Scouting Notebook: Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder hit like they're 80
There is nothing sweeter in baseball scouting than the phrase "80 raw." It means the highest grade for raw power, the pure ability to hit a ball a country mile. It is also the most elusive tool in baseball, and finding players with the natural hand strength, quickness, bat speed and hip torque to make launching batting-practice balls into the overpriced cheap seats look easy is no easy feat. Back in the good old days, when the Angels actually had power, early comers to Angel Stadium could watch Vladimir Guerrero’s "80-raw" demonstrations, when he liked to hit balls off the rock pile in left center somewhere between 400 or 500 feet.
You have to wait for other teams to come into Anaheim or Los Angeles these days to get a real idea of what consistent 80 raw looks like. Because of the very nature and scarcity of 80 raw, a lot of people mistake good (that’s 60 raw for those scouting at home) with 80. You might get yourself a 70. You want to be careful with the 80. If you scout amateurs, that one high school boy might flash it, or that one college boy might tempt you. But more often than not, it’s not 80 raw. You have to watch big league hitters to properly judge it, and you need to see it in person, not believe secondhand information that distorts player performance. If you don’t see it, don’t believe it.
Last week, with the Milwaukee Brewers in Los Angeles and the Atlanta Braves visiting Anaheim, it was enough to remind one of the Milwaukee Braves and their 80-raw tandem, Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews. There are two 80-raw kind of guys just like Aaron and Mathews were. There is the guy who hits the ball on a hard line drive that keeps rising. Then there is the guy who hits the majestic towering shots that hang in the sky like a summer moon. Each is an 80-raw guy, but the fun part is deciphering how each can create a different trajectory. Enter Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, Milwaukee baseball descendants of a different time, when 80 raw was legit, the only drug was a bottle of Miller High Life, and Aaron and Mathews routinely did at 5 p.m. when Braun and Fielder do today.
Braun is the Aaron. I’m not the first guy to go here, but the lean, loose, almost diminutive body type betrays the true quickness in Braun’s hands. This is the rarest kind of 80 raw -– not the booming majestic type like Fielder’s shots -– but the rocket that climbs on a line drive and accelerates as it rises. It doesn’t hang in the sky. It punches a hole in it. Old-time scouts will tell you to listen to the sound of contact. Experienced scouts who believe that the only way to judge true raw power is to see a guy hit with wood will tell you that you can’t give a guy 80 raw, and if he’s not born with it, he can’t find it in an alley somewhere.
In the meantime, I’ll watch the swings in the big leagues and then head back to the bushes to find that next guy who will show me real 80 raw. Before anybody jumps off a bridge and claims I’m making career comparisons for Braun and Fielder, don’t go there. Potential is nice. But until you bring your 80 raw into a game for 20 years, then you’re just another BP legend.
-- John Klima
John Klima is a product of the Major League Baseball Scout Development Program and the founder of BaseballBeginnings.com. Catch his scouting take every Monday at latimes.com.
Top photo: Ryan Braun. Credit: Morry Gash / Associated Press
Bottom photo: Prince Fielder. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press