How the Scouts Saw Roy Halladay and Todd Helton

Two of the great players of the aughts are on their last legs. Two days ago, apropos of Roy Halladay‘s shoulder surgery, Eno Sarris asked, “Is Roy Halladay Done Done?” and a month ago, Paul Swydan asked a similar question about Todd Helton. It’s a shame to see two of the greats — or at least two of the Very Goods — look like shadows of their former selves. So it may be worth reliving the good times by taking a look at what the scouts thought of them two decades ago.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame has partnered with The Scout of the Year Foundation to offer a searchable database of scouting reports. The interface is clunky, the response times are incredibly slow, and the data is woefully incomplete, but it’s an absolute treasure trove of eyewitness accounts going back decades.

In 1992, Montreal scouting supervisor Ed Creech saw an 18-year old Todd Helton and wrote: “Shows some athletic ability & prowness [sic], pwr probably most projectable tool… could see drafting low & following in college, also going to play football (quarterback).”

There are nine reports for Helton, and his power is by far the tool that prompts the most disagreement — particularly among a passel of White Sox scouts who were scouting him in college, when he was 21, before the 1995 draft (when the Rockies took him 8th overall).

White Sox Scout Mark Bernstein noted that the power was inconsistent — he marked Helton has having 25 power at present with 50 power in the future — and wrote, “Feel power will come when he learns to open his hips.” Around the same time, White Sox scout George Bradley saw him and wrote, “A solid #1 with one nagging problem. The awesome hitting and power displays he puts on in BP don’t always carry over to the games.” Ed Pebley agreed: “Very good looking prospect would have in as Group 1 Type if showed a little more sign of game power. Will show in BP but in game situation seems to be more concern of putting ball in play.”

Kevin Burrell was much more dismissive: “This guy will hit and drive in runs, but will not produce w/ hitting HR’s as that position demands./ He has pwr, but is not useable in game type conditions.” And Doug Laumann wrote, “May be a Mark Grace type that if you want him to show some more power, you may have to have him sacrifice some points on his batting average.”

Scouts from other teams were just as varied on his power. Brewers scout Russ Bove saw him in April 1995 and wrote, “Chance as H.R/RBI guy,” predicting him as a 25-homer a year hitter in the big leagues. But Orioles scout Earl Winn saw him in the minor leagues in 1997, and saw the same problem the White Sox scouts had seen: “Good hand action and raw power in BP… did not see dominant bat, .260 18 HR potential.”

Overall, the predictions actually turned out to be very good: Helton was a very good player who wound up with pretty good, but not tremendous, power. His career ISO in away games was .161, and from 2005-2013, his age 31-39 seasons, it has been .140. But he has still been a useful player for much of that time because of his glove and his batting eye.

Meanwhile, Ed Pebley took a look at 18-year old Roy Halladay in 1995 and wrote: “Has chance to be front line starter with power arm. Needs a little work but not all that much.” It was a nice call. But White Sox scout John Kazanas was a bit more muted, writing, “Downward plane, command, and better action on FB-CV should improve to help him develop into a solid starter, check later in year for progress.”

George Bradley put it all together, writing: “Will struggle with command for awhile. Would have made #1 with better 2nd pitch but indications are that it has been much better. Front-line ML starter.”

Two years later, Chicago Cubs scout Hugh Alexander saw him in Triple-A, and nailed it: “Great FB & hard slider. Needs better control now but it will come. Good deliv now. Challenges all hitters & he will be a great pitcher, barring arm trouble.” (On the same page, though, he flopped in his prediction on Chris Carpenter: “Could help the Cubs as a #4-5 starter or a good set up reliever. Try to obtain if possible.”)

Just browsing through the reports is a lot of fun, but there’s a larger point to be made. One of the most important things that the archive of raw scouting reports shows is exactly how opinions of a player form: a team trying to come to a decision on a player will try to get as many answers as possible to a pressing question — will Todd Helton hit for power in the big leagues? — and attempt to sort through a series of majority reports and minority reports to arrive at a single actionable prediction.

Obviously, some of the scouts were more right than others. Scouting is an imprecise art: it’s the art of extrapolating a player’s future from glimpses of a player’s present. In the end, the scouting consensus on Halladay and Helton was spot-on. (At least, the consensus of the scouting reports currently in the database was spot-on.) It’s fascinating to look back and see these players as teenagers with tremendous talent and uncertain skills, as scouts made their livelihood by trying to determine if they would ever live up to their potential.

When George Bradley saw Roy Halladay, he described him as having a “young face and a mouth full of braces.” Eighteen years later, Halladay is a potential Hall of Famer with a tough road ahead as he hopes to make a comeback that few other pitchers in history have ever made successfully. There’s probably something to be said about the human condition and memory and stuff. But mostly, it’s just fun. Enjoy the history.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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rbt
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rbt
3 years 3 months ago

Does anybody else get an error every time they try to access a scouting report on this website? Every time I go there and enter a search it says “The Microsoft Jet database engine cannot open the file ‘|’. It is already opened exclusively by another user, or you need permission to view its data.” I’ve tried several different browsers to no avail.

