Originally created 07/09/01

Big leagues seek more than talent



So you wanna play in the big leagues?

You and 3,999 other minor leaguers fighting for 750 jobs with major-league teams.

A handful of those jobs - less than five percent by one scout's estimation - will become available in 2001.

In fact, a consensus of six pro scouts polled at Lake Olmstead Stadium over the past week tells us this: less than 10 percent of the 4,000 players in the minors will ever make it. Less than five percent will enjoy productive major-league careers.

You do the math.

Sure, you were a high draft pick. You banked a hefty signing bonus. You've got all the tools.

And you're guaranteed squat.

Worse yet, by the time you reach A-ball, you'll probably already know whether you've got what it takes.

Doug Reynolds knew early on. Now a scout with the Milwaukee Brewers, the 33-year-old Florida native was a 33rd-round pick by Baltimore in 1989. Played four years in the minors, never spent a full season beyond Class A.

"I wasn't able to make adjustments," Reynolds says. "I had the tools, but I was a strikeout guy. That's one of the biggest things that prevents a guy from making it. You could have all the raw ability in the world, but you've got to be able to make adjustments as you move up."

It really is that simple.

Tools take you only so far. Adaptability as a player progresses through the minors generally holds the key to his future.

These are the variables that make scouting an inexact science. It's why Mike Piazza was a 62nd-round pick. And why pitching phenom Brien Taylor, a Yankees' first rounder in 1991, never made it past Class A.

"Scouts are like betting analysts, like when people pay a guy to tell them who to put their money on in a big game," Reynolds says. "Anything can happen. Mike Piazza was drafted as a favor to Tommy Lasorda. You scout a kid who has five tools and better makeup than the rest of the guys available, so you draft him. But a million things can happen. And the other kid you passed on might end up being a better player."

Remember Rob Mackowiak? The Pirates' 53rd-round pick in 1996 was a .260 slap-hitter with the Augusta GreenJackets in 1998. It wasn't until last season at Double-A Altoona that he started to show some pop in his bat.

But the Pirates always liked his versatility and work ethic. After giving him a shot at Triple-A to start the 2001 season, the Bucs promoted the 24-year-old Mackowiak to Pittsburgh in May.

The intangibles no scout could predict, not talent, earned Mackowiak his ticket to The Show.

Meanwhile, only one of the Pirates' first-round picks since 1994 has made it to the majors - former Augusta star Chad Hermansen (10th overall in 1995). Hermansen had cups of coffee with Pittsburgh the past two seasons, but now is back in Triple-A.

"The big leagues are peppered with guys with marginal tools that kept working to keep getting better," Reynolds says. "The minors are loaded with guys with better tools who will never make it."

So you say you wanna play in the big leagues?

You've gotta have tools. But, most of all, you've gotta have heart.

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or robm99@hotmail.com.