Levine: Diamond Mining with the scouts database

From SABR member Zachary Levine at Baseball Prospectus on May 9, 2013:

Through the first-ballot Twitter account of Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson and others, we’ve already seen snippets of the best of the Hall’s Diamond Mines scouting report database—an online version of the exhibit that recently opened in Cooperstown to honor scouts. We’ve been introduced to glowing reports on Moeller High School star Ken Griffey Jr. and on Auburn’s Vincent Edward Jackson, whom scout Kenneth Gonzales correctly predicted would win the 1985 Heisman trophy and would become a standard for the incomparable in baseball. We’ve seen Albert Pujols called overweight in four different sentences in one paragraph and Craig Biggio lauded as a future major-league catcher, though one whose bat might not play in the big leagues.

Yet the great part of this time-suck-meets-clearinghouse-of-wisdom is when you think you’ve failed in finding anything interesting only to be proven wrong. For a public—and for the most part a contingent of baseball writers—unaccustomed to viewing the raw material of scouting reports, there is always fascination in apparent failure.

My first unguided trip through the database, inspired perhaps by Bo Jackson, was in search of the football players and specifically the quarterbacks. But I came up relatively empty. There was no John Elway, drafted by the Yankees in the second round in 1981 and the Royals two years earlier out of high school. No Russell Wilson, who was a Rockies draftee before starting as a rookie for the Seattle Seahawks, and naturally no Michael Vick, drafted in the 30th round by the Rockies out of Virginia Tech despite red flags like his not being a baseball player.

My next stop was to look for a guy whose scouting report probably would never foretell what sort of career was lying ahead. Rick Ankiel had just been designated for assignment by the Astros, ending his 25-game tenure in the organization and perhaps a wild ride of an 11-year career from top pitching prospect to complete mess to productive outfielder and now to strikeout machine.

The database had two scouting reports on Ankiel, neither of which gave any indication that he might have been able to make it as a hitter if this pitching thing didn’t work out. Yet in failing to make that discovery, I found out what was so great about the database. In what appeared to be two very boring scouting reports on a mid-first-round pick, I discovered two really fascinating things, which leads me to believe the degree to which you can get lost in this database will prove dangerous.

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=20519

Originally published: May 9, 2013. Last Updated: May 9, 2013.