TAMPA - This week our social media team posted a photo on Opening Day of Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel sporting a sweet beard on national TV.
The tweet was an educational one informing high school players that scouts view the ability to grow a beard as a negative towards their upside. I felt it would be a great starting point for an article to really examine the concept of “upside” - also known as projection.
Because clearly, the ability to grow a beard is not indicative of if a player is good or bad at baseball. Nor is an ability to grow a beard any kind of a guarantee that a player won’t be good in the future. However, ability to grow a beard at 16 years old may be indicative of limited upside - and that’s what this article is about.
The definition of projection reads: “an estimate of what might happen in the future based on what is happening now”.
And that is really what scouting is all about: trying to determine what each player will do in the future based on what they are watching now. This is a key element of scouting especially the younger the player is. The younger the player is, the more unknowns there are. And scouts will use any indicator they can find now to help them determine if the player will succeed years down the road.
There is a difference between a player being GREAT right now, and that same player being GREAT in 5 years. Just because the player has a high batting average or low ERA now in high school, doesn’t necessarily mean that those types of statistics and performance will continue as the player gets older and faces better competition.
The greatest high school player in the country may have limited upside. That doesn’t mean he isn’t good at baseball. It doesn’t mean that he won’t make the major leagues. It doesn’t mean he may not turn into a MLB All-Star. It just means he may not get much better than what he currently is.
Maybe the player is currently 16 years old and stands 6’4”/180 pounds, throws 105mph, a great work ethic, a great teammate and has a nasty 12-6 curveball. This player may have limited projection, but who cares? He is pretty darn talented as he is and he won’t need to get much better in order to have a successful career. He already may have plus-plus tools across the board and be a great person.
But for the vast majority of high school players, even if they are “All-Americans”, they still need to continue to get a lot better as their competition grows, matures and gets better around them.
Players with a lot of projection, a high ceiling, or a ton of upside are preferred. Scouts want to be able to know that the player has tools and his best is yet to come. They want to know that the player is still going to get a whole lot better. That is what “projectable” means and it can be a very important factor, among others, in determining long-term success.
Here are some examples of the things scouts look for to determine projection in a player. All of these examples are meant to give a general idea as to things scouts look for and none of them are foolproof.
Effort - This is not in regards to how hard a player tries, but instead it is how easy the game comes to them. All things being equal - a pitcher who throws 90mph and barely looks like he is trying to throw hard is preferred compared to a similar player who throws 90mph and has to grunt and use all of his energy to do so. Lower effort is typically a sign of higher projection and less potential for injury. However, low effort does not guarantee success just as high effort doesn’t mean that the player will not succeed.
Facial hair - All things being equal, scouts prefer the baby-faced, young-looking 16 year old who is hitting homeruns when compared to the fully bearded 16 year old who is hitting homeruns and looks like he is 25 years old. Scouts believe one player still has a lot of maturing to do and will, hence, get a lot stronger in the process. The player with the beard may be an early bloomer and his toolset and talent level may stay the same over time. A beard is typically a sign of manhood. And men are typically done growing.
Foot size, hand size - Scouts will typically get close to the on-deck circle and look at a player’s foot size and hand size while the player is on deck. Similar to a puppy with big paws, scouts use feet and hand size to help determine if the player will continue to grow.
Parents size/genetics - Scouts may want to meet mom and dad to get a clue if the player is done growing. If dad is 6 foot 4 and mom is 5 foot 11 and the player is 5 foot 6, the player may still have a growth spurt to come.
Length of arms, legs - Scouts like players with long arms and long legs. When a player’s arms are at rest by his side, arms and fingertips extending down the legs and near the knees may indicate a player who has some growth left.
Some of these examples have to do with size. But it is obviously not mandatory to be big to play baseball successfully. However, this article is about projection and a big part of projection is getting better, bigger or stronger.
So hopefully now when you hear the terms “projection” or “upside” or “ceiling” you have a better idea of what it’s all about.