Behind The Radar
To get to the bigs, you've got to catch someone's eye. baseballEBM sat down with NY Yankees' European, Middle East and African scout Troy Williams to learn a little bit more about the job.
What are a general fact, and a misconception, about scouting?
Fact: As human beings we scout. I think, its in all of us. Go back to when you were picking teams on the playground. We all know how to do that. You scout your friends, your spouse. You scout everything in your life. It’s evaluating. You’ve got to observe people, what they’re doing, and analyze the information. You gather as much information as you can and try to make the right decisions.
Misconception: I think a lot of times it’s perceived as a simple job. You just go to the ballpark and watch a little baseball and that’s it. There couldn’t be an easier job. That’s not the truth at all. You’ve got to really do your homework. It’s a lot of time at the ballpark, on the computer and on the telephone too. To do the job right takes focus. You’re analyzing everything you see. That stuff takes time and energy. At the end of the day you want to make sure you’ve done your job as an evaluator.
What’s the difference between a scout and an advance scout?
Amateur scouting, what I’m doing, you’re looking for unsigned amateur players 16-25 years old; guys who are playing outside professional, organized, baseball in America. Pro scouts are scouting the minor leagues looking for talent in other organizations for trades. Advanced scouts are evaluating your team’s next opponent to help you prepare. A lot of scouts do more than one type of scouting.
You used to scout and coach simultaneously. Why the change?
When I was with Pittsburgh and Minnesota it was more part-time so I would do them hand-in-hand. At a U-18 tournament for example, I’m scouting for potential prospects for the MLB and I’m also scouting for the German national team, scouting our opponent. No conflict at all. Now, being full time with the Yankees, I still do the same. If I see something I’m making notes because I always want to be prepared for the future. I never know what the future holds.
Coaching and scouting, what are the key elements to a ballplayer?
You have to see the physical upside in a player. For example, you’ve got a 17-year old kid that can really pitch. He’s got great location, and a really good curveball, but his fastball is 72mph. You see another kid on the team who can throw the ball 88mph but can’t find the strike zone.
Which kid do you think is the pro prospect?
Well maybe neither one of them are but if the kid’s only throwing 72mph at the age of 17, yes, if I’m the coach I’m going to want him on the mound because I want to win this game.
The kid who can’t throw the ball across the plate who’s throwing 88mph, that kid’s a prospect because a guy who’s throwing 72mph at 17, unless it’s some kind of a fluke miracle I’ve never seen in my life, is never going to get his fastball up to major league potential.
In scouting, you’ve got to look at things and not just see the results that are happening now. You’ve got to find the match of raw tools and ability and then those things translating into effectiveness. And, of course you want to see the kid who’s got good character, good makeup as well. You want to get the entire package if possible so the character and the makeup of the individual are very important.
In Europe most pitchers bat. Is that an advantage when you scout?
It doesn’t hurt but it’s not a big advantage. When you see a kid bat you start to see more of his athleticism. When he’s pitching obviously you want to see how good he is from a pitching point of view. If he can handle the bat well, you’ve got another skillset.
Do European baseball players have the MLB dream or is it more about representing their nation?
Individually it varies but across the board I would say it’s not like kids in America where they’re taking BP in the backyard by themselves thinking, ‘bottom of the 9th down a run, 2 outs I’m up and it’s game 7 of the world series.’ I played that thing in my mind a million times as a kid. Europeans don´t grow up with it. How many kids stay awake watching the World Series? It starts in the middle of the night. So it’s not part of the culture.
That being said, I think it is there are a lot of kids here who are dreaming of playing American baseball but European kids are very concerned, and I understand this, about getting signed and then they’re going to be gone for 2-7 years and if they never make the big leagues, never make the big money, they obviously have to come back and find work.
Your educational system, all that stuff works differently than it does in the states. School’s, future employers, they’re going to say what were you doing for the last five years? I was playing minor league baseball doesn’t translate the same here. So the kids and parents have to be pretty plan-B oriented.
Are European’s more grounded in this regard?
In general the system allows the American kid to fall back into his plan B with much more fluidity. American’s, in general, are just much more of an opportunistic, high-energy type of people. That makes it much easier for it to work out. Nothing negative about here, it’s just another hurdle you have to overcome. It’s much easier to sell to an American, ‘Yeah you’re kids going to sign a contract to play pro ball and have a chance to be in Yankee stadium.’ You try to sell playing at Minute Maid Park to a person here they’re like, what’s that?
Is it easier to talk to Europeans without the NCAA hurdle or does it still play a role?
It does factor in because a lot of kids in Europe want to play in university too. Percentage-wise more kids from European or African countries would be interested in going straight to professional baseball and bypassing school ball.
Education, in a way, seems like it’s more important to the European kid but a US degree, in general, is obviously more important to a US kid and his family because it carries more value. If you’ve got a degree from Stanford or Harvard it doesn’t carry nearly the weight in Europe it does in the USA.
