A 2,000-mile drive in one weekend to see one pitcher throw one inning was Hugh Buchanan’s reality as an Atlanta Braves scout.
“Scouting was good for me,” Buchanan said. “I’m not sure how good it was for the Braves, but it was good for me.”
Buchanan coached baseball at Parkview High School for 29 seasons. He had a 546-245 record, won 12 region championships and three state titles before joining the Braves organization. Parkview’s baseball field is now named in his honor, and Buchanan was inducted into the Gwinnett Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
After leaving Parkview, Buchanan found himself in a similar situation as the players he would soon evaluate. He, too, was still yearning for more baseball. Now, Buchanan will step away from the game altogether.
“I had a lot of friends in the scouting industry,” Buchanan said. “I didn’t have intentions of a second career, but it kind of just evolved into that.”
Buchanan took a part-time job with the Philadelphia Phillies until his Braves organization connections provided him with an opportunity.
He spent his time watching high school and college players who desired a chance at the professional league. Scouts, such as Buchanan, assess players’ abilities and talents and pass information on to an organization. He said he began working with about 18-25 other Braves scouts that covered the whole country. Buchanan’s scouting area included Tennessee, Alabama and part of Florida.
“It’s really pretty simple,” Buchanan said. “I got paid for my opinion, really, and you hope your opinion is more right than it is wrong.”
Buchanan said scouts watch for five tools: hitting with power, running, arm strength, catching and good defense. He also had to form opinions on pitching aspects such as the ability to command strike zones to throwing at certain velocities. The process has changed over time, and analytics have opened up new avenues for evaluation to judge players’ ability to perform at the major league level.
He said organizations’ wants and needs vary. Some may look for pitchers that are a certain height or above, some may look for very athletic players and some may look for specific skills for a position.
“There are many different philosophies and it differs from organization to organization,” Buchanan said. “You have to know the people that you’re working for and exactly what they’re looking for.”
Buchanan also discussed evaluating intangible qualities such as mental toughness, intelligence and work ethic. Sometimes Buchanan would follow a certain player for two to three years. He described how the deeper scouts go into the process with a player, the more they pay attention to the intangibles in addition to physical skills.
“Once you know a guy has a skillset, then it’s about seeing the guy when he has his bad days and how he responds,” Buchanan said. ”Some people hit that bump in the road and it destroys them. Some become stronger.”
Although Buchanan’s role entailed intriguing aspects, he said his favorite part was simply being at the ballpark.
Buchanan said that outsiders can perceive that scouts are only competitive with one another. In reality, he values the relationships that developed and the networks that he built with other scouts and players.
“You develop your own family within the scouting industry and you look out for each other,” Buchanan said. “You’re not helping each other scout, you’re just helping each other live, you know?”
Buchanan now will retire from a position that showed him a different side to baseball, a new way of looking at the sport and how to build a professional team.
“It surprised me how much I really had to learn about this game,” Buchanan said.
He aimed to work through the 2020 season before his retirement, but impacts of COVID-19 led him to move up his departure.
After traveling to watch countless players at ballparks, Buchanan said he’s looking forward to having time to just watch the birds and squirrels from his porch.
“Baseball is just one part of life,” Buchanan said. “Now, I’m going to get on out there and start doing other things.”