the OFP of a woman in the scouting profession was negligible. Officials could not recall a woman working as a full-time scout. The first, however, could be Emily Christie, currently the assistant general manager of the minor league Vero Beach, Fla., Dodgers.

Christie, 28, attended scout school in Arizona this fall, joining Guerra in a sorority of seven women to take part. In the opinion of her instructors, Christie is the one most likely to find work as a scout.

Her background would seem to make her a natural. Christie used to work in a Cambridge, Mass., laboratory, studying the behavior of rodents. Making the jump from mice to men, from MIT to mitts, was no problem.

"I think it would be fantastic to be a scout," she said. "I knew I wanted to go through the school to increase my knowledge. I didn't realize how much I'd love it."

She learned that there is more to scouting than watching games and scribbling notes on tiny cards. Pries, who was given a lifetime achievement award at the recent baseball winter meetings, hammers the message home during his scout school lectures.

"You are in a competitive business," he said. "You are out there to find and sign the very best prospects. You want to be the individual who proudly says, 'I signed the player. He's mine.' "

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