The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Hammond native Benny Latino embraces change as long-time MLB scout

Benny Latino knows baseball talent. In fact, he knows so much that major-league teams have used his ability as a scout to identify and evaluate amateur baseball players for over 25 years. And it’s his ability to adapt to change that has kept him a valuable asset in the baseball industry.

A native of Hammond, Louisiana, Latino said he was attending a local high school game in 1995 when he off-handedly offered some comments to baseball scouts, who were in attendance, about a couple of players he thought were better than the player the scouts had come to see. The scouts took Latino’s recommendation to watch these other players and determined he was correct in his assessment.

The Rangers ended up offering him a part-time job to scout players in Southeast Louisiana. He worked with scouts Bill Schmidt and Doug Gassaway, whom Latino credits with teaching him the ropes of baseball scouting. When Gassaway moved to the Tampa Bay Rays, he took Latino with him.

Latino is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, with responsibilities to evaluate amateur players in Louisiana, Mississippi, and southern Alabama. Prior to taking the Dodgers job in 2021, he had scouted for the New York Mets, and Florida Marlins, in addition to the Rangers and Rays. He has also held assignments as a professional scout, evaluating players already in the pros, and as an international scout finding prospects in the Dominican Republic.

The game of baseball has seen many changes in recent years, and scouting has had to change along with it. Latino said, “The tools of the major-league scout used to be a stopwatch, a radar gun, and a notepad.” He added, “Nowadays, the tools involve the use of sophisticated video viewing capability, web conferencing, social media, and a laptop.” He said the hardest part of his job is the information gathering on the players. He said, “Sometimes it’s overwhelming.” Despite all the latest technology available today, Latino maintained, “You still can’t judge a player’s work ethic without watching and talking to the player.”

For the past two years, Major League Baseball has reduced the number of amateur player draft rounds to 20, where it was formerly 40 or more. Part of the reason is attributed to MLB forcing 25 percent fewer affiliated minor-league teams two years ago, thus requiring fewer players. Latino believes it has resulted in a situation where some amateur players are missing out on getting the opportunity for a professional career. He noted, “Look at how many players in the past were drafted in round 21 or higher and advanced to the majors.” A prime example is Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza, who was a 62nd round draft pick in 1988.

Latino said many of the better amateur players today are not attending high school. This is especially true in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and California. Instead, they are enrolling in baseball academies, where they can focus on improving their baseball skills for a chance to play professionally. They attend classes a few hours a day at the academies, or are home-schooled, and then spend the rest of their day training.

Latino said that “select” or “travel” teams are great for the sport because they provide a high level of competition for aspiring players. But it has reduced the pool of potential college and professional players, especially among African Americans. Colleges are providing a higher percentage of professional players, while high schools are experiencing reductions.

The changes in the sources of prospects have affected some aspects of how Latino does his job. He previously spent more time at the grass-roots level, making connections with coaches and watching the players in person. The technology being used to capture information about prospects has also had an impact.

The availability of technology and the situation with fewer minor-league teams have caused some major-league clubs to downsize their scouting staff. Latino says the Dodgers took a balanced approach instead. They combined the efficiency and objectivity of a data-driven approach with supplemental in-person evaluations by their existing cadre of scouts.

Latino said baseball players as young as 12 and 13 years old are being tracked by major-league scouts.

Latino has signed between 280 and 300 prospects over his career. 29 of them have made it to the majors. They include some names familiar to New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana.

Chad Gaudin, whom Latino called the “ultimate warrior,” prepped at Crescent City Baptist in New Orleans and played in 11 major-league seasons during 2003 and 2013. He was a 36th round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2001.

Joey Gathright, also drafted by the Rays in 2001, prepped at Bonnabel. Latino said Gathright was the one of the fastest players in the city. He played in seven major-league seasons from 2004 and 2011.

Reid Brignac was an outstanding prep player at St. Amant High School. He was a second-round pick of the Rays in 2004. He played in nine major-league seasons from 2008 to 2016. Brignac is currently a manager in the New York Mets organization.

Drew Avans, a Southeastern Louisiana product, was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 33rd round in 2018. He had an excellent season at the Triple-A level in 2022, at one point with 43 consecutive games getting on base.

One of Latino’s oddest finds drew national attention in 2001. Greg Nash was a raw talent from Gonzales, Louisiana, whom Latino discovered in 2000 playing in the local Sugar Cane League with 30- and 40-year- olds. Nicknamed “Toe” because of his size 18 shoe, Nash was six-foot-six and weighed 215 pounds. Latino had never forgotten he had seen a big kid play in the area six years earlier as a little-leaguer. It turned out that kid was Nash.

Nash, at 18 years old, was a switch-hitter that could hit 400-foot bombs from both sides, and as a pitcher he could throw in the 90s. Since he hadn’t gone to school since seventh or eighth grade, he had flown under the radar as a baseball prospect. According to Peter Gammons’s article for in 2001, Latino said, “I couldn’t believe what I saw--he was The Natural.”

Latino signed Nash to a contract with Tampa Bay for $30,000. Since he had never received any formal coaching, Nash was sent to the Rays’ Instructional League in Tampa to help refine his skills. He played in the outfield alongside future MLB All-Stars Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford, according to Gammons’s article.

Nash played well in the 2001 season in the Appalachian (rookie) League for Tampa Bay affiliate Princeton. But after one season, he was out of baseball due to personal issues.

Latino said recently, “Nash had the most God-given talent of any player I’ve seen. He had the body type of a Dave Winfield, but he was raw.” Latino added, “Remember, Nash did not play organized baseball from age 13 to 18, but there he was, having a credible professional debut season.”

Latino says the best part about his profession are the relationships he’s built with players, coaches, and other scouts over the years. He said, “I’ve gotten to travel all across the country. I’ve probably been to every minor-league ballpark. Along the way, I’ve met some of the best people in the game.


Add a Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)