The fastball is the first pitch one will look at when scouting. That almost comes simply by default. You watch to see how hard each pitcher is throwing. Pitching grades can be put into the MLB grade out system that is used across all tools within the game to finish out with one single grade.
Grades for a fastball seem to follow in this order:
80: MLB Elite- 97 mph and above
70: MLB Plus- 94 mph to 96 mph
60: MLB Above Average- 92 mph to 94 mph
50: MLB Average- 89 mph to 91 mph
40: MLB Below Average- 87 mph to 88 mph
30: MlB Well Below Average- 85 mph to 86 mph
20: MLB Poor- 84 mph and under
The easiest part that anyone can do is simply to sit at a baseball game and hold up a radar gun to determine how hard a kid is throwing. Seeing the different velocities the average fan can give out a scouting grade depending on the results of each pitch.
The harder part of scouting then starts to fall into place when one is asked to project velocity on an upper level. How hard can a kid throw? How much more velocity can this kid throw with changes in mechanics? Can he put on more weight?
All these questions go into determining a grade out for a pitcher’s fastball. Often times high school pitchers have various parts of their pitching mechanics that can be tweaked to enable a few more mph to be added.
Looking at a pitcher’s body build is also another huge determining factor when trying to make a grade on a pitch. How wide are his shoulders? Are his legs big and in shape?
This is not necessarily me saying that a pitcher’s body build is a final determining factor as to say whether or not a kid can be a prospect. There are pitcher’s with awkward body builds that become great pitchers on the MLB level.
Often times though body build will determine how far a kid can go if nothing seems to change. Then you run into the problem if certain body builds that can’t change, for example if a kid is too small (5’9 or 5’10) and can’t seem to change speeds enough to be effective.
Is a kid too tall, that doesn’t allow his mechanics to always be repeated? These are just a few examples of body builds that could ultimately push a kid out of the prospect conversation and into the project conversation.
Outside of body build and pure velocity…mechanics have to be mentioned along with movement on the pitch. These are normally the dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s section of grading out a fastball.
Does a kid have a slow rotation that wears on his arm? Does his body fly open or stay closed too long? Is his stride long enough? Just a couple questions that have to be answered when watching a kid pitch. All of these could easily take a 50 grade down to a 40 or up to a 60.
I personally love movement on a fastball. If a kid has a great cut to a pitch or solid late movement this can easily help me give a kid a 60 grade, when he might in reality be a legit 50. Movement often times can’t be taught, it comes naturally with release point and how a kid throws the ball. Movement on a fastball can also make an 88 mph pitch seem like 90-91 mph because the bat has to hit the ball earlier so as to avoid the late run on the pitch.
Projections as to how far a kid can make it at the next level most of the time is based off what a kid has done in the past and how clean his mechanics are at this point in his career. The stats of the past can be very helpful, but often times are very vague, because they don’t usually tell the true story of the level of competition the kid is playing at.
Too close out this discussion keep in mind a scout’s grade all be it great, still is more an educated guess rather than the end all be all. A pitcher without decent velocity is going to struggle to get to the next level, so although movement, body build, and command all play a significant role in a fastball’s grade…velocity will be the determining factor in a kid’s draft stock and call up to the next level.