Big League Combine – Player Selection

This article is a follow up to my most popular article of all time where I describe the athletic tests that I think should be included into a combine for baseball players.  You can read it here

Since the time I published that article I have had a lot of conversations with coaches (both strength and baseball coaches) from all over the place and I get asked what I would do with the results of these tests in two different situations:

1 – Selection of players:  How can I use these numbers to help scout players and get an idea of their ability to play at the next level

2 – Training current players: What do the results of each test tell us about what this player needs to work on in order to reach the next level.

I am going to try to answer these two questions as best I can without giving away all of my trade secrets in what is looking like a three part series.

Player selection – scouting and tryouts

The first step is to obviously run all of the players through the combine that I described in the first article.  It gives us great deal of information about a bunch of different athletic qualities rather than just straight ahead speed like the 60 yard dash does.  There would be some more tests/assessments that I would do but I will get to those later.  My reason for not including these new tests in the previous article is that they either didn’t fit the criteria of being easy to implement or they are something I didn’t think of until after I wrote that article back in the summer of 2013.  I’ve learnt a lot since then but I do stand behind all of the tests that I picked.

We have all these numbers, now what??

After you run your players through these tests you’re just left with a bunch of numbers.  The good news is that these numbers actually mean something since each test was picked based on the fact that it has some correlation to the kind of athletic ability needed to play baseball, read the original article if you don’t believe me.  While these numbers are great they just really give scouts and coaches the ability to rank players based on their athletic ability.  But since we are trying to put together a baseball team and not a track and field squad we can’t base our entire selection on these performance based tests.  You need some skill to go along with this ability.

What these tests do provide are some quantifiable and objective numbers that can be combined with the scouts subjective assessment of their ability to play baseball in order to make a better decision.  Click here to see some of the quantifiable numbers that player who have been drafted out of high school or who got signed internally can produce.

sub vs ob

Ideally we want to have players with a lot of physical ability (objective) that also have a lot of skill (subjective).  Not everyone is going to have a lot of both but if you want to play baseball at a high level you’re going to need a combination of skill and ability.

To illustrate this point I’ve created this chart to show how a player needs both skill and ability to make it to the major league level, which I have arbitrarily set at the 300 mark. 

pitching chart 2.002

Each player has both skill (green) and ability (blue) but you can’t make it to the show with just one because I have also set a limit of 200 that you can get from either skill or ability.  This means that you need to sure up your weakness in order for you to display your strength.

The two guys in the minors need to work on their respective areas of weakness to make it to the majors.  The AAA “pitcher” knows how to pitch and has a complete arsenal of pitches but just doesn’t throw hard enough to compete.  This guy needs to improve physically with a good weight training program coupled with some better rest, nutrition along with a throwing program that is going to help him throw harder.

The guy in AA needs a change up or something else to go along with the blazing fastball.  The ability to locate this fastball would be helpful too.

So who do you pick??

Do you pick the skilled player or the athlete with lots of physical ability?

Scouts and coaches every year have players that they are high on and like in regards to their make up and how they play the game.  But they are forced to pass on them because they know this player doesn’t have enough power to keep up at the highest levels.  After all you can’t teach speed and you can’t teach size, right?  I think you can.

Historically baseball teams have selected players because they have some raw athletic power and physical ability in hopes that their coaching staff can teach them how to pitch or hit.  These players are then labelled as “projects” and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t.

I am going to make an argument that we can go after that skilled player and train them to be better athletes.  You would think that as a strength coach I would want the super athletes but baseball is so highly dependant on skill that I think some of these guys are worth the chance of becoming a project.  Because as tough as it is to teach size and speed its not easy to teach someone how to locate a change up with movement.

This is especially true if a player shows that they have room for improvement from the physical side of things which when coupled with time and effort can allow these changes to occur.

Below is the ideal situation of a highly skilled pitcher that has been through 4 years of executing both a tailored weight training and a throwing program (long toss, weight balls, etc) that suits his needs as an athlete.  This SMART and HARD training has provided him with the ability to throw harder so that he can display his skills in the MLB.   I understand that this idea isn’t anything new but I think that it could happen more often if a player has the room for growth and is given the necessary tools and knowledge to improve.  This is where the initial testing comes into play.

pitching chart 2.001

*Disclaimer:  Even the best strength training in the world won’t turn a non-athlete into a world class baseball player.  We are looking at taking someone from good to great not taking someone from bad to great.  The great news is that a lot of teams might pass on the “good” player leaving him available.

Undersized and Underpowered???

Any player that isn’t athletic enough to play at the next level is always lacking power since it is the number #1 athletic quality needed to succeed in baseball.  If they are lacking power then they are either not producing enough speed or strength since the basic formula for power is:

FORCE x VELOCITY = POWER

This formula looks pretty cut and dry but there are different combinations of athletic ability and physical features that can produce big league power.  Some athletes rely more on the force side of the equation because they have a lot of strength and body weight.  While other use more of the lean on velocity side of things with their long limbs, big ranges of motion and their reactive strength vis stretch shortening cycles to produce whatever power they can.sanchez storman

If we look at the Blue Jays pitching staff for example two
of their brightest stars are Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.  Both of whom can throw really hard but go about it in different ways.

From this example we can determine that these two players use very different combinations of strength/force and speed/velocity to produce power in the form of throwing velocity. This means that we can look for these different combinations by studying their athletic profiles which is something that I produce based on all of the tests that I run baseball players through.race car one

This athletic profile is similar to what you would see in a
car racing video game.  These two cars are different in regards to the specific amounts of power, weight and grip they have but both are capable of going fast and winning races.

They just have car 2different strength’s and weakness’ and it really depends on how you drive the car which determines if you can take advantage of the strengths while minimizing the weakness’s.

The athletic profiles that I created below are those of what I imagined both Aaron’s and Marcus’ would have looked like when they were being scouted in high school.

I will get into some of the various tests that I would add like limb length, mobility and elastic energy but for now we can just see that there are many different athletic qualities that need to be observed.  If all we did was measure the 60 yard dash to determine athletic ability we would only really have “speed” and “elastic energy” to go off of.

Aaron Sanchez 

pitching chart 2.003

While this would be a profile of a shorter more athletic Marcus Stroman.  As you can see they are very different from one another but they both work.

Marcus Stroman

pitching chart 2.004

*I know that these profiles aren’t exact and there are many arguments that could be made but my point is to look at players with different combinations of athletic ability and how they can ultimately produce the same end result of throwing really really hard even if they don’t fit the prototypical “profile”

Next I’ll explore explore both force and velocity individually a bit more and provide some examples of further tests to see if an athlete can make some improvements in these areas.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

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