Baseball hasn’t seen high quality fiction over the years, not as much as other genres. Say westerns. There’s probably a baseball novel as good as Shane or True Grit. But there’s probably dozens of western novels as good as Shane or True Grit.
Still, baseball fiction has its established tropes. And one of them is the prospect who comes out of nowhere, and then maybe the old scout who pursuits these mythical prospects. And we are mostly talking the pursuit of hard throwing pitchers, the mythical ‘’hardest thrower any one has ever seen’.
So in our trope the old scout has to stop for gas in Nowheresville, USA, and he’s sees the local kid on the field across the street striking everyone out. Having been discovered, the kid is now obviously on a trajectory to the major leagues. Of course there are dramatically placed plot hurdles to overcome, and these are usually moral in nature.
As a practical matter prospecting and scouting stopped being like that a long time ago, probably the 60’s. No one is out in the sticks driving to random baseball games. To be an area scout or a canvasser, you know your various local high school and college conferences, and you read your local papers. You spot the kids who are excelling, and then go see a game to evaluate if they actually have elite physical tools. You spot the other kids you observe with elite physical tools who are maybe not making the papers, take down their name and addresses and where they will play next . You talk to coaches, to figure out who else locally is making some noise as an amateur. You attend youth instructional camps and watch. Or you run pro tryout camps, just as a cattle call to bring in a lot of boys and see if any are interesting.
And you put all this info on recipe cards, and keep collating and collating to refine what you think are the correct insights re who’s got professional ability. In the modern age, you put it on your laptop. And then in April and May each year you put it together against the data from the other scouts in your organization to figure out who your team is going to draft.
Out of this canvassing and sorting, there really are no unknown prospects that appear spontaneously. Certainly not in the era of the elite amateur athlete, who is typically on the god squad’s iron throne at his affluent suburban high school.
Updated later to add:
So, it happens still…. very occasionally. Usually by a kid who for one reason or another failed to become a big fish in his local amateur baseball ecosystem. A lot of times, these are kids who maybe have a substance abuse problem. Toe Nash is the name of one who was somewhat legendary 20 years ago, signed by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Twins have a guy in their system now, Mark Hamburger, who is a bit like this. And thing is, often times the original / latent behavior problem is insurmountable, and these kids don’t pan out as pros. Poulson is explained as a straight arrow and a late bloomer, so ya figure he’s got a good shot to stick.
But generally, undrafted free agents are viewed more as organizational players. Roster fillers for the low minors. The real prospects need players to play with and against eh? It wasn’t long ago when these undrafted players signed for a decent running ’78 Monte Carlo and $1500 so they could drive down to rookie ball in the Appalachian League. That may have actually been generous, as the expectation is these guys will be released and replaced within a year or two.
Poulson ostensibly got real money because he’s got an actual elitest of the elite physical skill set. I still think he came cheap at $250k. But he hadn’t had any real success as a pitcher in collegiate or high school baseball, and hadn’t come into much contact with the advisor / agent industry.
He’ll make it up if he makes the big leagues, and I bet he will.
You look at this kid Poulson’s stats, and in his amateur league he was striking out just about everyone. I think it was 31 strikeouts in 12 innings. Seems to me even great amateurs who throw in the low nineties don’t achieve that. They might strike out 2 an inning, but still regularly encounter a batter who could at least nub a ground ball into the infield off them. At 100, this kid Poulson was not finding those guys very often.