These are the questions I get all the time.  Basically, how good do my results need to be in order for me to be drafted? Parents and players often set benchmarks for themselves and are then disappointed when after reaching those benchmarks, professional scouts aren't beating down their doors.  I think it helps tremendously to understand the OBJECTIVE standards by which players are evaluated by professional scouts.  Now, teams each have their own little spin on how players' tools are weighted, and teams may add value to things like makeup while other teams don't, but there are some basics that any prospect and their parents need to understand:

The first thing I suggest to everyone is to really try to see the process as clinically as possible.  Resist the natural temptation to want your kid to be more than he is.  He is, what he is.  That's not to say he might not become more, but at the time of evaluation ALL a scout can be SURE of is what's in front of him.  Their job is to grade out what they see and to use the grades to come up with a number that tells them whether or not you are a prospect.  We will use the common 2-8 or 20-80 grading system here; a grade in that spectrum is put on each tool for each prospect, with a grade of 5 or 50 being the grade of an Average Major League player. When you get objective data on yourself you can see why or why not you are getting interest from professional teams. The guidelines here are basic but thorough enough for you to get an understanding, even if specific scouts and teams like I said, tweak the basics in a way that matches up with their specific organizational viewpoints.

The five tools and how to evaluate them

Arm Strength:  Looking for fluid arm action and an easy release.  Ideally, there will be strong carry on the ball when it is thrown; it should stay up on the line of flight about halfway from the release point to the receiving point.  A strong outfielder's throws will skip and appear to take off upon contacting the ground.  Especially with MIF and catchers, how quickly the player can get rid of the ball should be taken into consideration; "release quickness"  Experienced scouts with a good track record are pretty great at understanding how slight mechanical fixes can incrementally improve this tool, and also have seen enough kids to know when someone is maybe topped out at arm strength or has a lot of room to grow. 

Fastball Velocity grades:
96 plus = 8
94-95   = 7
92-93   = 6
89-91    = 5
87-88   = 4
85-86   = 3
83-84   = 2

Look carefully at the above numbers.  How many times do you hear there's a kid throwing "mid to high eighties"?  Those kids should be happy with their arms- for prep baseball that's awesome, whichever end of the spectrum they are.  BUT.  Those same kids can't rely on an exaggerated story they use to try to convince people they are a prospect.  Scouts will come see for themselves, they will gun them themselves.  And a kid at 84 is a non prospect, while a kid even at 88 is still below average ON THE BIG LEAGUE SCALE.  This isn't up for debate.  There is a number that is going to be placed by your name according to FACTS that scouts see for themselves. 

Fielding/ Defense:  This is sort of self explanatory- do you play your position well?  On the other hand, sometimes we see really highly touted premium defenders and they make the funniest errors but then they make an out of the world play.  Some things to look for when judging fielding: Live, active lower body, quick feet, agility, instinct (you know those guys that just seem to always be where they need to be?), alertness.  "Look for the infielder who, when catching the ball, seems to swallow it up" "Look for a graceful defender" Outfielders should know they are being watched during I/O because often, they won't get enough plays during the game to be properly evaluated.  Bad habits that can raise red flags: Stabbing at the ball, stiffness, dragging feet, slow reaction time, even if the play is made

Different positions call for different tools.  Think about this when you are begging to play shortstop, or don't want to give catching a try... your tools need to match up with the position you will play because Scouts evaluate you at the position they put you in when they write a report:

Catcher- arm strength, defensive skills, durability, agility, accuracy (beware of flinching and head turning)
MIF- agility, quickness, arm strength, soft hands, instinct
3B, 1B- arm strength, defensive skills, quickness
OF- agility, quickness, speed, fielding skills, arm strength

Speed: How fast is fast?  This is another area where a player might think more of himself and his ability because he is fast for where he plays and who he plays against.  You've gotta compare yourself to the average Major Leaguer, remember, in order for running to be a tool when you are being evaluated.  Also, not everyone learns to to run.  So seasoned evaluators and certainly player development people can spot someone who can improve his times with some coaching in the players running form.  There's also game speed- sometimes really fast runners just don't have a knack for stealing bases, and sometimes not the fastest guys just know when to take off.  Stolen bases at a prep level are better than no stolen bases but remember, scouts are going to imagine you stealing off a big league catcher, not a high school catcher, so sometimes you may not get the credit you think you deserve! Scouts are specific about your running, noting if you are "better under way" or "better first to third", etc. Nevertheless, here's the grading scale used by the MLB Scouting Bureau for runners, down the first baseline:

RHH                    LHH
4.0                     3.9     =8
4.1                      4.0     =7
4.2                     4.1      =6
4.3                     4.2     =5
4.4                     4.3     =4
4.5                     4.4     =3
4.6                     4.5     =2

