When Hunter Greene walked out on to Target Field for his workout for the Twins on Friday, TrackMan was waiting for him.
The radar system is used in the major leagues to help measure what players do on the field: spin rate on breaking balls, exit velocity off the bat. These phrases, and others, have become part of baseball’s lexicon — and are being spoken in ballparks across the nation as Major League Baseball prepares for Monday’s amateur draft.
And the Twins are now embracing analytics more than ever as they craft their 2017 draft class. Having Greene on site Friday was an opportunity for the Twins to scrutinize what makes one of the game’s best prospects tick.
Greene topped 101 miles per hour on the radar gun and 96 mph throwing across the diamond from short, and he hit four balls into the stands during batting practice.
The Twins are only interested in Greene as a pitcher, so they only used TrackMan in selected spots.
“We had TrackMan on during his bullpen here so we can look at the data, see what the metrics are,” said Sean Johnson, the Twins scouting director. “His spin rate, see how his changeup looks. How his breaking ball looks on the computer on TrackMan and add it on to what we see with our visuals.”
It’s another layer of information the Twins can use as they evaluate prospects in preparation of drafting No. 1 overall for the third time in franchise history. The Twins have a group of five to six players they are considering for the pick.
Greene, a Los Angeles suburban school standout, has the highest profile because of his blazing fastball — but indications are that the Twins have discovered some concerns as they did their due diligence on him, like the quality of his breaking pitches.
Players such as Vanderbilt righthander Kyle Wright, Louisville first baseman/lefthander Brandon McKay and California prep shortstop Royce Lewis remain in the Twins’ mix.
The final hours before the draft begins will be spent speaking with advisers about bonus demands, which will help the Twins arrive at their choice for the No. 1 overall selection.
Ready to select
The Twins can’t sustain success without building a reliable pitching staff, but the club won’t ignore other positions if the right player is available.
“I’m not a big believer in that one-tool approach — like get all velocity [hard throwers] in one year,” said Derek Falvey, the first-year Twins chief baseball officer. “So we are looking for the best combination of baseball players. That’s the makeup, the tools, the fit with our organization and what we want to do, developmentally.
“Our goal is to consistently draft, every round, the best possible player we think we can get at that stage with the financial parameters we have.”
Analytics helps the Twins, and other teams, in those efforts.
“It’s a great adjunct tool to your eye and your feel and your instincts and your experience,” said former MLB executive Dan O’Dowd, who will help with draft analysis this week on the MLB Network. “It will confirm what you think you know and then it will raise questions of the things you don’t know.
“But it still comes down to human analytics. You can measure all of that, but you have to have the understanding of the kid. How he became that way and, at the end of the day, how he is going to compete.”
A closer look
TrackMan is installed in every major league park, providing data used to determine information such as launch angle for hitters and extension rate for pitchers.
“We can actually break down pitches metrically with spin rate, horizontal break, vertical break, swing-and-miss percentages,” Johnson said. “Trends with swings, are they built for power?”
But many college stadiums have added TrackMan too.
“We are limited to the schools that have them, which is primarily the ACC, SEC, a few Pac-12 teams have it and a couple other random ones do,” Johnson said. “With the high schools, it’s much less.”
The Twins and other teams can download the information and compare it to what the averages are in the majors to get an idea of a player’s upside. The data is combined with scouts’ reports to help provide a fuller picture about a prospect.
“Our IT guys, who are marvelous, have built a platform for us to use on our computers that shows us all this information in one screen shot,” Johnson said.
Getting data on high school players is more difficult because they don’t have TrackMan installed. It is available at some of the summer showcases — but it can be inaccurate, Johnson said, so teams are leery of the information. That’s why the Twins wanted to bring Greene in for a closer look, using their technology.
Using analytics can make a scouting director feel more comfortable when calling a player’s name on draft day. They have a blend of hard data to go with what their scouts have told them.
“We just feel like it is an information race at this point,” Johnson said. “The team with the most data and the right process and plan to utilize it is going to make better decisions.”
It can lead to better drafts, but teams are still going to swing and miss on prospects and blow millions of dollars in signing bonuses. All teams have draft day regrets.
“The only way to drill the draft and hit on every guy,” Johnson said, “is to have a time machine.”