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.
After 16 years of playing professional baseball, Shawn Hill was convinced that as he looked ahead to the 2016 season, he would spend it doing the exact same thing.
He wasn’t sure where, or what jersey he might be wearing, but the veteran right-hander -- who played parts of seven seasons in the Majors -- was coming off a summer that included winning a second consecutive gold medal at the Pan Am Games with Team Canada, was playing winter ball for the first time in his career and was feeling good.
When he got the phone call that changed his career path, Hill was in the Dominican Republic preparing to head into the Caribbean Series after 11 1/3 impactful innings in the Venezuelan Winter League. The call came from a friend with a question from Kevin Reese -- currently the Yankees’ senior director of player development and at the time the director of pro scouting.
“He asked if I had any interest in scouting,” Hill recalled. “I said, ‘To be honest, I’ve never really thought about it. I planned on playing this year,’ but I didn’t have a bunch of offers knocking down my door that were overwhelming.”
Two FaceTime interviews later, a third call came with an offer of a different kind, to join the evaluation staff of the Yankees. Hill was on board, but he was also heading into the championship round of the Caribbean Series, so he wasn’t sure what his next steps should be. But his new bosses encouraged him to finish out the playoffs before switching gears.
“So I walked into my manager’s office, who was Luis Rojas, the manager of the Mets now, and I said, ‘I just want to give you a head’s up,’” Hill said. “And he looks concerned, because they had been using me a ton. I told him, ‘I just got hired as a scout for the Yankees.’ He still looks worried so I said, ‘I’m staying, that’s not the issue. I just wanted you to know that if you need to throw me, you should throw me. If I blow out, I blow out.’ He congratulated me and they did use me a lot, in a good way. But it all kind of happened overnight.”
Selected in the sixth round of the 2000 Draft by the Expos, Hill spent five seasons in the organization, four with the Nationals and four with the Blue Jays, along with shorter stints in the Padres, Tigers and White Sox organizations, and a foray into independent ball.
The 39-year-old has had four years as a scout with the Yankees, but the players who have stood out the most were the ones he saw as he was climbing the Minor League ranks.
“Shin-Soo Choo and Greg Dobbs,” Hill said. “They were on the same team [in 2002], the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, with Seattle at the time. Choo was really good, and it was interesting because I didn’t have any trouble with him, but I recognized his talent right away. But from a scouting perspective, looking back on it, I knew Dobbs was something back then. He wasn’t very imposing, he didn’t have crazy bat speed, but the guy knew what he was doing. He was a very professional hitter, even then at Low A. Now you look back at his career and he was a long-time professional hitter. He knew how to handle his business, always had a consistent approach, knew the strike zone.
“Joe Mauer and Yadi Molina were obvious ones, facing them in the lower levels. Mauer I faced in the Florida State League, Yadi I remember we faced him the Opening Day of the Low A season in Clinton. The two of them defensively, compared to everybody else, it was like big leaguers compared to high school guys. You’re thinking, OK this is what a big league catcher looks like.
“And there are a bunch of arms I came across. Dustin McGowan is one I faced in my first full year in the New York-Penn League. He was throwing for Auburn with the Jays and my parents came down to watch. I’m 89-92, throwing my sinker, and he’s out there pumping 97, 98. This was my first full season, and I remember my dad asking me after the game, ‘Are you sure you’ve got what it takes to hang with the big boys?’”
Favorite town or ballpark
“To play it was Philly, I always enjoyed the atmosphere there, the ballpark, everything,” the Georgetown, Ontario native said. “As a scout, my favorite city is Toronto because I get to come home, the time of year generally when I’m there is June or July so the weather’s perfect. … For scouting experience, the best hands-down is Citi Field. They have theater seating and the dining area is top notch, and the lounge area behind the scout section is phenomenal.”
Go-to road food
“It’s largely city dependent. I do like my Cook Out -- that I’ve got to get in Greensboro, or the whole Carolina area and into Tennessee. I try not to do pizza too often but that will be the crutch on late nights sometimes when everything else is shut down. … Raising Cane’s [Chicken Fingers] is another. There’s one in New Orleans, right by the ballpark there, and I got hooked on that when I played in Vegas. It’s really good.”
In-car entertainment of choice
“I mix it up between the normal pop station, go to a little chill music sometimes, and I’ll venture into comedy stations if I have a longer road trip. … But in the stands, I often have my headphones in during games. I have really good hearing and unfortunately pick up all the background noise in conversations around me. So that’s music, but I’ll put on a variety of things so I can allow that part of my brain to wander and allow the eyes to focus on the game.”
Advice for industry hopefuls
"There are so many resources available now,” Hill said. “Dabble into as many different fields as possible -- analytics, software, reach out to high-performance facilities for opportunities to get a feel for what they’re doing on that level. Try to create as many contacts, resources and skillsets as you can to give yourself a wide berth to get into the game. Read and absorb as much as you can, but use as many resources as you can at different levels to try to filter out which information you should be taking to heart. It’s easier said than done.”
Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.