The home page says “We’re currently making improvements to the database. If a search results in an error, please try again just a few minutes later.” But a few minutes later, or even a few hours later, brings the same result.

Benzedrine
Guest
Benzedrine
3 years 3 months ago

I am forced to use Internet Explorer at a work computer, and I get the same errors.

bill
Guest
bill
3 years 3 months ago

Same deal. It works about 20% of the time, some players/links seem to not work at all right now.

bennoj
Guest
bennoj
3 years 3 months ago

Microsoft Jet database engine?? No wonder it’s slow, they’re using Access as the back end!

Alex
Guest
Alex
3 years 3 months ago

“His career ISO in away games was .161”

Are we really going to start that stupid shit? Dave Cameron himself has written about how dumb it is to only look at road numbers

MDL
Member
MDL
3 years 3 months ago

Easy there champ. It seems fair to look at home/away splits for a guy who spent his whole career in one place (especially one with a track record for boosting power numbers).

Alex
Guest
Alex
3 years 3 months ago

It’s easier. It’s also wrong. It’s easiest to look at his overall wRC+, which takes his home park into account and properly puts them in context. But instead, authors insist on hindering all players who play in hitters parks by just looking at road numbers, which are lower across the board. Average road hitter has a 92 wRC+. I think that shows why it’s completely unfair.

Angel Hernandez
Guest
Angel Hernandez
3 years 3 months ago

“There is no such thing as perfect precision in baseball, or any kind of empirical evidence.”

That’s what I said.

adohaj
Guest
adohaj
3 years 3 months ago

Todd Helton Home K% 10.7, Road K% 14.4. Not only does Helton hit for more power in coors he also completely misses the baseball less.

attgig
Member
attgig
3 years 3 months ago

wonder how scouting changed because of PED’s…. I would think there are some really bad calls because PED’s boosted a player’s performance beyond what the scouts saw at lower levels.

Kuroneko
Guest
Kuroneko
3 years 3 months ago

Those 2000-2001 numbers look so suspicious. 42 and 49 homers respectively. But almost every top player during that period has massive home run numbers.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 3 months ago

I haven’t been able to get access either, how far back do these reports go?? Can we see reports on guys that are in the HOF??

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
3 years 3 months ago

I could get lost there for hours. Interesting that every report on Frank Thomas says he will hit for power, but not for average.

Feeding the Abscess
Guest
Feeding the Abscess
3 years 3 months ago

It’s because he was an extreme flyball hitter. I’m not sure what his HR/FB rate before 2002 was, but from 2002-2008 it was only 14.7%. I say only since he was a massive human being, and you’d expect someone his size to put the ball over the fence more frequently than that.

TheTheory
Member
TheTheory
3 years 3 months ago

The scouting reports for Jim Abbott were really fascinating.

Record Keeper
Guest
Record Keeper
3 years 3 months ago

The Players Chosen In Front of Todd Helton in the 1995 Amateur Draft

1 Darin Erstad
2 Ben Davis

Scouts saw his arm as very, very good and his bat as powerful from both sides of the plate. “Chance to be ML Player of All-Star Caliber for long time” crowed Billy Blitzer. “Carlton Fisk-type catcher,” said Reggie Lewis.

Had a 44% CS in 2002 to go with a .259/.313/.404 in 80 games. Played in 80 games for Seattle the next year and 148 total the rest of his career, which ended in 2004 with the White Sox.

3 Jose Cruz, Jr.
4 Kerry Wood
5 Ariel Prieto

(No scouting records available.)

Serviceable 1996 season followed by a disappointing follow-up campaign. Injuries derailed and apparently ended his career.

6 Jaime Jones

(No scouting records available.)

Baseball America’s #31 Prospect going into the 1996 season never made the Major Leagues, crapping out in 2006 in independent ball.

7 Jonathan Johnson

“Power pitcher” with a “plus fastball” raved Mark Bernstein. “Loose, live, quick arm,” said Bill Meyer. One scout did have some reservations, calling him “not our type of guy for the first or second rounds,” but he was taken ahead of Todd Helton regardless.

Made it to the Show as a very ineffective reliever for the Rangers, where he accumulated just 46 2/3 brutal IP in four years. Signed as a free agent with the Padres in 2002 and pitched 15 1/3 innings in which he posted a 21:5 K:BB. Pitched an ineffective 15 1/3 the next year and never pitched again.

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 3 months ago

““Power pitcher” with a “plus fastball” raved Mark Bernstein. “Loose, live, quick arm,” said Bill Meyer. One scout did have some reservations, calling him “not our type of guy for the first or second rounds,””

If it was a Twins scout, that’s totally consistent.

