Looking for players who fit the profile

Scouting: Wanted: prospects who will grow into angular, 6-foot-4 pitchers and rock-hard, 6-0 sluggers.

April 01, 2001|By Joe Strauss | By Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Within baseball's homer-happy, juiced-up modern era, the Orioles are like virtually every other major-league franchise. Size matters.

Power is no longer measured by the distance to the gaps at Yankee Stadium but by the circumference of Mark McGwire's biceps. The Orioles, who once produced a 6-foot-4 shortstop who redefined his position, are now part of the pack that believes the game's direction dictates that bigger is better. Where have you gone, Ted Williams? The Splendid Splinter has been replaced by a generation of rippled strongmen more likely to lift a keg than drink it.

"The game has focused more on the bat than on pitching recently," says Tony DeMacio, who has supervised two highly rated drafts since being named Orioles director of scouting in December 1998. "We all know pitching wins games, but I think teams profile more for bigger bodies and stronger guys because of the offensive nature of the game. I think the trend has become, if a big man can run 4.3 [seconds] to first, he's more likely to be selected than a smaller man who can run 4.3 because you expect more power. That's probably been true for a long time, but I think size is even more a consideration now."

Projecting size, or profiling, has become increasingly important. The New York Yankees embraced the practice decades ago. Not surprisingly, they were the franchise that most aggressively pursued two-sport athletes, such as John Elway and Deion Sanders.

Scouts think it important to meet a young player's parents, not only to ascertain his home environment, but also to help gauge his growth potential. Judging a pitcher's frame and a hitter's upper body along with their suppleness is another part of the formula.

"You have to decide whether the player is physically mature or has growing potential," DeMacio says. "That's very important. If our guy feels a player has already maxed out, then how much is left? A lot of times, you don't know the background of a kid. There are so many variables."

Every player evaluation turned in to DeMacio lists a space for "growth potential." It is admittedly an inexact projection but among one of the most important on a report.

Size has its limits, according to DeMacio. He considers Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown the prototypical-sized pitcher, with Texas Rangers third baseman Ken Caminiti and Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell as owning the perfect build for a power hitter. The ex-Oriole Brown stands an angular 6 feet 4; Bagwell and Caminiti are 6-foot slabs of granite who are actually shorter than the average major-league position player.

"You expect it now," DeMacio says of enhanced physical development. "I'm seeing big, physical kids 99 percent of the time. It's not just baseball. Everything has changed in the past 15 years or so. It's a trickle-down effect. Major-league teams are expecting bigger athletes, so the colleges are, too. High school kids are lifting year-round. Nutrition is better. High schools have trainers. There's so much more going on now."

Baseball players shunned weights 30 years ago. Now, even high school players pump iron year-round in elaborate school weight rooms.

"There's much more emphasis on strength and power at a younger age," says Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations. "But I think the most important thing is flexibility. Flexibility enhances power, and more flexible players are less susceptible to injury."

Adds Thrift: "Everything has limits. But I think in recent years they've been stretched."

To DeMacio, the benefits of size have their limits. While Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Randy Johnson intimidates and overpowers with a 6-10 frame, his sound mechanics and durability are considered extraordinary for a talent of his size.

"Anything more than 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, you have to have exceptional balance," says DeMacio, who while with the Atlanta Braves scouted a 5-10, 165-pound hockey player in Billerica, Mass., named Tom Glavine. Glavine eventually grew more than 2 inches, broadened at the shoulders and became a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner.

"You're looking for body control more than anything. We tell our scouts, `Don't compare to the exception. Don't compare somebody to a Randy Johnson.' If you get in that habit, you're going to fail more often than not. Johnson is an exceptional body type with excellent body control. He's not typical of somebody his size," DeMacio says.

The Orioles found an exception during the 1999 draft when they selected gangly, 6-5 left-hander Richard Stahl. Area scout Lamar North and DeMacio saw the same thing: a well-coordinated athlete who could easily add weight to a growing frame.

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