Talking Baseball

SCOTT BARNSBY ’94 spent more than 10 years crisscrossing the country as a scout for the Cleveland Indians before he finally got a full taste of why it was all worth it.

Scott Barnsby ’94, director of scouting for the Cleveland Indians, at the ballpark with his oldest son.

It was the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs, and Barnsby was behind the firstbase dugout when Indians outfielder Rajai Davis—not a powerhitter by any stretch— clubbed a miraculous game-tying home run to keep Cleveland’s title hopes alive.

“Looking around, the excitement, seeing everybody hug each other,” Barnsby recalls. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like that in a ballpark before. The ballpark exploded.”

The Indians wound up losing the game, and the series, in extra innings. But getting that close to securing a world title has kept Barnsby going ever since. And as the director of amateur scouting for the organization, he has a big hand in determining Cleveland’s future success.

A former pitcher for Taft and the University of Massachusetts, Barnsby was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998 and played for two years in the minors before his playing career ended. It was then that a former coach suggested he come to Cleveland as an intern to work with him in the Indians scouting department.

There, he helped assemble an advance report for pitchers to prep for upcoming opponents. But it was a time-consuming task in those days before everything was digital. “Somebody needed to clip all the video and chart all the pitches,” Barnsby says.

When scouts would come in from around the country to discuss prospects, Barnsby found himself gravitating toward them. He loved hearing the stories about players and families, and he missed being at the ballpark. So he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to become an area scout for the Indians.

He was responsible for canvassing Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi for talented high-school and college players that Cleveland might be interested in selecting in the Major League Baseball amateur draft in June. There are 40 rounds to fill, and Barnsby had to be prepared to provide detailed information about any of the prospects from his region.

“The job of an area scout is simple: you know the player inside and out,” he says. Most people assume that simply means his abilities on the field, Barnsby says. But it also requires a personal touch.

“To really learn what makes a guy tick is one of the most important things an area scout can do,” Barnsby said, “along with building a relationship with the player and the family.”

When he started, 80 percent of a scout’s job was reliant upon what he calls “gut feel” about a prospect. But that was before advanced analytics swept across baseball, led by the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s in the early 2000s, who used strictly objective indicators to find advantages over franchises with much larger budgets. Now, scouting departments across baseball are filled with statisticians with Ivy League degrees crunching a head-spinning amount of data about players and tendencies.

That doesn’t mean that instincts and subjective analysis have been entirely excised from the scouting process. “They’re still important pieces of the puzzle,” Barnsby says. “But smaller pieces.”

As scouting director, Barnsby’s time is largely consumed with reading reports and talking with his staff about the directions the club could head in the draft. His time is primarily spent in front of a computer sorting through spreadsheets. And he misses spending more time at the ballpark. But he doesn’t miss all the travel that he used to do in his various scouting roles.

“We joke about the Marriott points,” he says. “Let’s just say we’re at the highest level of status. It was well over 100 nights a year on the road.”

Regardless, he is still connected to the game he loves. “You’re in your car, you’re driving, you’re thinking about baseball,” Barnsby says. “You’re talking about baseball. That’s a lot of fun.”

—Zach Schonbrun ’05