Bob Dylan sang about it way back in 1964 when he wrote and released "The Times They Are a-Changin'." Well, in baseball, the times are changing indeed.
When I went to scout school, the primary tool required of a shortstop was defense. Now, offensive shortstops are prized. Catchers have to call a good game and have strong mechanics, but it sure doesn't hurt if they can hit. A second baseman with speed and a hitting tool can certainly be forgiven if he doesn't have quite the range as his predecessor a few years back. Teams need to score runs. Power is limited on most rosters.
Bringing a quality bat and legs with speed increases the chances of a baseball player finding a place in today's game. And with thin pitching, a team needs to pile up runs to assure success.
In the past, a team would have 11 to 12 pitchers on the 25-man roster. Now, many teams have 13 pitchers, reducing the number of utility and bench players. Position versatility is a must for a player hoping to gain a non-starting roster spot. Deeper bullpens are needed because fewer and fewer pitchers are going deep into games.
Metrics dictate the strategy of many teams. Specialists in the front office are hired to crunch every statistic and provide and analyze data that dictates strategy and roster construction.
The defensive shift is gaining more prominence in the game, especially against left-handed hitters. Many teams put three men on the right side of the diamond and plug the hole between first and second. We're beginning to see more shifts against pull-hitting right-handed hitters as well. Runs are being saved and batting averages are being impacted with defensive shifts.
This year, we are seeing a greater dependency on organizational roster depth than I can remember in the past. In addition to the pitching injuries noted, position-player injuries have impacted lineups. Solutions have come from both within and outside the organization.
Advanced and expanded instant replay has become a standard of the game. Runs have been added and runs have been subtracted in an effort to make the correct decision on the playing field. Instant replay will be refined and fine tuned as the years progress, but the available technology has allowed for a "second look" at plays that are marginal. They could be called either way at the split-second and hurried first glance. In addition, fans attending the game are being shown the replay, an important new aspect that adds excitement to attending a game.
Pitchers from the starting rotation to the closer seem to be bigger, stronger and throwing harder and harder. It isn't unusual for every pitcher in the bullpen to throw in the mid-90s to 100 mph. Sure, there are still pitchers under 6-feet, but the size of the pitching staffs seems to be increasing every year.
The use of the platoon at several positions is much more prevalent. Pitcher/hitter matchups were always used. However, now many clubs are designed with a combination of players assigned to one or more positions on a roster and deployed based upon the pitching matchup.
The cutter is a relatively new pitch that changes the balance and eye level of the hitter just enough so the ball misses the barrel of the bat. Not as sharp as a slider, the cutter is designed to get the hitter to use the end of the bat, rather than the "sweet spot." The slider may miss more bats, but the cutter can be a lethal pitch against a "dead red" fastball hitter. Of course, pitchers using the cutter certainly get their share of swings and misses with the pitch as well.
Speed is becoming even more crucial. Speed changes games, forces defensive mistakes and takes base hits away. It is a dynamic tool that can't be taught. The nuances and use of speed can be taught. More and more, clubs are reserving roster space for players with speed enough to steal bases with ease, run down balls in the outfield and/or take an extra base at will. Speedy players have reintroduced the bunt or the dribbler to the infield as an effective means to get on base. And more speedy players are learning to see more pitches and look for a walk. It's always been true -- a walk is as good as a hit.
The baseball times are changin'. There are no secrets. There are no players "flying under the radar." Scouts will find any player with tools. Anywhere in the world.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less