Baseball teams turn scouts into software users

Somewhere, an old, wizened baseball scout who never before touched a computer is typing player statistics into his laptop instead of scribbling on hotel notepaper.

From the laptop, the data will be shipped via the Internet to the front office of the scout’s team for consideration by its coaches, general manager and other workers, instead of being faxed to the IT department, where techies would have to try to decipher the handwriting and enter it into a computer.

“Actually, they surprised us,” Vince Crossley, network administrator for the Los Angeles Dodgers, said of the National League team’s scouts. Some of the scouts are senior citizens who had no previous computer experience, but Crossley said the process of turning them into users of new laptop-based collaboration software hasn’t been as hard as expected.

“They seemed to be able to adjust to this very, very well,” he said. “We were expecting a lot of training and user issues, and resistance. [But] they do better at working the computers than I do at telling a fastball from a slider.”

Seven Major League Baseball teams are currently using IBM Corp.’s PROS software, which was specially built for baseball scouts on the Notes and Domino technology made by IBM subsidiary Lotus Development Corp. in Cambridge, Mass. In addition to the Dodgers, the Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays all use the software now. A few other prospects are in line to start with it next year, IBM said.

Tony Thallman, a product manager at IBM, said the product is basically a Notes database with special forms created for use by the scouts. The forms include space for scouts to list the basics on a player, such as pitch speed, left-handed or right-handed, batting average or speed running to first base. IBM typically configures the forms with 40 to 50 fields for each team.

After the data is entered, the fields are measured and calculated to give each prospective player being scouted a score that the team can use to assess his potential as a major leaguer. There are also built-in comment fields for written assessments of more intangible assets a player might have, such as leadership capabilities or a good work ethic.

The software “saved us time so we can support other departments,” said Tony Miranda, IT manager for the Blue Jays. “Everyone from the upper management down to the scouts – they all love it.” Scouts for the Blue Jays used to send in documents through an old DOS-based system, but the team’s IT staff had to manually clean up the data for usage by front-office executives. Now, Miranda said, the data is sent directly to a Domino server.

Jim Edwards, senior director of information systems for the Royals, said he and others in the team’s IT group previously had to type often illegible faxes into an IBM AS/400 to get the information to upper management. In addition to using the new collaboration software, Edwards said he also now can send out reports via Notes because, unlike the Dodgers and Jays, the Royals use Notes for corporate messaging and have tied it to PROS.

Edwards, Miranda and Crossley all said they would like to set up virtual private networks so their scouts can access the PROS system from any Internet-connected computer. The best use of the software so far, they agreed, was last month’s annual baseball entry draft – an event that naturally relies heavily on scouting of prospects in high school, college and other countries.