The difference in .2 of a second can mean you are average or legitimately fast.  Again, scouts will get these times themselves, because they aren't going to risk grading you out incorrectly because someone "said you ran a 4.1"

Power: PROSPECTS.  Play with a wood bat as much as you can.  A real one, please. This is a pet peeve of mine so I get to elaborate since I am the one at the keyboard:)  How in the world are you supposed to showcase your ability to square up a baseball and square it up with power FOR THE PURPOSE OF SHOWING SOMEONE YOU CAN DO IT IN THE BIG LEAGUES if you won't hit with a wood bat?  For me, not even composite wood counts.  Those bats, and certainly metal bats, are too forgiving.  If you wanna show you can do this, pick up a tool of the trade already.

As for how this is graded, scouts look at raw power- what do you do with the ball in BP with a wood bat?  One scout told me he just eyes up the ball and expects an average power prospect to hit maybe 5 of 50 balls out in BP.  I've actually been asked for a rangefinder at a BP before because we hit so many balls out that the scout started to wonder if the fence was like 200 feet away, or what!  Another scout told me that 400 feet is sort of his benchmark.  If the kid at any time is consistently hitting balls 400 feet that's for SURE power. 

Then, there's USEABLE power, game power, which is more valuable, and is what scouts are asked to project.  Do you lose every other ball in BP but you miss the fastball down the middle in games too much?  That will lower your useable power grade.  Scouts give you a present grade and a future grade.  They have to imagine and project how many homeruns you would hit in a Major League Season.  I was told to asterisk this section because the power grade scale can change according to how the actual MLB game changes- if the game is cleaned up for instance, and the big power guys have fewer homeruns, the grading scale can change accordingly.  Here is a recent scale used:

Homeruns                Grade
35 plus                        8
27-34                          7
20-26                          6
15-19                            5
10-14                           4
5-9                             3
0-4                             2

Hitting: Ah, here's what makes a good scout good, in my opinion.  The things about every other tool we've covered is that even with some opinion on a player filling out, cleaning up form, etc, they are reasonably simple tools to grade out, at least for present grades.  I mean, you aren't gonna throw slower because you are in the big leagues.  You aren't gonna run slower because you are on a big league field.  If you can catch a ball you can do it against any one who hit the ball.  BUT.  Can you hit at the next level.  At no time during a players development do they face big league pitching, until they are a big league hitter.  AAA isn't the big leagues.  Players have dominated college and sunk in pro ball.  Players have barely made it into pro ball and then taken off and become MLB players.  "Can't miss " players miss and "Can't hit like that" hitters hit.  So, this one is difficult. 

Because this is such a subjective area, I can understand the frustration that comes with consistently dominating level after level and being told you are not a pro prospect.  I argue time after time with scouts and coaches about kids that I have SEEN hit.  And hit and hit.  But for some reason they just aren't given a shot.  Scouts are supposed to evaluate present hitting ability based on a mechanical evaluation, not a current performance at the MLB level, obviously, because they can't see a prospect face Major League pitching.  The challenge here can be that scouts each understand hitting mechanics differently and each have preferences in hitting style.  Organizations can see hitting in completely different ways. So, your evaluations on the hit tool might vary greatly from team to team. Anyway, scouts give a future grade based on their projection of the hit tool- what kind of a MLB hitter will this player be? Here is a recent grading scale for the hit tool using projected MLB batting averages:

BA                      Grade
.320 plus            8
.300-.319            7
.286-.299            6
.270-.285            5
.250-.269            4
.220-.249            3
.219, below          2

What we CAN all agree on in most cases, is that a hitter's batting average is going to be less in the big leagues than its going to be in High School... so, this may be helpful in bringing your expectations of how you are graded as a hitter down a bit.  If you hit .300 in high school, be honest.  You can't expect that RIGHT NOW someone would grade you at an above average big league hitter. 

I'll write more about what I think the game is missing in terms of evaluators and coaching, because it matters to prospects whose evaluating they are at the mercy of!  And it matters to prospects what experience their coaches are pulling from when they suggest or even demand changes from the player, because what a hitter does is getting graded and the grades are playing a big part in determining opportunities for the future.

But for now, this is a basic overview of the tools scouts look for when they come see if they are going to give you an opportunity. Intangibles will be discussed as a 6th tool later. If you familiarize yourself with this overview and objectively see where you are, and KNOW that getting someone to vouch for a fastball speed or a running time will not work, because it is the scouts JOB to get these times himself, you will be able to make better decisions about what to work on, what areas you can maintain, where you've got to bring a grade up etc.

Next up, I'll explain what they do with those grades, and how they calculate whether you are or aren't a prospect.