The World competition substance policies are superior to the MLB’s. Does that help you place European athletes?
It’s never really a concern for me at the beginning of a process unless there’s a reason to believe that’s the case. As you start to hone in on someone you like, you want to make sure that’s something you’re not totally naïve about but I try to think the best of people.
You want to make sure you don’t leave yourself open in a situation where you didn’t do your homework so it’s important. What Martin (Brunner) does in Regensburg, and in general the Germans do, goes above and beyond just about anybody else in the world to make sure that performance-enhancing drugs are eliminated from the sport.
Are the academy programs in Europe more beneficial than the system in America?
I think its different and different is okay. I do think it helps because it’s important to understand and respect what you’re doing. I think that is one thing that sometimes gets lost.
It’s great to know the legends of the game because you’re going to be asked questions about that in interviews. It’s good when you know how to maintain a field. It’s good to have some of that pedagogy so you can be a coach and a teacher because no matter how long your career is most people aren’t going to be able to play baseball until they’re 40. It’s good to have that education so you can stay in a profession you like. I think those academies do a real good job of that.
Its not just about the sport, its about the education. If you can combine the two, sharpening the skills in a sport by educating the people about the intellectual sides of it, that’s a great thing to do.
Do you find guys you like so much as individuals that you want them to be able to go further than you know they can?
It has to be, in some measure, a clinical process because you always have your favorites. There’s guys you root for, just in your heart, because you watch their makeup, the way they play the game, the way they do things, and they do things just the right way, hustling down the first base path on a walk and things like that.
From a scouting point of view it does play in a little bit when a guy plays the game the right way. You’ve got to put it in perspective and count that for something because you see guys who play without heart, guys who play more methodical or don’t seem to have a passion or enjoy playing the game too. You start thinking this guy looks like he’s got some good tools but he looks worn out.
You see a guy who’s low in energy by European standards you’ve got to think man, how is he going to translate into every day on the baseball field? So those things definitely matter.
Heart is the it-factor in baseball?
Exactly right. Baseball’s a different game. Emotions in basketball or American football are easier. You can kind of get fired up, get out there and go hit somebody, so to speak. But baseball’s such a mental game. You can’t really play the game without some kind of passionate energy and maybe you don’t always see it, but hustle you can see.
The thing that gets undersold in baseball, and gets criticized a lot, is ‘Oh, those guys aren’t really great athletes. Baseball’s not that hard.’ That’s a total fallacy.
You got guys throwing 100 mph, running from 1st to home in four seconds flat sometimes. You have incredible athletes with great arm strength who can hit a ball 500 feet. It’s got mental aspects like probably no other sport. I’ve heard fielding equated to a tennis player trying to return a serve, you’ve got to be ready to move so much and that’s constantly, for 150 pitches a game. The physical part, to me, always get undersold.
Baseball’s a game of defeat. You play basketball and boy you better be hitting 75-80% of your free throws and more than half your shots from the field. You’re a QB and you’re only completing 50% of your passes you’re going to be shut down pretty quick. In baseball the best of the best fail 70% of the time so it’s a tough game. And they’re not playing a 16-game or even an 82-game schedule. They’re playing a 162-game schedule. It’s got just a lot of challenges to it. If you don’t have energy just forget it.
What’s the quintessential difference between scouting and doing anything else in baseball?
You’re part of a team but it’s the most individualistic thing I’ve done in the sport. You kind of set your schedule, get your plan, go do your work. I loved playing, coaching, being part of a team. In scouting you’re part of a team. We have meetings, get together and talk, but it’s the adventure and exploration that other parts of the game just don’t have.
I think it’s wonderful. I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to be a scout now for the NY Yankees. To get to cover Europe, the Middle East and Africa for me is just great. I think if I had the chance to have a dream job, in the dream location, I’d say I got it. I’m so thankful for it.
Anything you want the world to know?
It seems like it’s such a small community it’s amazing. I’ll never forget my first year scouting with the Pirates. I was coaching in Cologne and our catcher collapsed on the field and passed away. It was a tragic day. The next day I was talking to my boss with the Pirates and he says, “Yeah, I was just getting ready to call you.” He was on his cell phone traveling through Virginia (USA) and he said “I wanted to send my condolences to you and everyone associated with the Cologne Cardinals baseball and André Hille and his family.” I was like, man, I can’t believe he’s in the middle of driving through the US and he’s heard about this. That’s just kind of how small the baseball community is in the world.
Update: Since we spoke with Troy he’s added a new role to his CV. In addition to continuing his full time scouting duties for the Yankees he is, once again, coaching. Williams is an assistant coach for the German national team. His role varies by tournament. He has been bench coach, pitching coach and bullpen coach to date.