Visitor
Guest
Visitor
3 years 3 months ago

Maybe I’m not the only one who will find this interesting. I looked up the career ISO leaders to see how many got 80 power grades before making the majors just out of curiosity. Here they are, skipping those who had no scouting reports in the system, with their highest future power grade that I could find (I will note that there were some reports I frankly could not read, so this is imperfect.):
Mark McGwire-60
Barry Bonds-80
Albert Pujols-60
Jim Thome-50
Albert Belle-70
Carlos Delgado-65
Alex Rodriguez-70

I only got through the top 20 on the ISO list, but so far only one got an 80.

Sean T
Guest
Sean T
3 years 3 months ago

It baffles me that Bonds could have had a rating that high when he couldn’t have weighed more than 160 pounds soaking wet when he was drafted.

96mnc
Guest
96mnc
3 years 3 months ago

Bat speed and swing plane.

Visitor
Guest
Visitor
3 years 3 months ago

I somehow misread the year on that report. The earliest report on him, from 1985 (the year he was drafted), lists him at 180 and gives him 50 power. Three years later, during his third season of MLB ball, he’s listed at 185 and graded a 70. Then in 1990 he has 80 future power and is listed weighing 185.

So, yeah, he should actually be a 50, sorry.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
3 years 3 months ago

That actually probably boosted the rating. They probably saw a skinny 6’2″ kid with ML skills and pedigree and thought “if we can get 60 lbs of muscle on that kid, he could break records.”

Visitor
Guest
Visitor
3 years 3 months ago

Adam Dunn-50
Ken Griffey Jr.-80
Frank Thomas-80
Russell Branyan-60
Larry Walker-50
Lance Berkman-65
Darryl Strawberry-60
Richie Sexson-60
Jeff Bagwell-60
Jim Edmonds-55
Jason Giambi-50
Jay Buhner-60
Mike Piazza-60
Troy Glaus-75
Vladimir Guerrero-70
Mo Vaughn-80
Alfonso Soriano-50
Greg Vaughn-50
Sam Horn-50
Rafael Palmeiro-60
Chipper Jones-40
Todd Helton-70
Bobby Estalella-55
Bo Jackson-80
Rob Deer-80
Jon Nunnally-40

Notes:
Hank Aaron is noted with two Xs in “power,” but I have no idea how to translate that into the 20-80 scale.
Jose Canseco doesn’t have ratings in the one report out there before he came up, but it says, “he has shown some power.”
Willie McCovey’s power is listed as “good” and the scout also notes, “This negro hits quite a few home runs.”
Frank Robinson’s power is listed as “good.”
Dave Kingman’s scouting reports before making the majors are all as a pitcher. I hadn’t known he was a late conversion.

So, having looked up everyone I could in the top 100 in career ISO, the 80s in future power were Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Mo Vaughn, Bo Jackson, and Rob Deer.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
3 years 3 months ago

halladay turned out elite, but in a much different way than scouts predicted (great fb, curve, spotty control), although how could anyone have predicted his career path? ended up being a power sinker/cutter pitcher with +++ command and solid secondaries.

Paul Allen
Member
Paul Allen
3 years 3 months ago

Rickey Henderson’s 1991 scouting report: “Has to be worth more than the big donkey in RF.”

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 3 months ago

I have a hard time calling that a miss on Carpenter, who was a #4-ish starter for his first six years with the Blue Jays, tore his labrum, and became a much better pitcher afterward.

Millsy
Guest
Millsy
3 years 3 months ago

Splits only go back to 2002. Helton’s best power years were the 2 prior to that. I think it’s unfair to talk about meeting his power potential without including his 3 top power years in there, no? I mean using 2002 and on ignores nearly half of his career HR (156 of 356).

alecthegreat
Member
alecthegreat
3 years 3 months ago

I completely agree. Helton has a career .320 average and was the NL batting champ in 2000, it seems that his contact scouting couldn’t have been more incorrect.Also- it is ridiculous to only look at his road power ISO, then infer that he didn’t really have that much power despite hitting 30+ HR’s from 1999-2004, prior to the back injury. If you didn’t need any real power to hit that many homeruns, wouldn’t every player on the Rockies during those years have had that many?

EricR
Guest
EricR
3 years 3 months ago

Neifi Perez had 10 home runs in 2000.

Yokel
Guest
Yokel
3 years 3 months ago

Ah, yes. Because Todd Helton played at Coors, his offense there doesn’t count. Nevermind that he played 27 road games every year in extreme pitchers parks in California. Those road numbers are true-talent.

jmpmk2
Guest
jmpmk2
3 years 2 months ago

It’s a shame that Helton gets pushed aside in the greater context for regressing into his 30’s, unlike most of his contemporaries. His pre-back injury number were about as impressive as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. His 2000 season, when he flirted with .400 up until the final month of the season, was probably the best hitting I’ve witnessed outside of the pumpkin-headed lab creation in San Francisco.

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