Few vocabularies are as rich as the vernacular used by baseball scouts. Scout speak is practical and descriptive, yet colorful and sometimes lurid.
Taken out of context, the lingo can be alternatively oddball, which comedian Rob Delaney used to great effect in his dramatic reading of scouting terms culled by Harper's Magazine back in September 2004; gems such as "country-boy build," "slight toilet-seat hitting approach," "feel for wood," "uses hands to hit," "raw-boned physique," "muscular thighs," "good trigger," and "knows he can catch & throw."
To be clear, scouts have and always serve a valuable purpose in the baseball landscape identifying, evaluating, and projecting talent, an important companion to analytics. This compilation is merely intended to provide an informative and entertaining look at the indigenous language that arises when spending 200 or more days on the road watching ballgame after ballgame after ballgame.
VICE Sports polled several scouts, executives, and writers for their favorite scouting terms, and we compiled this entertaining sampling of a glossary:
The Good Face The consummate quality sought in every good prospect is the facial appearance of stardom. Exposed widely in pop culture in the book Moneyball when it was relayed that Billy Beane had "The Good Face," the term signifies a vague discernment of maturity, confidence, and future aptitude in the sport.
Its debut in the public domain actually came in the scouting tome, Dollar Sign on the Muscle. Former Phillies scout Gary Nickel said of "The Good Face": "It was a way of saying that a kid had charisma. It meant that he looked athletic, like a high stage in evolution—that he struck you right away as strong, forceful, manly, open instead of withdrawn." Another Phillies scout, Brandy Davis, insisted "'good face' is objective: it means he impresses you as an athlete—not a pretty boy. He's not withdrawn. He projects strength, virility, maturity." A study of Japanese baseball players in 2013, believe it or not, showed a correlation between facial structure and baseball performance.
High ass No, really, stop laughing. This is a term. Alternately referred to as "high back pockets" or a prominent "lower half," having a big posterior is said to portend good power potential. But it's more than a little weird when you think about a grandfatherly scout using the term on a teenage prospect.
Makeup There's nothing cosmetic about a ballplayer's makeup, which is an attempted qualification of his confidence, psyche, leadership virtues, and emotional stability. Does someone who flips his bat after a homerun have bad makeup? Maybe! A player highly regarded in this manner is always said to have "off the charts makeup," leading one executive to bemoan why his scouts don't get bigger charts.
"He's a baseball player." Though it would seem to apply to anyone on the field—I mean, is everyone else playing a different sport?—this sentiment is intended to be a noble compliment conveying an evaluator's utmost respect for a prospect, often connoting intangible skill or countenance that exceeds his physical tools. In Dollar Sign on the Muscle, a Phillies' scouting report on Bip Roberts praised him because, among attributes, he "can run, play defense, play baseball." Yes, play baseball, indeed.
Horseshit Poor play in baseball is never bullshit or dogshit, but always horseshit, with scouts preferring the equine concoction to its bovine and canine variations. (This used to be a common coda from press box wags to the scorekeeper's recitation of a pitcher's final line; after notation of how many runs and hits a man allowed, writers would chime in, ". . . and he was horseshit," as if in an attempt to codify the sentiment into the box score.) Dollar Sign on the Muscle clarifies that bullshit does have a place as a verb or to describe one's intention, quoting a scout referring to a former co-worker by saying, "His written report was all bullshit, and that's when I knew he was a horseshit guy."
Center cut A butcher's center-cut offering is often thought to be the choicest meat, and a very hittable fastball often receives that tag for its apparent succulence to a hitter.
Red ass A fiery, argumentative, hard-nosed player is said to be a red ass, a term that apparently dates to at least the 1920s. (See: Lo Duca, Paul)
Soft eyes This was explicitly evoked in a basketball context—former college coach Dan Dakich once said in a radio interview that Kristaps Porzingis would be a bust because "he's got soft eyes, and eyes are a big deal to me. Look at great players and look at their eyes and you can tell a lot about them." Dakich was adamant that he wasn't talking about actual vision or so-called court vision but the very appearance of a man's eyes, adding, "You can look physically at somebody's eyes and tell whether they're a killer or not. You can look physically, um, almost inside them if you know what you're looking for." Um, ok. A baseball scout relayed this term.
Inverted 'W' It's supposed to be a death knell for pitchers: a throwing mechanic in which the elbows rise above the shoulders before release, a tendency some believe is a precursor to serious arm injury. Linguists would call it an 'M.'
Hyphenated names Two incredulous scouts said they've heard peers speculate that conjoined appellations are indications of poor potential. One of the scouts summarized the ridiculous thinking as follows: neither parent is an Alpha, so they'll allegedly lack a killer instinct. Really. We don't get it, either.
