Don Lyle, the Northern California area scout for the Cleveland Indians, has some unique ideas on scouting baseball prospects.
In less than 20 years, Lyle has signed more than 50 prospects to major league contracts, eleven of which have reached the Big Leagues. That’s a success rate of more than 20 percent. Lyle is best known for signing Sacramento-area native, Derrek Lee, who recently was traded from the Cubs to the Braves. Lyle signed Lee out of El Camino High School to a Padres contract in 1993.
Sitting with Lyle at a mid-summer showcase sponsored by Hard 90 Baseball Academy of El Dorado Hills, one learns that he is sizing up players just by the way they walk on the field to begin practice. “That (athleticism) puts me on the radar.”
Next is another intangible: sincerity. Lyle is looking for those who take the business on the field seriously. “Geoff Jenkins did that,” the Indians scout remembers about the Cordova High star who recently retired after a journeyman career and a World Series championship with the Phillies.
When players begin tossing the ball, Lyle is looking for those with good fundamental arm action and strength in their throws. Eventually, when they heat up, he’ll instinctively know if he got it right. Even if the arm action “…is not exactly like I want it, but the velocity is there, then I’m buyin’ in,” Lyle says.
During a ball game, the Indians scout is timing runners to first base, pitcher’s release to home with a runner on base, and the catcher’s thrown down to second to nab a base stealer. All standard for the profession. But Lyle is watching the batter even before he steps in the box. He’s checking the prospect while in the on-deck circle, his approach, his sincerity, again seeing if the player is “challenging himself to get that pitcher on the mound. You can see it.”
Lyle will also move to the opposite sideline to view the prospect through his binoculars. “I’m watching him on the bench to see how he is watching the game. Does he want to go up there with the game on the line? Not, when he’s at the plate. Once he leaves that circle, it’s about his set up.”
When Don Lyle scores a player ultimately he is trying to determine whether that player is ready to play in the big leagues today. “Only 1 percent (of the prospects) do I want right now,” he admits, but marks others with a notation to “follow.” He frequently recommends those players to college scouts, hoping they have an opportunity to continue developing, and become major-league ready in time.
The principle gauge in measuring a player’s skill level against those now playing in the major leagues is scouting’s standard 20-80 scoring system, with a 20 being the lowest score and 80 reserved for the All-World players peak. “Even with Barry (Bonds), I would have had to grade him at 70,” Lyle laughs about a fictitious scoring of one of his all-time favorite players. “Give him an 80 and there’s no upside.”
When evaluating a high school talent-notably the bat and the arm-Lyle will score a range rather than a pinpoint number. “You fudge a little bit. If (the prospect) makes it to the majors, and his arm is a 50 now, he’ll probably be a 60 in the majors. I’ll put it down as a 50-60, since I expect it’s going to be better. The running stays what it is.”