Draft a study in preparation
Many future draftees surprised by level of team preparation
DENVER -- Before the 1997 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook, then a senior at Hamilton (Ohio) High School, knew teams wanted to know all about him because he'd be an early pick.
But one question he recalled from a psychological testing questionnaire left him unsure whether to laugh or merely shake his head.
"There were some silly questions like, 'Have you ever harmed small animals?'" Cook said. "You get into question 175 or 180 and it's like, 'Where did this stuff come from?'"
Several current Rockies that were high draft picks say they realize the reasons for the research, even if some of it is bizarre. A new crop of players is going through the same scrutiny as teams prepare for the 2006 draft on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Rockies have the second overall pick.
"I thought it was silly then and I'd think it was silly now if I had to do it again, but I understand why they do it," said Cook, a second-round draft pick in '97. "You don't want to give a guy a couple million dollars and two years down the road figure out he's a psycho."
Baseball players say they appreciate the fact that other than the written tests, the process is not as time consuming, invasive and pressure-packed as in other sports. For example, National Football League annually calls potential draft picks to Indianapolis for scouting combine workouts, where teams test and prod players to determine physical ability, assess possible injuries and get a personality read in a high-pressure environment.
"There's so much pressure that those guys have to go through," said pitcher Jason Jennings, Colorado's top pick in 1999. "Say you just don't have it that day and you don't run fast enough. You get dropped two rounds. It's crazy."
The process in baseball is different because teams have more time to get to know players.
High school seniors are eligible for the draft, so teams have already been following them for three years. In many cases, the high school and summer league coaches also work as scouts and are part of a constant information network. Area scouts are expected to know a player from all angles.
If a high school player is drafted, the scout that followed him often is the point man in bonus negotiations. If the player goes to college -- sometimes the scout's input helps the player and his family to make that choice -- the scout keeps following him.
What the NFL is finding out through testing and, in some cases, conducting background checks at draft time, a good Major League scout would know because he has developed a personal relationship.
"It starts with the area scouts," Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt said. "It's one thing to know what kind of ability a kid has, but we also want to know what kind of person he is. I think we've done a good job of that. We have some area scouts that have been here as long as the organization has been here."
Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis grew up in British Columbia, Canada. Scouts knew him as a high school player and amateur, but the attention intensified when he became a collegiate standout at the University of British Columbia. Francis said he believes all 30 teams visited with him and his parents.
Francis said he doesn't remember much from his meeting with Rockies scout Greg Hopkins, who still gathered all the information the club needed. Just one visit was memorable.
"I think it was a Phillies or a Reds guy," Francis said. "He asked me about my approach to pitching. Then he asked me if I could touch my left hand to my left shoulder. I guess a lot of people can't. I guess you can't if you have an arm injury."
Potential injuries are vexing to clubs, because their doctors can not scrutinize players the way doctors can in other sports.
"Unfortunately, we don't have anything prior to the draft but we run complete physical examinations on them because you have that 90-day window after the draft," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "If there is something that is wrong with the player, you can void the contract."
Psychological testing is allowed if the player will agree to it, O'Dowd said. A test administered by the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau can be circulated, and teams can ask players to take their own tests.
The Rockies administer tests. Ronn Svetich, who works with the team's Major Leaguers and Minor Leaguers as mental skills coach, was instrumental in developing the test and consults with the scouting department on the results.
"It's just one tool we will use to evaluate the player, but certainly not the only tool," O'Dowd said. "It's just part of the building of the data of information that you use to make the pick."
Schmidt said the player's age and maturity are considered.
"You're a different person now than when you were 17 or 18 years old," Schmidt said.
As a prospect matures, the Rockies have scouts whose job is to know about it.
"And not very far down the road, in the next three weeks or so, our scouts are working on the kids in next year's draft," Schmidt said.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.