Note: This is the 10th installment of this feature, so it's high time -- if not a tad tardy -- to actually define the 20-to-80 scale that is among its staples. First, a few particulars: Grades are given in intervals of five or 10; 50 is Major League average; and every time a scout is asked to prepare a report on a hurler, in the Minors or otherwise, the scale is employed. Simple as it seems, however, the scale is awfully subjective. We asked for help.
Their debate is not hard to fathom. It's an argument Jerry and George would have had if the Seinfeld characters were pro baseball scouts. Like them, pro baseball scouts enjoy the minutiae of their days.
Picture one organization's cadre of evaluators sitting around a table at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. According to one current Major League scout, up for discussion among his colleagues was the outer reaches of the scale by which they all have graded pitching. Can you hear the voices?
"What is an 80? Does there have to be an 80 curveball in the game today?"
"There doesn't have to be an 80 curveball in the game because I'm considering the curveball of Koufax, of Blyleven."
"Someone in today's game has to to be the best."
And if one group of scouts from the same organization can't agree on what an 80 is, how can there be one uniform rubric for the grade that is handed out most? There's not.
"It's all in the eye of the beholder as to what one thinks is 'average,'" our scout said of the 50 (or the 5, as some prefer the simpler 2-to-8 scale). "'Average' anything at the Major League level is pretty damn special. Too often, when grading prospects, I think we're too willing."
Which brings us to Toronto Blue Jays prospect-turned-Major League starter Drew Hutchison. The 21-year-old right-hander is on the other end of the phone in New Hampshire, and he'd rather not turn the radar gun on himself.
"I'm not a really heads-y guy," Hutchison hedged.
He is, however, a more-than-capable pitcher. Toronto's No. 7 prospect went 2-1 and compiled a 2.16 ERA in three starts last month for the Fisher Cats. Then, on April 20, the Blue Jays called him up to the bigs for the first time. He's made three starts since.
MiLB.com asked Hutchison to describe and -- yes, he played along -- grade each of the four pitches he employs. Here he is, in his own words.
Pitch one: Two-seam fastball
: I actually didn't learn it until my senior year at Lakeland Senior High (Fla.). I started developing it with my coach, and then once I signed, I worked with Dane Johnson
, our roving pitching coordinator, to really refine it, and it's my main pitch now.
Purpose: It sinks, to induce contact early in at-bats, get ahead of guys and get ground balls.
Speed: 88-92 [mph].
Grade: 65, because of the movement.
Pitch two: Four-seam fastball
: First pitch I learned.
Purpose: To get ahead in counts and command both sides of the plate.
Speed: I don't look too much, but I'd say 90 to 94.
Grade: I'd say 65.
Pitch three: Changeup
: This was the second pitch I learned. I learned it pretty young, sometime in Little League. Coaches growing up showed it to me whenever I took lessons.
Purpose: To keep something in the mind of the batter, to get him out in front. I have some movement. It tails away from lefties.
Grip: It's a modified circle-change. I don't close off the circle with my index finger all the way.
Speed: Probably 81 to 84, 85.
Pitch four: Slider
: I threw a curveball for a while, and then I picked up the slider in high school. I was an infielder, and I didn't really started pitching my junior, senior year. I had thrown a curveball in Little League. Switching just happened naturally, the way I threw.
Purpose: More of a swing-and-miss, put-away pitch.
Grip: If you take a four-seam grip and rotate the ball in your hand with the seam up and against your middle and index finger and your thumb underneath the seam.
Speed: 82 to 85.
Grade: I'd say 60 because of my overall consistency with it.