Ok, the Mike Piazza line always gets me. The notion is this – Piazza was passed on by every team 61 times before the Dodgers took him at the end of the 62nd round. Scouts failed to get it right on Piazza and only by “friend of his dad Tommy Lasorda” did he even get a chance. And from that, proof that scouts don’t always recognize talent, and that, in this case, Darin Ruf, (or really anyone else), might just be better than scouts think. Let’s look at the story, from what I know of it.
For the record, I looked at a couple general bios of Piazza online, (wiki, ask.com or something, I don’t even know, and some fan page where I found a stat nugget I couldn’t find anywhere else). I have not read his auto-biography, and I don’t think you could pay me enough money to do so. If you’ve read it, or know my assumptions below to be garbage, feel free to tell me I am wrong. It won’t change my overall point. Also, I’m not from his home town and I don’t care a bit about him as a man and I was never a fan of his as a player, though clearly, he was very good.
Mike Piazza was a good enough HS 1B, MVP of his league, who played a year of JuCo and posted .367 BA in one year there – that’s the statistical nugget I referenced above – and was called slow (not in dispute), and lacking a good arm (also not necessarily wrong, though a 23% CS doesn’t prove he had a bad arm, just not a very good MLB catcher’s arm). Either way, he was hardly setting the world on fire. So for all of the Piazza-as-proof-scouts-fail folks, would you have drafted him after that? More likely you’d have said, “Wait and see how he does next year”.
But Piazza wanted out, it would seem, maybe because he didn’t want to be stuck in JuCo another year, or didn’t think he could go to D1, or for all we know hated school with a passion and a fire that burned deep inside, (hey, sounds like me). Maybe he was using JuCo, like Bryce Harper or Ryan Garvey or so many others, as a chance to play ball and impress the scouts, but he didn’t, or maybe he just wanted to play pro ball and was connected enough to make it happen at the moment he wanted.
While the Dodgers weren’t at all interested in him, as a favor to Piazza’s father, long time friend of the family Tommy Lasorda convinced the Dodgers to draft and sign then still 18 yr-old Mike. Seems Lasorda first convinced Piazza that he needed to try catching. I’m not sure if it took much convincing, maybe it was an easy sell, maybe not, makes no difference. Piazza went to the new Dominican baseball academy for the Dodgers and learned for a year. He came stateside, worked his way through the minors, developed his power, became good enough to catch in the bigs for a good long while, and the rest is history.
Let’s look at this thought about scouting…it’s saying that baseball people didn’t recognize Piazza had talent, and that it proves that scouts can get things wrong. But it’s clear Tommy Lasorda thought Mike Piazza did have talent. Otherwise, he would have had him drafted as a 1B, gave him nothing to sign, and sent him to (I feel fine objectively saying “probably”) fail in rookie ball.
Yes, at that point in his career, “scouts” may have seen a guy not worth a draft pick. However, Lasorda, a knowledgeable baseball man beyond question, did, took it upon himself to convince the right person to draft him, and picked the career path that would give him the best chance to succeed. That’s what teams and professional development people do all the time.
So do I agree with the statement that sometimes scouts get it wrong? Yes. Absolutely. Scouts get things wrong. The best ones less often, but yes. Scouts make good and bad judgments every year, every month, possibly every day they’re out there watching guys play. But Mike Piazza is an example of a talent evaluator at his best, recognizing a potential no one else saw, and putting it in a position to blossom. Tommy Lasorda wasn’t a “scout”, but he wasn’t picking Piazza to sweep the floors either.
Now add this – There are vast differences between amateur scouting that led to Darin Ruf being drafted out of D1 (as a 2-time gold glover, I just learned the other day) in 2009 and the amateur scouting that “missed” a slow JuCo 1B in 1988. And there are vast differences between amateur scouting and professional scouting at the higher levels. Mike Piazza was BA’s 38th best prospect for 1993, and certainly recognized the year prior when he hit a ton in A+ as a 22 year old. So, yes, the scouts figured it out eventually. Will scouts who have seen Ruf in the last couple weeks change their minds and decide Ruf is a top 100 prospect? No. Will they maybe decide his ceiling is a little higher than they thought mid-July. I’d say they have already, just based on a couple notes we’ve seen from different scouts online.
Ruf’s August and all of 2012 is a great story. He’s having a phenomenal season, and might be a big league bench bat in LF, or maybe a back-up 1B. He’s an older player who will be in his (at least theoretical) declining years before he hits free agency, even if he’s called up today. He’s slow enough and bad enough in LF right now to lose you some runs, and some scouts see bat speed issues, which they suspect will be open to better tactics of better pitchers. If Ruf suddenly figures out the outfield, even despite his speed, and plays a fine LF in the first half of 2013 at AAA, and if he continues to mash in April and May, I’m sure scouts they would change their stories then as well.
But until then, I’m glad to have been following closely this past month, experiencing the same excitement fans of this fine game have experienced for their hometown heroes for generations. September call-up or not, I hope Ruf comes back from Venezuela with outfield skills enough to keep him in the discussion. I hope he hits the heck out of AAA pitchers next year, and I hope he contributes to the Phillies in the future, as a regular, or off the bench, or in a wholly unlikely and completely unprecedented trade to an AL team to have him be their 2013 starting DH