San Francisco - A few days ago, I wrote about scouts focusing on what players "CAN'T DO" rather than what they "CAN DO."
Now, let's consider that concept with two of the San Francisco Giants' biggest, most nationally recognizable stars, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson.
We all know that Tim Lincecum is pretty good and he was quite good in college too. Good and talented have never been issues with Lincecum. We also know, in retrospect, that at least six teams were absolutely wrong about him and maybe more would have been, had the Giants not drafted him 10th overall in 2006.
If it could be done over, you can bet the Royals (RHP Luke Hochevar), Rockies (RHP Greg Reynolds), Pirates (RHP Brad Lincoln), Mariners (RHP Brandon Morrow), Tigers (LHP Andrew Miller), and Orioles (INF Billy Rowell) would all take Lincecum vs the players they did select. The reason they didn't pick him had nothing to do with his ability but it had EVERYTHING to do with his delivery and his size, two negatives in the minds of the draft decision makers. Negatives (size) and fear of what they didn't know (the delivery) allowed those teams to make franchise changing decisions. It is about why they were wrong about Lincecum that is the problem, not that they picked different players. Some players make it, most don't.
For that matter, the Reds (CF Drew Stubbs) would have a hard time justifying Stubbs over Lincecum but maybe they just were not targetting a pitcher with their first pick. The draft decision makers for the Dodgers (LHP Clayton Kershaw) and the Rays (3B Evan Longoria) both sleep well at night with their picks but if they could go back and do it over, would they take Longoria and Kershaw over Lincecum?
Maybe, maybe not.
Again, my point is not that those teams were wrong. My point is that what a player was NOT (not big, doesn't have a "normal" delivery, will get hurt) became more important than what he IS (ridiculously talented and dominant at his level).
What players "might do" in the future is more important in many cases than what other players "can do" in the present. I get that point of view, I understand it, and to a large degree I subscribe to the theory. However, I personally think scouts, coaches, and talent evaluators in general have become so much better at deciding or thinking what players can't do or what they are not because frankly, it is easier than identifying what players CAN do.
Now, to an actual, real life story about a scout and his expert and extremely definitive belief about what Brian Wilson could and could not do. It was September of 2007 and I had just been hired by the Braves, though my first day on the job was not until October 1st. Former scouting director Roy Clark, now an assistant GM with the Nationals, asked me to cover five Giants games and write some reports, so he could get a feel of my evaluations, wording, etc.
So I made my way to AT&T Park for five Giants games, to go through their pitching rotation one time. They were playing the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks over the course of those five games but that isn't important to this story. What is important to know is that the Giants had RHP Brad Hennessey closing games for them in 2007 and had a young reliever named Brian Wilson who had yet to really find his way as a big leaguer.
Now, like I said, the Giants were not good in 2007 and they were out of the race. Brad Hennessey was not a very good closer and his stuff was average, at it's best. He had some success closing games for the Giants (19 games in 2007) but clearly was not a long term option. A few weeks earlier, I was watching a Giants/Cubs game on TV and Wilson was facing Derrek Lee. On a two strike pitch, Wilson threw a front door cutter that completely locked up Lee and had him taking an unhittable strike three.
I remember the moment because it was one of the best pitches I have ever seen thrown and I think Lee would agree, if the look on his face meant anything. I saw Wilson make that same pitch in one of the games I was covering that September. We now know what his cutter is like and we have always known what his raw stuff was like. We also now know what his on-field make-up is like and that he is an elite, championship caliber MLB closer.
So, now to the good stuff.
I was sitting next to a long time Bay Area scout, one who has never been known to be afraid of making bold and often times quite audible statements about what he knows or thinks he knows. Because naming names is not nice and it isn't really important to illustrate the point (and I am certain I too have been guilty of such "crimes"), I won't say who the scout was. IWe were talking and I said I had no idea why Hennessey was still closing games for the Giants and wondered why the Giants would not give Wilson a shot down the stretch to see if they had something on their hands, heading into the 2008 season. To my eyes, his stuff was clearly good enough and like I said, Hennessey was not a long term plan, so why not give the young guy a chance. I voiced those thoughts to the scout I was sitting next to.
He said that Wilson would NEVER make a quality MLB closer because he didn't have the make-up or the command, but it was mostly about the make-up. He so strongly believed it, he said it as fact, because like I said before, scouts (even former scouts, me included) become know-it-alls. He shot down my idea that the Giants should give him a shot, even if Hennessey didn't matter after 2007. He might have felt that the Giants owed it to contending teams to keep Hennessey in the role. That doesn't matter. Obviously he was wrong about Wilson but it is not that he was wrong, because all scouts are often wrong and more often wrong than right, it the nature of the job. If it was about his thoughts on Wilson's stuff, well, he should not have a job in scouting, but it wasn't about Wilson's stuff.
The scout said, with 100% certainty, that Wilson's make-up was not closer material. He said with 100% certainty that Wilson would not make a good MLB closer because of that make-up. He knew it all but yet he couldn't focus on what Wilson COULD do, what he did have. All he could focus on was what he thought Wilson was NOT or DID NOT have.
We all know what the experts thought VCU was NOT... but now, because they got an opportunity, we know what VCU IS.