What scouts saw in Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza before they were Hall of Famers
Before they were Hall of Famers, they were the subjects of scouting reports
If you've spent any time around baseball, you know one eternal truth: scouting is hard.
Consider this year's Hall of Fame class the latest evidence. One of the entrants, Ken Griffey Jr., was the top pick in the 1987 draft. The other, Mike Piazza, was selected no. 1,390 a year later. Both went on to have Hall of Fame careers, because that's baseball for you.
To honor both players' journeys to Cooperstown, let's take a look at some scouting reports, as provided by the Hall of Fame's Diamond Mines exhibit. You can check out the full database here.
At the risk of stating the obvious, scouts loved Griffey Jr. all along. The exhibit includes a Mariners pre-draft report, penned by Steve Vrablik, in which Griffey Jr.'s Overall Future Potential is graded as a 73 -- for reference, that means Vrablik considered peak Griffey Jr. to be a future top-five player. Remember, Griffey Jr. was 17 years old at the time. Yet Griffey Jr.'s youth didn't stop Vrablik from giving him an "8" in future power or a "7" for future defense -- that's a special talent, y'all.
Flash forward a few years, to 1990, and Scott Reid filed a pair of brief reports on Griffey Jr. during his age-20 season. In October, Reid wrote that Griffey Jr. "could do it all" and was a "future star." Then, in December, Reid added that Griffey Jr. was the "best rookie in baseball." Griffey Jr. had technically exhausted his rookie eligibility in 1989, but the sentiment was fair -- after all, he'd just hit for a 136 OPS+ in his second full year.
The latest Griffey Jr. report in the database arrived during spring training 1991, and was inked by the Phillies Eddie Brockman. Brockman addressed that Griffey Jr. had missed time with non-serious back issues before stating that he "Has a lot of ability and should be [an] outstanding player in [the majors] for a long time." No hedging there -- no need to, in retrospect, since Griffey Jr. would play on until 2010, nearly two decades later.
In each case, the scouts were on the money. Griffey Jr. did become an elite power hitter -- he finished with 630 home runs and probably would've threatened 700 with better health -- and a 10-time Gold Glove award winner in center field. Giving the scouts credit for getting it right on the first-overall pick may seem cheap, but scouts don't throw around the kinds of words and grades they did here often.
Each of them saw something special in Griffey Jr.'s game -- and boy, were they correct.
Predictably, Piazza was treated as a nobody compared to Griffey Jr. His name returns just one report in the database, and it was more than two years old by the time he was drafted.
The filing scout Brad Kohler, who was with the Major League Scouting Bureau at the time, wrote up Piazza based on seven innings of first-base play. Kohler came away more impressed than you'd suspect based on the story behind Piazza's drafting -- essentially, that Tommy Lasorda pleaded with the Dodgers' scouting department to pick his friend's son -- and he concluded that Piazza had "a long way to come with overall ability" but was "worth selection on bat and power."
Kohler was highest on Piazza's thump, throwing a plus grade on it -- meaning, in layman terms, that Piazza was expected to homer somewhere around 25 times a season. Kohler wasn't as enamored with the other aspects of Piazza's game: he threw a future "4" on Piazza's overall hitting ability -- a grade that translates to a .240ish average -- and wrote that Piazza "lacks knowledge of first base." Still, the overall OFP (roughly a 45) translates to a platoon or utility type -- better than you'd anticipate from someone available in the 62nd round of his draft.
Obviously Kohler's report looks pessimistic now -- Piazza homered more than 25 times in nine seasons, and batted below .250 just once, in a 21-game sample as a 23-year-old -- but that's a given for most any Hall of Fame player, especially one with this background. Perhaps if Kohler had seen Piazza behind the plate... well, he probably wouldn't have had Piazza down for 427 career home runs and a 142 OPS+, but maybe he would've been even more aggressive with his report.
Of course, considering what we know about where and why Piazza was drafted, Kohler deserves props for seeing any kind of big-league potential in Piazza during his high-school days.
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