New school working to bring more women into baseball scouting

The inaugural “Scout School!” program by the Women’s Sports School included 12 women and was led by former MLB scout Don Mitchell. (Courtesy of Jennifer Blatt)

Twelve women took part in the Women’s Sports School’s (WSS) first-ever “Scout School!” program in Peoria, Az. During the five-day program in October, the women were taught the basics of scouting and got the chance to learn from several baseball professionals.

Major League Baseball currently only has one full-time female scout and ranks towards the bottom of professional leagues in gender diversity. One program is trying to change that.

Jennifer Blatt, founder of WSS,  got the idea after attending MLB’s “Take the Field” program a few years ago with the goal of getting more women exposed to the world of scouting.

“It’s empowering for them,” Blatt said, “to just be in the room with so many like-minded women.”

The program helped to strengthen the women’s knowledge of scouting and the thirst they have to work in baseball operations. And it’s part of a larger goal to get more women into baseball.

Students consisted of college students, baseball interns and part-time baseball writers.  A few were sponsored by the Arizona Diamondbacks. All of the students paid over $1,000 for instruction, materials and meals.

Boston Red Sox intern Julia Hernandez came to the Scout School to further her understanding of scouting. Her love for scouting is tied to the uncertainty of the process.

“It’s not like the NBA Draft and the NFL Draft where it’s like, you know, who’s going to go one… one in every single draft,” Hernandez said. “In baseball, things can go wrong. You can find something out about a guy the night before the draft and it completely throws a wrench into the entire process.”

Position players are graded on five tools: hitting, power, running speed, arm strength and fielding ability. Some tools are harder to predict than others.

“By far, the hitting tool and the power (tool) are the two most difficult,” former MLB Scout  Don Mitchell said. “Cody Bellinger hit one home run in high school.” 

The other three tools are easier to measure, he said.

Bellinger, who played for Hamilton High School in Chandler before becoming a star for the Los Angeles Dodgers, recently won the 2019 NL MVP award after a breakout year that saw him hit 47 home runs and also win Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards at his position.

Predicting hitting and power can be difficult because it’s hard to foresee how players will grow and how their bodies will develop, Mitchell said. Initial scouting reports cited strength as one of Bellinger’s major weaknesses .

At the end of each day, Scout School participants practiced the scouting techniques they learned in the classroom by evaluating players during Arizona Fall League games. The students used radar guns and stopwatches to track the velocity of pitches and the speed of each pitcher’s delivery.  During the first few days, Mitchell assigned each of the students specific players to observe during the games. During the last two days, the students were allowed to choose who they wished to scout.

Seattle Mariners scout Amanda Hopkins spoke to the scouts about her experience working in baseball. Listening to Hopkins talk about her journey to the big leagues was reassuring.

“Her insight was incredible,” Scout School student Sara Thibaut said. “Especially being the only major league woman scout, and just her advice, of staying the course.”

Hopkins, who has been a member of the Mariners staff for almost four years, is the only full-time female MLB scout.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) does a yearly race and gender report grading professional sports leagues. This year MLB received a “C” for gender diversity, lower than several other pro leagues, including the NBA which received a “B”.

Despite initiatives like “Take the Field”, Diversity Fellowship Program and the Diversity Pipeline, the number of women in the MLB central office and professional positions has declined since last year’s report.

“I’m really hopeful that through seminars like these, that women in particular, can gain a lot more working knowledge and therefore put them in a position to be strongly and seriously considered for jobs in baseball,” Mitchell said.

Lamar Smith is a graduate student in sports journalism  at Arizona State University

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