Don Lyle, the Northern California area scout for the Cleveland Indians, has some unique ideas on how to search for baseball prospects.
In less than 20 years, Lyle has signed more than 50 prospects to major league contracts, eleven of whom have made it to the major leagues. That is a success rate of more than 20 percent. Lyle is best known for signing Sacramento-area native Derrek Lee, who was recently traded from the Cubs to the Braves. Lyle removed Lee from El Camino High School to a contract with the Padres in 1993.
Sitting with Lyle at a mid-summer display sponsored by the El Dorado Hills Hard 90 Baseball Academy, you learn that he is evaluating players just by the way they walk across the field to start practice. “That (athletics) puts me on the radar.”
Next is another intangible: sincerity. Lyle is looking for people who are serious about business in the field. “Geoff Jenkins did that,” the Indians scout recalls of the Cordova High star who recently retired after an official career and a World Series championship with the Phillies.
When players start to throw the ball, Lyle looks for those with good fundamental arm action and strength in their throws. Eventually, when they warm up, he will instinctively know if he got it right. Even if the arm action “… isn’t exactly how I want it, but the speed is there, then I’m buying,” says Lyle.
During a ball game, the Indians scout times runners to first base, the pitcher’s pitch to home plate with a runner on base, and the catcher throws to second to catch a base robber. All standards for the profession. But Lyle is looking at the batter before he even walks into the box. He’s checking out the prospect while he’s in the circle on the deck, his focus, his sincerity, again seeing if the player is “challenging himself to get that pitcher to 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’s looking at the game. Do you want to come up with the game on the line? No, when he’s at the plate. Once he gets out of that circle, it’s about his set. Up.”
When Don Lyle ultimately scores a player, he is trying to determine if that player is ready to play in the big leagues today. “Only 1 percent (of prospects) want me right now,” he admits, but marks the others with a touchdown to “go on.” He often recommends those players to college scouts, hoping they will have a chance to further develop and be prepared for the major leagues in time.
The main indicator to measure a player’s skill level compared to those now playing in the major leagues is the standard scoring system of 20-80 from scouts, with 20 being the lowest score and 80 reserved for the maximum of players from all over the world. “Even with Barry (Bonds), I would have had to rate him at 70,” laughs Lyle over a fictitious score by one of his all-time favorite players. “Give it an 80 and there are no advantages.”
When evaluating a high school talent, particularly the bat and arm, Lyle will score a rank rather than an exact number. “You’re kidding yourself a bit. If (the prospect) makes it to the majors, and his arm is 50 now, it’ll probably be a 60 in the majors. I’ll put it as a 50-60, as I hope it’s going to be better. The performance it is still what it is. “