BY STEVE KRAH
Aaron Etchison used to play baseball for a coach who was invested in his players as people as ballplayers.
Now Etchison evaluates diamond talent with an eye for more than the obvious skills.
Etchison was a catcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, graduating in 2007.
“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.
“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”
Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.
In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.
“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.
“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”
Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.
His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.
As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.
He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.
“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”
That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.
“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”
Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.
It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).
“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.
“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”
Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.
But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.
“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”
Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.
Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.
“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”
He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.
Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.
“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.
“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”
Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.
Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.
Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.
“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”
When Bakich became head coach at the University of Michigan he brought Etchison on in the volunteer role, one he stayed in for five seasons (2013-17) plus part of the fall before going into scouting.
“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”
There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.
“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”
He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.
“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.
Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.
Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.
“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”
Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.
Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.
“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.
Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.