While we wait for the baseball season to get underway and for scouts to get back out on the road for their respective organizations, MLB Pipeline will shine a spotlight on these hard-working evaluators who are typically behind the scenes. We’ll talk to scouts across the game about their best Draft picks, biggest misses, best stories, go-to road food and more.
Bo Hughes was just a boy from North Hollywood.
When he first stepped out on a diamond as a kid in the San Fernando Valley, Hughes never imagined that someday he would be in his third decade of scouting for big league teams, his resume would include a national championship as a collegiate coach, or one day, he would teach Madonna how to play baseball.
Currently in his eighth season with the Indians, the special assignment scout came to Cleveland following time with the Rockies, Angels, the Major League Scouting Bureau, Cal State Fullerton and USC.
“If I could go back and have a talk with my 12-year-old self playing Little League and tell him, ‘Buddy, you’re going to grow up and work for a Major League Baseball team,’ his dreams would have come true,” Hughes said. “The thrill of trying to add a little piece to the Major League picture, it’s hard to put into words. It’s just a great feeling.”
And thanks to his Hollywood upbringing, stuntman brother, background as a teacher, and “good timing,” Hughes got to be a little piece of a few other pictures along the way. A baseball trainer on The Fan, he aided Robert De Niro, Benicio Del Toro and Wesley Snipes; the technical advisor for Summer Catch, he helped Freddie Prinze Jr.; and on the set of A League of Their Own, he not only worked with Madonna, but also Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and the other stars of the famous film.
“It was intriguing,” Hughes said of the film he also got an acting credit in. “A nice combination of sports and movies. And obviously everything is relevant to the time, and at the time the biggest star in the world was in it, Madonna. Everybody wants to know about Madonna.
“Actors are relentless workers and they’re good listeners. It’s fun to be around. It energizes you the way they wanted to work. I actually used to have to hide at lunchtime from Madonna because she wanted to skip lunch and continue to work. She’d come hunting me down in the mess hall. Relentless.”
In the 2004 offseason, Hughes was scouting for the Angels when he got a call from a friend asking if he might consider coming to see a player in his adult weekend league. That friend had helped create the league to get young players off the street, and had earned the evaluator’s respect over many years, so Hughes humored him.
“He said, ‘I’ve got this one kid I want you to see,’” Hughes recalled. “I went and watched him, and he had played junior college but was done there and really had no more options. I liked him enough so I went out again and brought our assistant of player development. We talked to the kid and said, ‘You want to play?’ Of course he wanted to play. So I went to the scouting director and said, ‘I’d like to sign this kid,’ because without his support, it never would happen.”
The young player had athleticism, looseness to his body, his arm action and delivery. Hughes believed all he needed was experience and some added weight, because, “he did things easy and he did things loose. … The arrow was pointing in the right direction.” So the Angels decided to take a chance on the free agent and bring him to Spring Training the following year.
“I went to his house, all his relatives were there, they put together a big feast for us, and we signed Miguel González,” Hughes said. “The rest is on that young man. He was a starting pitcher in the big leagues for years. He’s a great story, great kid, not from a real great area, and he made it work. You can’t be prouder of any situation than that.”
After initially signing with the Angels in 2004, Gonzalez made his Major League debut with the Orioles in 2012 and pitched parts of seven seasons in the big leagues.
Best Draft pick(s)
“As an area scout working in Los Angeles when I first started, my two best, most successful signs were Garrett Atkins, who played [seven of his eight Major League seasons] for the Colorado Rockies, and the other was Justin Miller, a big league pitcher [with the Blue Jays, Marlins, Giants and Dodgers, who passed away in 2013]. Since then, I’ve been a supervisor and a crosschecker for so long, I don’t take any credit, but those were two from my five years as an area scout who found their way to the big leagues.”
“There are countless ones of those,” Hughes said. “It’s a vast amount. But I was on the team that drafted [Mike] Trout, that was a great experience.”
“I didn’t think Dustin Pedroia would turn out the way he did,” the scout said. “I was kind of the low man on him on the team of scouts. It’s a tough one, because you’re looking at the crux of scouting -- you’re looking at the toolset, skillset and mindset, and body projection -- those are the criteria, and he was a tough one. There was no question about the mindset and the motor, he had that. You just weren’t certain if the toolset was going to play at a higher-level speed, in a nutshell. I remember the days I went to scout him vividly because of that. Good for him.”
Go-to road food
“In Clemson, you’ve got The Smokin’ Pig BBQ, off the charts,” Hughes said. “Tallahassee, you’ve got Kool Beanz Café, Jamaican seafood, very good. In Philly, you’ve got to go with cheesesteaks, so you go with Tony Luke’s, it will knock you out. Ann Arbor’s got one of the best breakfast places I’ve ever been, Zingerman’s Roadhouse. In Brooklyn, you’ve got Peter Luger Steakhouse, state of the art, old, but expensive. In Seattle you’ve got 13 Coins, legendary, that’s by the airport. Most of these are by the airports because that’s where we go back to. And the best sandwich I’ve had is in Tampa, Wrights Gourmet House, and for Korean barbeque, Heirloom Market BBQ in Atlanta.”
Advice to industry hopefuls
“Seek out scouts in your immediate area and hook up with them as associates and learn from the ground up as to what we’re looking for in talent evaluation,” Hughes said. “In today’s world, there’s the analytical part, too … Associate scouts ‘intern’ on the road as a scout, so to speak, and the analytical side can come from an internship in the office. There are different ways to enter the house nowadays, not just through the front door.”
Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.