When I first heard of Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s new book, Future Value: The Battle for Baseball’s Soul and How Teams Will Find the Next Superstar, I was surprised a book like this did not already exist, but I’m glad somebody finally wrote it! In a way, it is the scouting version of Keith Law’s Smart Baseball, which came out about three years ago. Coincidentally, both authors used to work for Law at ESPN, and he wrote the foreword for their book.
As the authors made clear in the book, you really need to have a deep passion and strong dedication for scouting if you ever want to get into it professionally. It is a harder life than it might appear. Obviously there is a ton of travel involved. Scouts work odd hours. They spend significant time away from their families.
Just because this is a must-read for anybody who wants to get into scouting doesn’t mean that prospect junkies who have no interest in making it a career will not find a lot to like here. I would also recommend this book to anybody who just loves baseball and wants to learn more about it, regardless of how interested they are in scouting. Personally, I would describe myself as the latter, though I do have a strong interest in scouting. It’s just tough for me to do more with it, not least because I live in the Boston area.
Eric and Kiley did an excellent job assembling a comprehensive overview of the world of scouting and how teams approach the draft. Their combined decades of experience scouting and extensive sourcing paints about as complete a picture as one, at least without working for a team and violating their NDAs and sharing confidential information.
As you are probably aware, approaches to scouting and the draft have undergone radical changes in recent years as a result of Statcast and advanced analytical models. Teams are reducing their scouting staffs as they believe more and more that the new objective measurements and advanced video technologies render in-person evaluations obsolete. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the Astros, whose former GM Jeff Luhnow cleaned house with respect to his scouts last year.
To further illustrate this problem, there is a story of an unnamed GM who made the first 40 picks of the draft all by himself. I would be surprised if it was not Luhnow, but the book doesn’t say. Speaking of anonymous sources, it is fun to try to guess who they are. The more connected you are to the world of baseball, the more fun you will likely have speculating on the identities of these people. For example, the authors described one team had an “anti-lytics” approach to the draft, and I guessed the team to be the Mets, but that might be because I am a jaded Mets fan.
The authors are not shy at all about sharing their concerns about teams moving more and more away from scouting, a concern I happen to share. As they mentioned, the scouts vs. sabermetrics debate has always been a silly strawman argument that was never actually real, but it is now becoming an issue. Only time will tell how many teams will follow the Astros’ example, and whether or not it will work.
I was happy to see that Eric and Kiley did not shy away from sharing their problems with the minor leagues and the draft. The vast majority of minor leaguers make far less than minimum wage, which is problematic for reasons the book gets into, and those problems extend beyond the obvious fact that minor leaguers can’t live off of so little money.
The book also explicitly points out the biggest problem with the draft: it is technically a violation of U.S. labor laws, but MLB gets away with it because it is collectively bargained. The problem of course, is that the major league union is the one doing the bargaining. Minor leaguers and amateurs get no say, so the MLBPA is always happy to sell them out to gain more at the bargaining table. Of course, there are more problems with the draft than just this.
The international market is also ripe with problems. The authors speculate that an international draft might not be far away. Things have to be really bad for a draft to make things better.
While the book discusses topics other than scouting, such as the useful, interesting chapter for kids out there who want to be a major leaguer some day, scouting and prospect evaluation are the main focus. The authors very much succeed in explaining just how incredibly difficult this process is.
There are far too many Dunning-Kruger trolls out there who like to critique prospect rankings that would benefit from this book. There are some people who need to understand that scouting is incredibly, incredibly difficult, as is the inexact science of prospect rankings. Personally, I will never understand people who get mad over prospect rankings, and feel that it justifies being incredibly rude to the prospect writers who work incredibly hard in putting them together.
The book really shines when it tells stories and anecdotes. Honestly, I would be happy reading a very big book on just these kinds of stories, and I think a lot of baseball fans would feel the same way. The story on how the Marlins discovered J.T. Realmuto was one of my favorites.
I also enjoyed the final chapter on running a modern team. It goes over every team in varying levels of detail on how progressive the organization is, and how much they rely on analytics to draft and build their teams. Obviously the Astros and Rays are at the forefront, while other teams are trying to catch up. However, some teams are not trying to catch up at all. The World champion Nationals, for example, still rely heavily on scouting.
The only knock I have on the book is that it can get dry at times. Things like going in depth on MLB’s rules and regulations regarding the draft and roster moves are not exactly riveting. To be fair, I don’t know how one can make such things exciting, and the book would be incomplete without it. If you want to work in baseball, these are things you need to know.
To be clear, this is definitely a niche book. Casual fans might want to think twice before reading it. However, serious baseball fans, especially those with a strong interest in the world of scouting, will find a lot to like here.
Okay, I have one more critique, but it is not baseball related, so I’m sticking it here. Early in Chapter 7, the authors describe the 20-80 scale scouts use to evaluate players and tools. To demonstrate how it can really be applied to anything (which my wife will tell you that I do), Eric used the scale to rank Batman movies, both animated and live action.
I have thoughts.
I won’t give away the entire list for fear that it would lead to lots of rude comments in Eric’s mentions. I also have not seen every movie on the list, but I’ve seen most of them.
The movies I have not seen are animated ones where Batman is voiced by someone other than the great Kevin Conroy. I can’t bring myself to watch them. It should be illegal to have anyone other than Conroy voice Batman. The Joke should only ever be voiced by Mark Hamill, but I’m more flexible on that. Because Eric gave The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 any 80 grade, I gave it a shot.
It is very good, and certainly much better than Part 2, but it really suffers without Conroy. Batman was voiced by Peter Weller, and I don’t think the voice worked very well at all, even without comparing him to Conroy. I will begrudgingly give Part 1 a 55 grade. I just can’t do any better in an animated Batman movie without Conroy. Sorry!
Eric is a lot lower on Batman Begins than I am, but my biggest disagreement was giving Mask of the Phantasm a 50. I’d probably give it an 80, but certainly no less than a 70.
Of course, this is all very subjective and done in good fun! To each their own!
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.