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Pitcher Evaluations at High Levels

To see the amount of detailed information a Major League club wants on its pitching prospects, click here.
When scouting a pitcher the first quality a scout will look for is a strong arm.

This is a natural talent that can only be improved to a certain degree. That's why WebBall and other sites emphasize you develop your fastball to perfection before spending too much time on off-speed pitches.

However there are things scouts look for as well as arm strength and velocity - movement, a curveball with tight rotation, free arm action and proper delivery, with complete extension on the follow-though. Basically, this comes down to a live, quick arm, aggressiveness, and the ability to concentrate.

Scouting expectations, one by one...

The Major League Scouting Bureau says it grades pitchers on fastball, curveball, slider and 'other' - a knuckler or split-finger, for instance. If a pitcher doesn't throw an 'other', he gets graded on the three he throws.

But that's when a scout's instinct comes into play. If a pitcher only throws two pitches, but the scout sees he has the arm instinct to develop a slider, he'll grade him higher. A scout can move the number up if he feels the potential is higher.
The first thing a scout looks for is a fastball with good velocity and movement. A fastball should appear to sink, rise, slide or tail. A major league fastball is in the high 80's. Throwing with both two-seam and four-seams, plus a cutter grip (off-center) will enhance the movement on the fastball.

When grading a curveball, scouts look for a fast tight rotation on the ball. A good curveball will break both laterally and downward about two feet. A good curve ball gives the illusion of falling off the table with its sharp downward breaking motion as it approaches home plate.

A good slider can be a tremendous compliment to a good fastball. A good slider will have a tight lateral spin, like a bullet. The seams will appear like a red dot - the smaller the dot, the better. A slider will break about 6-18 inches as it approaches home plate. It should look like a fastball until it breaks across the plate.
A good change up can be a tremendous asset to any pitcher by making fastball seem that much quicker to the hitter. A good change-up should look identical to the hitter only it travels 15-20 mph slower than the fastball. It will get the hitter way out in front of the pitch.

A pitcher's delivery should be as smooth as possible. It should look effortless with no mechanical problems like throwing across the body, landing on a stiff front leg, overstriding, landing on the heel, or his arm lagging behind his body. Any mechanical problems left uncorrected can lead to control and arm problems. No scout will consider a pitcher prone to injury because of bad mechanics.

The ability to throw strikes on a consistent basis is vital for any pitcher to have success at the college or pro level. If the pitcher has less than overpowering stuff his control becomes even more important to his success. A good pitcher will be able to throw 70% of his pitches for strikes and can throw breaking pitches for strikes when behind in the count.

Physical Changes
A scout should also consider growth factors. Has the propect reached his full height yet? Can he gain or lose weight? Will he become faster or slower? Has he filled out yet? Does he a have history of being hurt? How much has his skills improved from last year.

A good prospect will also have intangible qualities - a strong desire to succeed, coachability, maturity, temperament, improvement, drive, hunger, consistency, knowledge of the game, competitiveness. Does the player have the physical tools plus the strong make up to play in the major leagues. Only about 10% of the players who sign a minor league contract will. (Sometimes it's all about how badly a player wants to reach the top level and how well he's willing to work at.)
Gunned Down - 2013 UPDATE

Part of the information we initially published on this page back in the 90s now seems embarrassingly inaccurate. Here is what we were provided "back in the day"...
One game under a radar gun will tell if the pitcher has the arm strength to be a major league prospect.

There are two basic models of radar guns used to clock the speed of fastballs.
  • The Jugs Speed Gun (Fast Gun) will pick up the speed of the fastball after it has traveled 3.5 feet,
  • A Bushnell or Ra-Gun (Slow Gun) pick up the speed after the ball has traveled mid-way to the plate (for the Ra-Gun it is said to be 40-50 feel, the Bushnell depends more on distance from Gun to Ball).
  • Then there is the Glove Radar which straps on the catcher's mitt to give at the plate readings.
A fastball will lose 8 mph from the time it leaves the pitchers hand to the time it crosses home plate. So the JUGS Speed Gun is usually 3-4 mph faster than a Slow Gun. The average major league fastball is 88-89 mph on a JUGS Speed Gun and 84-85 mph on the Ra-Gun. , about 7-8 mph slower. All readings are relative - as long as pitchers are compared the same way. However, scouts will rarely if ever sign a pitcher who does not throw at least 85 mph on the JUGS Speed Gun.
All the above in gray is what we would now consider the wrong thing to say.

First, about the brand names mentioned...
Neither the Ra-Gun (if it still exists) or the Jugs would be recommended today. In fact the only brand which any serious scout uses is made by Stalker. Most pro/college scouts use the Stalker II.  The more affordable Stalker Sport 2 is a low-cost, high-value alternative. The Bushnell accuracy is only to the closest mph, and only if you are within 90' of the pitcher (in other words on a Little League diamond). The Glove Radar remains a valuable training tool for all ages, and uses Doppler radar to read the pitch coming into the glove, but not out of the throwing hand like a gun.

However, the worst thing said in the gray is this...
"One game under a radar gun will tell if the pitcher has the arm strength to be a major league prospect." 

Utter nonsense.

In fact, we strongly believe too much reliance has been placed on radar readings. Period. And one outing tells a scout nothing that will put a player into serious consideration. Radar readings do not address stamina, they do not address command and control, show nothing about an understanding of batter deception, or game pace, or handling pressure. In other words, pay attention to the advice at the top of the page.

Scale Velocity
8 98 mph +
7 93-97 mph
6 90-92 mph
5 88-89 mph
4 85-87 mph
3 83-84 mph
2 82 mph -

The higher on the scale, the better the score. But please read the comments on scouting judgement and other factors.

You might compare these against numbers provided by WebBall visitors for younger ages on the Player Norms page.

Many of the suggestions on this page were compiled from information obtained from pro scouts by Andy May and others. Our thanks.

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