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Baseball scouts scour the Saladino Tournament for hot prospects

Newsome High’s Tyler Packanik heads home for the game-winning score against Plant at the Saladino Tournament last week. The final score was 4-3.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Newsome High’s Tyler Packanik heads home for the game-winning score against Plant at the Saladino Tournament last week. The final score was 4-3.

TAMPA — Baseball is a game predicated on failure.

The odds, and game itself, are stacked against sustained success. Players who get a hit three-out-of-four times over the course of a season will likely be considered an all-star, despite falling short seven times.

And for the scouts who handpick these players, finding the next Albert Pujols is an equally frustrating chase that parallels the game's many failures.

"There are so many variables," San Francisco Giants' scout Paul Turco Jr., said. "It's an inexact science for sure."

Scouts from dozens of pro and college teams made their yearly pilgrimage to the prestigious Saladino Tournament last week, each trying to land the perfect fit for their organization.

"You take a look at a kid playing basketball and no matter where he plays, the rim is going to be 10 feet (high)," Turco said. "In baseball you have to take into account they're using bats that are different than the major-league level. You have to look at the (hitting/pitching) matchups. And you have to be able to project years down the road in terms of body type as well."

Radar guns may indicate how fast a pitcher throws and stopwatches gauge a player's speed, but those raw numbers don't tell a scout everything he needs to know.

"Another aspect is how well will this kid deal with his first battle with failure?" Turco said. "All these guys have always been the best on their teams and haven't been forced to face (failure). You need to find out how mentally tough you think that kid is."

Most major-league teams use a tiered scouting system that relies on levels throughout the organization. For example, a team will have an area scout that is responsible for a portion of Florida. He then reports a player up to a regional scout, who typically covers a section of the country like the Southeast. That regional scout then will kick a player up to the organization's national scouting director.

"Usually for players who will go in the first five rounds or so, that is the chain of command," Turco said.

But once those higher-profile players are gone, the area scout's opinion becomes even more important. The Major League Baseball draft lasts 50 rounds, leaving a lot of the heavy lifting to the area guys.

"A lot of times it's just one person's opinion," Turco said. "And with so many players, you might only have a chance to see a guy once or twice."

That's another reason scouts descend upon the Saladino Tournament — accessibility.

"Hillsborough County has always been a great area, and you get a chance to see a lot of these kids at once," he said. "And with the format, you can catch games all throughout the weekdays at times games aren't normally held."

Turco, who has been in scouting for 12 years, comes from a family of scouts, including his father, Paul Sr., and brother Anthony. Among the three of them, the Turcos have a combined 46 years of experience in the game.

Paul Turco Jr. said the technological advances have been the most drastic change over the past three decades.

"When my Dad started (in 1986), scouts carried an atlas with them to figure out how to get to places," he said. "They would have to leave numbers for the hotel they were staying at and then go back and check for voicemails. Now, we have a GPS and a smartphone."

Even in the 12 years Turco has been scouting, the rapid advancement of technology has altered the game.

"When I first started, I wasn't even working with a computer," he said. "We were still entering everything by hand."

Florida State assistant coach Mike Bell, who handles the bulk of the scouting for the Seminoles, agreed that technology has made players more accessible.

"Now you can see kids on YouTube, you get emails, video clips, Facebook and it's all instant access," said Bell, who also has coached and scouted for Tennessee and Oklahoma. "You can call anything you want to know up and it's right there at your fingertips."

Bell said that although all these tools exist for the modern scout, there is no replacement for personal interaction.

"You use them as a reference point," he said. "But ultimately you have to go see them and trust your eyes."

Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Baseball scouts scour the Saladino Tournament for hot prospects 03/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 17, 2012 4:31am]

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