Redheads Another insane marginalization of an entire subset of people: some scouts are said to shy away from red-headed ballplayers, apparently because of an inability to cope under the hot summer sun. (Speaking as a ginger, I do go through an awful lot of sunscreen . . .)
Bowling-ball sinker Two-seam fastballs with downward action are always and only compared to gravity's pull on a heavy, falling bowling ball. No other heavy objects are accepted.
Long levers Ballplayers are seen as objects and their limbs are but functional levers for hitting, throwing, and catching baseballs.
Changeup "feel" Pitchers who throw good changeups are always said to have a "feel" for the pitch rather than an ability or skill or talent. Similarly, changeups are tagged as "feel pitches."
Bugs Bunny changeup The old cartoon character once threw such a deceptively slow pitch that his animated opponent swung three times before the ball even reached the plate.
Frisbee slider Frisbees can have a lot of horizontal movement. So too sliders. Ergo, Frisbee sliders.
Tool shed A player possessing lots of tools, i.e. the individual attributes (arm strength, hitting power, etc.) that comprise a well-rounded player.
20-80 scale Scouts don't rate tools on a 1-to-10 or 1-to-100 scale because that would be too simple. An 80 is exceptional, Hall-of-Fame ability; 50 befits an average major leaguer; 20 is you or me. (FanGraphs has a good primer.)
Ceiling/floor Scouts often sound like HGTV contractors for how often they invoke ceilings and floors to suggest the maximum and minimum growth potential for prospects.
Comp Short for comparison, the term 'comp' is a scout's way of describing a prospect's game through a likeness to an established player. These are often hilarious to read in hindsight—or, similarly, unfair for the undue expectations. (A scout once told me that 2009's No. 2 overall pick, Dustin Ackley, projected somewhere between Chase Utley and Mark Kostay, a huge gulf between a borderline Hall of Famer and a sturdy regular. Ackley, however, has thus far fallen short of even the bottom of this wide range.)
Arm slot This is the arm's trajectory on a pitch, ranging from overhand down to sidearm to submarine.
Swing path This is the bat's trajectory through the strike zone and is particularly relevant now that the baseball world is abuzz with talk of loft, backspin, and exit velocity, not to mention a surge in batted-balls in the air.
Dice roller A pitcher with an arm slot so elevated that pitches appear almost appear to be thrown over their head like they are rolling dice. (Note: In a very different context, it could apply to a Strat-O-Matic player.)
"Has an idea." Having an idea suggests a player has know-how. Often this is used to discuss his hitting approach and strike-zone discipline. It also means his brain is working.
"For me" Scouting opinions are all personal projections so the ubiquitous qualifier attached to each is "for me," as in "He's a No. 3 starter for me" or "For me, he's got the range of a statue." One veteran scout shakes his head at this phrase because no one else is talking. Of course the opinion is for you.
"Can or can't" At the end of the day, it's a binary decision—can he be a big leaguer or not?
"Occasionally" This hedge is often inserted in strategic spots like, "His mechanics occasionally lapse, and he loses the strike zone." Quips one scout, "You can say that about every pitcher. The real question is, 'How occasionally?'"
Downhill plane Even though every pitcher is standing on a mound and throwing down to the strike zone, the extra length of a tall pitcher throwing overhand and delivering the ball with a few more degrees of decline apparently warrants the description of downhill plane.
Arm action This term details the actual throwing motion in which a pitcher removes the ball from his glove, raises his arm, and throws the pitch.
Plus Any pitch or tool that grades above average gets tabbed plus (or plus-plus), even though sub-standard tools rarely, if ever, are called minus.
Dude As scout-turned-draft analyst Dave Perkin says, "A dude is a legitimate prospect as opposed to a phony one, in fact, the argument could be made that a scout's entire professional life is spent attempting to identify who is a "dude" and who is not!"
Milk drinkers A scout told Perkin that he prefers players who aren't too wholesome and have an edge.
Rangy Baseball people love adding a '-y' suffix onto nouns for adjectival use. (The same '-y' construct is also a lingual device to create boring nicknames for players. Yankees manager Joe Girardi calls Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Luis Severino by the names Gardy, Hicksy, and Sevvy; even Starlin Castro has, somehow, become Starsky.)
Fringy average Even a mathematically precise term like "average" has a gradient of understanding. Players can be just plain average or they can be fringy-average or solid-average and so on.
Bat misser As the name would suggest, this term is used for pitches that draw a lot of swing-and-miss strikes.
Worm killer Despite the preponderance of outdoorsmen in baseball, this is not a fishing reference but an allusion to pitchers who induce a lot of groundballs.