Larry Walker – What the Scouts Saw in Him
By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM
Like his HOF classmate, Derek Jeter, Larry Walker was a two-sport athlete, but unlike Jeter, his primary sport was not baseball. Being a Canadian, it was hockey. He didn’t turn his attention baseball until he was 17-years old. So, what did the scouts see in an 18-year-old from Canada with slightly more than one-year of experience of playing relatively high-level baseball?
The attached report by a representative of the MLB Scouting Service indicates that he was a physically mature 6’ 2”, 190-pound inexperienced player with a broad back, strong arms and wrists, “classic” baseball body and tremendous athletic talent. Offensively, on a scale of 2-8, he was a 3 hitter with 3 power and the potential to become a 5 hitter with 5-power. He was a 5 in both speed and baserunning ability. History proves that the scout was correct on all counts. In 17 ML seasons, Larry became the all-time leader in games, at bats, hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in, runs, stolen bases and walks by a Canadian-born player. He is the only Canadian to reach the milestones of 2,000 hits, 300 home runs, and 1,000 RBIs, and he paved the way for other Canadian players. He won 3 NL batting titles, 3 Silver Slugger Awards, made 5 All-Star Teams, won 3 NL batting titles and was the NL MVP in 1997. Scouts said he had a quick bat with potential pull power, and like most young hitters, was aggressive at the plate (5 with the potential of becoming a 6) and swung at too many pitches out of the strike zone. He corrected this as a big leaguer, striking out less than 18% of the time in almost 7,000 at bats.
Defensively, he was a 3-fielder with the potential to become a 5. His range was a 4 with the potential of becoming a 5 and his arm accuracy was a 4 with the potential of becoming a 6. The scouts were right again, as evidenced by his 7 Gold Glove Awards.
Despite his limited experience in the game, scouts gave him a 4 on baseball intelligence with the potential of becoming a 5. They also rated hm good in agility, on and off-field habits, dedication, aptitude and emotional maturity. Because Canadians were not eligible for the draft in 1984, he signed as an undrafted free-agent with the Montreal Expos for $1500, and the rest is history.
Keith Dugger, Head Athletic Trainer for the Rockies, remembers Larry as an exceptional athlete from a strength and mobility perspective. He recalled that Larry did everything at game speed, including sprint work to keep his legs in shape. He also recalled that Larry had a good understanding of how to control work volume. He didn’t, for example, take a lot of batting practice on the field and limited his pre-game swings in the cage to minimize the risk of overuse injury and enhance recovery between games and during the season.
Unsung heroes. Baseball scouts are one of the essential backbones of the game. They put their names and careers on the line every time they recommend or pass on drafting an amateur player. Scouts in previous decades are to be especially applauded for their ability to find young men who contributed to the game. Former scouts, like those who signed players like Larry Walker, watched countless games and based their opinions on how a player moved and reacted to game situations, how they worked when they thought no one was watching, how they performed under pressure, how they handled success and failure, how they respected the game how they performed in the classroom and how they behaved away from the field. They found players without showcases, social media and objective measurements like exit velocity and launch angle. They understood what it took to prepare for success, perform on the field, handle adversity and be a good teammate.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org.