Scouting Alberta

By JOE McFARLAND

Scouting isn’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s a lot of long hours, road trips, video sessions and discussions with players, parents, coaches and teachers in your area, all in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. It might not even be to turn the player into a professional, but just to help them take another step in their journey of life in baseball. And that is the answer to the question of “why” for Andrew Maclean.

“I want to help the kids,” the Prep Baseball Report’s Director of Scouting for our province told Alberta Dugout Stories. “If I’m going to develop rankings, for example, I want to do my due diligence and get out and make sure I see as many kids as possible before I’m putting the kid on a list somewhere.”

PBR has been around since 2005, but the Alberta bureau has been operational for about a year now under the tutelage of Maclean, a former University of Calgary Dinos and Prairie Baseball Academy pitcher. It serves as a link between high school players and post-secondary institutions, from junior colleges to major universities. Maclean said 850 schools subscribe to the web service, which he likens to a “Facebook for ball players” featuring articles, video and scouting reports.

“When I’m writing on a player, I’m aiming it at colleges and coaches,” Maclean said. “I’m writing to a coach, not so much to the general audience or the parents, which I think it’s still a market here in Alberta that a lot of people don’t understand and need to adjust to.”

And it’s something he’s still adjusting to. He’s playing catch-up for the kids here in Alberta who don’t have years of analytics to help prove their case on why they should be picked up by a school.

Armed with a network of coaches and scouts who help out as needed, as well as summer interns and support from other PBR staff, Maclean is hoping to get caught up quickly.

“In some of the mature states like Ohio, they have five or six years of data and profiles on players,” Maclean admitted. “So we’re still in the early stages of getting those profiles loaded and getting more robust information on everyone.”

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

There has never been a time where information was more readily available about anything, and that includes baseball. The proliferation of advanced statistics and analytics now have even baseball people talking about numbers they never would have dreamed about just a few short years ago.

While those numbers are all well and good in Maclean’s eyes, he feels it’s important to go beyond them as well.

“Stats will give you a good overview of what’s going on and what kids have,” Maclean said. “Whether it’s bat speed or your time in the 60-yard dash. While it’s not a distance you run on the field, it is important in telling you about athleticism and speed. Can a kid go run down a baseball?”

But then there are the intangibles.

“You’re going to get to a level, whether it’s college or professional ball, where there is some threshold for skill and we all know that,” he continued. “What makes him better than every other guy and a lot of that is make-up, work ethic, attitude and compete level.”

Maclean said it’s something that almost took him by surprise, despite having coached for ten years, was that some young athletes and their parents have their blinders on about getting to the pro ranks. As a result, there’s a disconnect between what they think is important and what coaches are really looking for.

“They’re much sooner to talk to me about their grades,” he said. “Those are the numbers that they want to hear about and that’s not to sound cliche but it’s the truth.”

He believes the better grades can do great things for the schools when it comes to those clubs’ budgets, but it “also tells you a bit about the kid” when it comes to working hard.

Maclean then cites a quote from Calgary’s Nolan Bumstead, who he has worked with in the past and who was recently handed an Academic All-Big West Conference honour after another solid season with the California State University Matadors.

“Players who conduct their school and social lives with a sense of order and discipline will find success on the baseball field.”

It’s a quote Maclean can’t help but be impressed with, not just based on Bumstead’s age. He thinks more ball players need to realize how important it can be.

WHAT’S TO COME

It’s hard not to discount the talent that has been coming through Alberta in recent years. Between Calgary’s Mike Soroka making into the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation and several players from the province being chosen in this summer’s MLB draft, Maclean sees a real opportunity to help other kids get the exposure they deserve.

READ MORE: MLB Draft Review

It’s not that the talent wasn’t there before, as the former Lethbridge Bulls hurler can attest. Interest in the sport has been growing, thanks in his eyes to the costs of other sports, the discussion around concussions in more-physical sports and the Toronto Blue Jays in recent years.

His family moved to Calgary in 1996 when there were no academies around and players had to go through Little League and Babe Ruth to get noticed.

“I remember Tyler Klippenstein was drafted out of there the year before I got into Babe Ruth, I believe,” Maclean reminisced. “And that was still in the (Chris) Reitsma hangover going on within Babe Ruth. There were a lot of quality players that went on to good schools.”

He thinks the success of some of the programs in getting kids to schools and even to the pro ranks, along with the exposure they are getting, is giving them the thought that they could take the sport a lot further than a weekly slo-pitch game after high school is done.

“When you have guys like LaRon Smith and Damiano Palmegiani this year, and Soroka at 20-years-old playing in the big leagues, maybe it seems more like a reality you might be able to go and play pro baseball somewhere,” Maclean said. “But we know by the numbers that it’s just not the truth, but what is a reality for kids is to get an education and there’s a college for just about any kid.”

“Just over the last couple of years, we’re now just starting to get a bit more national attention,” he said. “We had five players from Alberta playing on the Junior National Team, which is one of the higher numbers we’ve had in a while.”

He understands that a couple of them weren’t born here, but he thinks that points to the quality of the acadamies they are coming here for. He looks at the talent being produced out of the Dawgs Academy, Prairie Baseball Academy, Prospects Academy and Badlands Academy as a sign of the sport heading in the right direction. He said 65 Alberta products graduating this year are committed to post-secondary schools to continue their baseball careers.

Maclean also points to two prospects in academies now that could be knocking on the doors of MLB squads in 2019.

Cesar Valero and Adam Macko will be two of the top-ranked players in the country,” Maclean proclaimed. “That’s a huge statement to Alberta right there and both coming from those aforementioned programs.”

While the Class of 2019 will be “fun to watch,” according to Maclean, he believes the Class of 2020 isn’t too far behind either.

“I think we’re getting up there with B.C., Ontario and Quebec as being powerhouses in this country,” Maclean asserted.

PBR has hosted several events and ID camps over the course of the last year. And while he doesn’t want to sound egotistical, Maclean thinks these kinds of events can help those kids out even more.

“When you go to games, you see that play come up a bit,” he said. “When kids see a radar gun and they know someone’s always watching, there’s a reason to kind of go after it that day, versus you’re throwing and there are two people in the stands.”

The talent he is seeing will be on full display in St. Albert on July 27 for Prep Baseball Report’s first Top Prospect Games.

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