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A shot at the big time: College ball players work out for pro scouts

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO Some of the tools of the trade for a baseball scout.
AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO Some of the tools of the trade for a pro scout.

Larry Izzo was the first scout to arrive at SUNY Southampton College one morning last week.

He wanted get a jump on “Scout Day,” evaluating talent playing in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.

“I’ll come out and watch a few games here and there, but since we have so many other duties, the scout days are important for us,” said Mr. Izzo, who covers all of New York and New Jersey for the Mets, a territory that includes about 200 colleges and nearly ten times as many high schools. “We’re out here to find all kinds of players — good athletes who can run, throw, field, hit or pitch. There’s no one position that we watch specifically. We just want to identify the best ballplayers who have the most potential.”

With 30 years experience scouting big-league talent, Mr. Izzo still likes to be first to the market, where scouts look for future stars and young players dream the dream of a major league contract.

Soon several other scouts filtered in for the one-time event where the ball players, competing in the seven- team HCBL, worked out under the eyes of the professional talent spotters.

With memories of the 2015 Major League Baseball draft still fresh in their minds — when a couple of former Bucks were selected in the first round — members of this summer’s squad were on hand to show off their skills.

Bucks Head Coach Jamie Quinn, a college coach at the Merchant Marine Academy, ran the day long event.

A roster of all participating players was handed out to the scouts when they arrived. The document included biographical stats for each competitor and boxes in which scouts could write brief notes. Pitchers were graded on the speed and accuracy of the deliveries in their arsenal, while field players were given marks ranging from 1-5 for skills such as fielding, arm strength and batting, in addition to their foot speed.

Each scout came to Southampton armed with his own radar gun, the readings of which were carefully protected from curious eyes.

The ball players began warming up in front of the third base dugout, while a steady stream of scouts and league administrators — bantering warmly with each other — began to congregate around tables stocked with breakfast food placed on the first-base line,.

The morning really kicked off with a stretching session directed by Coach Quinn, followed by a 60-yard sprint.

Players ran towards the cluster of scouts waiting at the finish line by first base, each clutching a stopwatch in one hand and a clipboard in the other.

The camaraderie displayed between the evaluators during the friendly early-morning breakfast quickly disappeared once play began. Every man kept his own times, recorded his own notes, and later in the day, spoke to select individuals in hushed whispers.

The event was an all-boys affair. According to Major League Baseball, there is one female scout, and she wasn’t in Southampton last week.

The Bucks players worked out in the morning alongside athletes from Sag Harbor, Westhampton, and Southampton. Center fielder Dom Brugnoni impressed in the 60-yard dash, while Mark Flynn was one of the few Bucks to shine during fielding and throwing drills.

With regard to his own team, Coach Quinn noted that, “A couple of my guys got some extra looks from the scouts. [The Bucks] did pretty well overall, they definitely held their own. They represented Shelter Island’s high standard of play.”

The coach, along with the scouts, was hesitant to single out any players in particular who received additional attention.

While players travel from across the country to compete in the HCBL, Mr. Izzo noted that local athletes, who play most of the year within a particular scout’s region, would have a distinct advantage over their more transient teammates.

“If we see kids out here who are playing for schools in our area, we might make notes about them and follow them through summer and during the fall,” he said.

Jonathan Castillo, an associate scout working for the Tampa Bay Rays said, “Today is great because it gives us a chance to see guys we haven’t seen before.”

Bureaucratic and geographic complications could potentially work against HCBL players who don’t reside in the tri-state area. “What we’re interested in are the kids that are going to be playing in New York and New Jersey,” Mr. Izzo said.

In certain circumstances, he added, he would contact the scout who covers an athlete in another region, but for the most part, “it’s up to [that scout] to find the players in his area.”

While over 1,200 baseball players are drafted each June, the odds of a player making a big-league roster are miniscule. The HCBL is in the midst of its eighth year, yet only three alumni had played in Major League Baseball before the 2015 season.

The number of former players drafted is consistently rising — 23 this year, up from 19 in 2014 — but the road from draft day to opening day at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium can be a long and arduous process.

Of course, all it takes is one lucky break for a HCBL player to hit the jackpot of playing in the big leagues.

Numerous scouts come out for the championship series at year’s end, but for members of the five teams whose seasons end short, Scout Day is the best opportunity to impress a professional organization.

But ultimately, according to Mr. Izzo, it takes more than luck. Each player’s fate is in his own hands.
“If a guy is good enough,” he said, “we’ll find him, and we’ll keep following him for as long as we have to.”