A scouting report of Greg Maddux from 1985, the year before his first call-up, is making the rounds today. It's funny because the scout declared Maddux was "not strong enough to be a starter," and we all know how that turned out.
But it's even more fun to look at a series of scouting reports, from the minors and Maddux's first few years in the big leagues. Even more fun than using hindsight to laugh at one poor prediction is looking at the evolution of evaluations on his way to becoming one of the best and most unique pitchers the game has ever known.
(All scouting reports from Diamond Mines, the Hall of Fame's invaluable collection of scanned historical scouting reports for thousands of players. You could spent days in there just looking around.)
The first is from longtime player Duffy Dyer, who in 1985 was preparing internal reports for the Cubs on their minor leaguers.
Maddux, a second-round draft pick in 1984, spent 1985 with the single-A Peoria Cubs. "Ran out of gas," Dyer wrote. "Did not pitch good last 1/3 of season." And, fatally, in the notes column on the far right, Dyer declared that Maddux didn't have the arm strength to be a starter.
The funny thing is, he was kind of right. Maddux was never a fireballer, but early in his career he was hitting mid-90s with his fastball. We'd learn later that just wasn't the type of pitcher Maddux was, but in his age-19 season, Maddux knew no one was there to see him outsmart batters with off-speed pitches. (And it's really not that tough to outsmart single-A hitters.) It's no wonder Maddux "ran out of gas" two-thirds of the way through the year. Had he tried to keep up the velocity, Dyer would have been right: Maddux's arm wasn't strong enough to sustain a career.
This was a good evaluation. Scouting reports, like any good predictions, are about probabilities. Dyer had seen enough arms come and go to recognize which ones were live enough to sustain a major league career, and 999 times out of 1,000, a pitcher with Greg Maddux's physical makeup doesn't make it in the bigs, let alone to Cooperstown. But then, 999 of those 1,000 pitchers don't have Maddux's ability to make his pitches move, his instincts and intellect to beat hitters with pitch selection alone, nor the raw athleticism (something that comes up again and again in his scouting reports) to maximize everything he did have. If anything, Maddux's success just goes to show what a complete freak of nature he was.
In 1986, Maddux made his way through AA and AAA ball, and even had a cup of coffee with Chicago. This report is White Sox scout Larry Monroe's impressions of seeing Maddux at triple-A Des Moines, where his numbers were good—not great—through 18 starts.
"He's gonna be a good one," Monroe wrote. He makes reference to a 88-mph fastball; Maddux had started to figured out that he didn't need to throw it so hard to still be an effective pitch. Instead, he let his movement do its thing: "Tails when up and sinks when down."
Monroe said Maddux needed one more year of seasoning—he was pretty much exactly right on that—and that Maddux had "very good potential to be a consistent winning starter."
1987 was Maddux's first full year in the majors, and it was a rough one. He would go 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA, and at one point be sent back down to the minors for a couple of weeks. In August, Mariners scout Steve Vrablik gave him a pretty good evaluation.
"Strong arm with good stuff," Vrablik wrote of Maddux. "Like his chances." Nevertheless, Vrablik said Maddux was "in over his head" and needed one more year. He was wrong about that.
Maddux won 18 games for the Cubs in 1988, and made the all-star team. That August, Steve Vrablik scouted him again.
Coldly clinical here. But it's interesting to see what changed from the year before. Maddux's fastball had matured to a 6 rating ("above average") in Vrablik's eyes, his control gone from "well below average" to "average," and his changeup improved from "below average" to "above average," all in the span of 12 months.
And for what it's worth, both Maddux's poise and overall rating were pegged at 7, one short of the highest grade.
In the spring of 1990, after Maddux had turned in an even better season, he was evaluated by Eddie Bockman, one of the Phillies' more productive scouts.
Bockman straight-out called Maddux the best righty in the league. He cited the movement on Maddux's fastball and the effectiveness of his off-speed pitches. Bockman noted some above-average velocity from Maddux, who at that point was still hitting the low-90s, but clearly recognized he could thrive without it. Maddux, he wrote, "will be around a long time."
1992 was Maddux's first (of fourth straight) Cy Young seasons, his first 20-win season, and the year before he signed with the Braves in free agency. Red Sox scout Chuck Koney evaluated him in August.
"A premier ML pitcher," Koney wrote, before ranking him just behind Roger Clemens among active starters.
Koney uses the same MLSB out-of-eight scale that Steve Vrablik had used years earlier. Now, Maddux's fastball and slider rate 7s, and his change-up a perfect 8 out of 8. His poise and overall rating, too, are "outstanding"—the highest grade Koney could give. And keep in mind that Koney scouted for more than four decades before retiring in 1993, so he had seen his fair share of talent before getting to Maddux.
That's all there is the Diamond Mines archives. I like to think it's because they stopped scouting Greg Maddux, because by that point everyone already knew he was the smartest damn pitcher who ever toed the rubber.