By Yusseff Díaz
Ben Badler is considered by the masses as a baseball guru when it comes to evaluating prospects and his publication Baseball America is considered the bible on rating these prospects. A lot of publications and writers, including myself base their analysis on BA’s scouting reports.
I was able to contact Mr. Badler via Twitter and conduct a very candid interview in which he lets us into the world of Baseball America. He explains how the publication conducts its scouting and rates up and coming prospects.
Badler gives us insight into this year’s international signing period and about what some consider a controversial rating of Víctor Víctor Mesa as the #1 prospect in the 2019 international period.
How did you get into scouting prospects, or better yet, how did you get started at Baseball America?
From the time I was a kid I knew I wanted to work in sports, and over time I gravitated more towards baseball. I applied to colleges based on which schools had sport management programs, and I was fortunate that my home state of Massachusetts had one of the best programs in the country at UMass Amherst.
I had been a Baseball America reader for a long time, reading through the Prospect Handbook, the prospects rankings, and scouting reports. So I was thrilled to get an internship with Baseball America in 2007 and again when they quickly after that offered me a full time job. We’ve had a lot of former BA interns and writers go on to work for clubs up to the assistant GM level, but I genuinely love what I’m able to do at BA, which is why I’ve been here for so long.
In your opinion who is the most talented prospect you have ever scouted?
The two players who stick out the most for me are Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Harper was an underclassmen in high school who stood out as the best player on the field with phenomenal bat speed, power, and arm strength. Strasburg was one of the most dominant college pitchers of all time. He had premium velocity at a time before it became widespread, a wipeout breaking ball and a good changeup that he never had to use much against college hitters, along with excellent command.
In 2019 your rating of Víctor Víctor Mesa was maligned by some, please explain to those detractors why the outfielder was rated so high?
When Mesa played in Cuba, he was a standout player from a young age, especially on the defensive side at a premium position with his speed, range, arm strength, athleticism, and instincts. There was more uncertainty on his pure hitting ability, but the Marlins gave him the biggest bonus of any international prospect in that signing period. While he didn’t strike out much in his first year with the Marlins in 2019, he also has struggled to drive the ball with much of an impact to this point.
How has scouting evolved in the evaluation of Cubans, especially those still on the island?
The players we are scouting now are usually much younger than when I was writing about Cuban players 3, 5, or 8 years ago. At that time, there was a huge wave of Cuban players who were in their 20s leaving Cuba to try to sign with major league clubs. It became progressively younger over time, with more players in that 18-23 age bracket leaving to sign. We’re still seeing a lot of the top talent in that age group, but we’re also seeing more players who are even younger leaving to train in a country like the Dominican Republic and sign with a club.
You chose Pedro Manuel León as the top rated prospect for this period of international free agency. Some publications have rated Céspedes ahead him, what in your distinguishes León from the others?
To clarify, we decided not to put out a talent ranking this year on the 2020-21 signing class. What we did instead was post a list of the players we expected to sign for the top 50 bonuses, with players sorted on the board strictly by how much money we were expecting them to sign for. We have a longer explanation on our site in the intro to that story, but the reality is that teams are reaching unofficial agreements to sign players two years before their signing date, and in some cases even earlier.
Once those players commit to a team, they stop being scouted by other clubs in a competitive environment. With players signing at 16, there is just an enormous amount of things that can change with a player between 14 and 16. Then on top of all that, this year we had a pandemic, during which MLB banned teams from scouting players, even the players in a team’s own upcoming signing class.
So the idea of ranking the top 50 or top 100 international prospects just wouldn’t be fair to our readers or anyone involved in the process. With Leon and Cespedes, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty with both players, in part because of the pandemic and because of how they have been scouted (or not scouted all that much) over the past year.
Do you see an international draft looming in the near future?
Yes. MLB owners still want a draft. They wanted one in the last CBA, and when they were going to have a midterm bargaining session with the players association during the current CBA, they were going to push for an international draft then.
On the other side of the table, the MLBPA might posture as if they are against an international draft, but in reality, they are only looking out for the interests of players on 40-man rosters, so an international draft is not important to them except as a bargaining chip that they can use as leverage to get something they want for the major league players in exchange for agreeing to an international draft.