PAWTUCKET — Baseball scouts usually sit in the best seats minor league stadiums have to offer, a few rows behind home plate. They come armed with the tools of their trade – radar guns, stopwatches and “cheat sheets” that record the data of players down on the field.
“The radar gun is mainly used to measure the speed of pitches,” Chicago White Sox scout Gary Pellant was saying on Sunday afternoon at McCoy Stadium. “I’ve seen some scouts use them on infielders, to see how strong their arms are. Amateur scouts do that because they watch a lot of high school players who change positions.”
The stopwatch has several uses for a baseball scout.
“The obvious use is to time a runner from home to first base,” Pellant said. “We also use the stop watch to time a catcher’s ‘pop time’ – how fast he can make his throw to second base after receiving a pitch. Two seconds flat and below is what you’re looking for. Then there is the pitcher’s delivery. A good time for a pitcher is 1.4 seconds to home plate.
“The average runner goes from first to second in 3.4 seconds so it’s really the pitcher who controls whether the catcher can throw a base stealer out,” Pellant added. “If the pitcher is 1.5 or 1.6 seconds to the plate, that makes it hard on the catcher.”
Pro baseball scouts gather information on minor league players from other organizations, data that goes into a computer base in the major league team’s baseball operations office. They differ from amateur scouts who are located regionally and scout local high schools and colleges for talented players.
“I might scout 10 or 12 other organizations during the season,” Pellant said. “I see a lot of the Red Sox. Everything we see is recorded on my ‘cheat sheet’ and put into the data base. Then we will have conference calls and meetings as the general manager and his staff talk about players who might be available, players we might want to trade for during the season or in the offseason.”
Pellant’s “cheat sheet” is a four-page document that allows room to evaluate each player on the field in a variety of categories.
“We rate position players on their hitting, power, arm strength, arm accuracy and fielding,” Pellant said, showing the various categories on his sheet. “We have a grading system of 20 to 80 where 50 is the average overall score for a player. The higher the number, the better the player.”
“Baseball is all I ever wanted to do,” Pellant said, explaining how he became a scout. “I grew up in California and was undrafted out of high school. I started playing ball in an independent league and was picked up by Seattle. I played seven years in the minor leagues.”
A quick google search of Pellant’s name reveals that he was one of two professional baseball players ever to homer from both sides of the plate in the same inning.
“I think I was the first,” Pellant said with a smile. He is in his mid-50s now with gray whiskers on his chin. Physically, he still has the solid frame that carried him through seven years in the minor leagues before his time ran out.
“Baseball quit me,” he said without remorse. “I was fortunate enough to get an offer to join Seattle’s player development department. They asked me if I was interested. Hal Keller had been their farm director and he had an assistant under him. Hal got promoted to general manager and his assistant got bumped up. I moved into the assistant’s job. A few years later, they had a regime change in Seattle. Larry Himes became the general manager and he brought in his own people. I was out of a job.”
Pellant, who had also managed Seattle’s Bellingham short-season minor league team for two years, landed on his feet with the White Sox.
“They needed a scout in the Northwest and that’s how I got started with Chicago,” said Pellant, who came into contact with Rhode Island native Roland Hemond, a former White Sox general manager and long-time advisor to current GM Ken Williams.
“Roland would always tell me he was from Rhode Island,” Pellant said.
Pellant now lives in Arizona with his wife. They have two sons and a daughter ranging in age from 21 to 32. His youngest son is heading to Ohio State on a baseball scholarship.
A professional baseball scout’s life is one of airports, hotels, rental cars and ballparks.
“I’ve been home 10 days since the season started,” Pellant said. “I always say that a scout’s life is the reverse of a teacher’s life. Scouts get the winters off and work all summer. You have to find a balance between baseball and your family.”
Pellant has never looked back. Baseball is his life.
“The nice thing about baseball is you can come to the ballpark and meet people,” he said. “I can meet scouts from other organizations or fans sitting next to us. Last week, I was sitting next to a family and one of the children was very interested in my radar gun so I told him my arm was tired and let him work the gun for me.”
Pellant actually enjoys the travel aspects of his job.
“You get to see a lot of the country,” he admitted. “I can spend a few days in a town like Pawtucket and see how people live. The fans in New England are real diehards. It’s great to come here and see how knowledgeable the fans are. And they will cheer for the other team when a guy makes a good play.”
In the end, it is the challenge of scouting that keeps Pellant on his toes as he moves from city to city during the course of a baseball season.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “A group of scouts can be sitting behind the home plate screen, looking at the same game, and we might each have a different opinion on a player, or on some aspect of that player’s game. Each of us is scouting for an organization that might be profiling players, looking for players who play certain positions.”
And there are always the unheralded minor leaguers who hope the scouts see something in them, even after five or six seasons in pro baseball.
“We call them ‘gut-feel’ players,” Pellant admitted. “You figure if a player stays in the league for a long time, it might be because some guys ‘get it’ faster than others. But one day, the ‘gut-feel’ player starts to get it and the scouts may notice him. I signed a kid named Brendan Donnelly who spent a long time in the minors and then became a good relief pitcher in the big leagues with the Angels.
“You take a kid like Daniel Nava here in Pawtucket,” Pellant added. “He played independent ball before he got signed by Boston to play in the minor leagues. And then last year he got a chance to play in the big leagues and he hit a few home runs right away. Now he’s back in the minors but he has done something a lot of minor leaguers never do. He went to the big leagues. Getting there is one thing, though. Staying there is quite another.”
Pellant pulls out his “cheat sheet” for one last lesson about scouting professional ball players.
“See these two categories,” he said, pointing to columns labeled P and F. “The P stands for present. That’s easy. We know this. The F stands for the future. You need a crystal ball to be able to understand the future. That’s why scouting is so difficult a job.”