In 1997, a little company named Humongous Entertainment released a game called Backyard Baseball. Even today, this remains one of the best baseball games ever made, with unique game mechanics and a diverse roster of kids that allowed you to craft your team in any way you saw fit. If you played the game, at some point or another you may have wondered what these kids might look like as big leaguers (I certainly did). Because I have way too much time on my hands, here’s 10 scouting reports from the league, with each kid ranked by their future potential and where they might fit in the big leagues. I’ve provided their current ratings (from in the game), and also graded out their future tools.
#10. Mikey Thomas
Batting: 4, Running: 1, Pitching: 2, Fielding: 3
Mikey is your prototypical first baseman, if only because that’s the only position he can play. His hulking frame severely limits his range on the field, but as long as he can fall on it, he can handle it. His value is almost totally derived from his bat. Power-wise, Thomas is second to none, and he doesn’t need to play his home games at Steele Stadium to inflate his home run totals.
However, much like many pure sluggers late in their career, if Mikey doesn’t hit it out, he’s a huge liability. A severe cold that has hampered him for LITERALLY HIS ENTIRE BBL CAREER has made an already slow runner agonizingly slow. It’s not uncommon to see him get thrown out at first on balls that he lined off the wall late in games, when his energy is nearly depleted. If he manages to reach first, a home run is about the only thing that will bring him around safely.
If he turns out to be one of those kids who grows “up” rather than “out” (if you know what I mean), and his cold clears up sometime before he graduates high school, Mikey might be on to something here. Unfortunately, in the present, his elite-level raw power isn’t enough to make up for his other shortcomings, and he finds himself at the tail end of my top 10.
Perfect World Comp: Matt Stairs
#9: Amir Khan
Batting: 3, Running: 2, Pitching: 3, Fielding: 2
Admittedly, this is a bloodline pick. Amir’s older brother Achmed will appear later on this list, so we get a peek into his future. That being said, the younger of the brothers Khan has no real weakness, and benefits from being able to play basically anywhere you need him. His bat makes him sort of a natural right fielder, but his abilities on the mound deserve attention as well. His tools always seem to play up a level when he plays with his brother, so there’s that as well.
Amir’s biggest shortcoming might be his body. While his bro has a big, projectable, athletic frame, Amir is a little on the short side, so it’s hard to see his power remaining above average as he ages. In the end, his value might come mostly on the mound, where he has the potential of a #2 starter with bat suited for the National League.
Perfect World Comp: Carlos Zambrano
#8. Dante Robinson
Batting: 2, Running: 4, Pitching: 2, Fielding: 3
This pick might surprise BBL veterans, but Dante has always been one of my favorites. He has a metabolism that allows him to eat literally pounds of food during each game, and still manages to sport elite-level speed.
His bat has never been more than average, but it should remain there as he grows older. He’ll squeeze out several extra hits a year by simply slapping the ball the other way and running like hell. He also sports a solid glove that makes him a good fit for a corner outfield position or second base.
Dante makes this largely because of his future potential. His body has some room to fill out, so it’s not crazy to think he could add a little power to his game as he moves up the ladder. He will, however, have to reign in his eating habits, as someday that metabolism will slow down. If he hasn’t changed his lifestyle by then, this could come off the rails pretty quickly.
Perfect World Comp: CoCo Crisp
#7. Jocinda Smith
Batting: 4, Running: 2, Pitching: 2, Fielding: 4
Jocinda’s nickname is “MVP”, though it’s pretty obvious she made that up herself, because there are far better options throughout the BBL. That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have talent. The combination of being maybe the best pure hitter in the league and having a glove that can play anywhere makes her any easy selection for any team, and she certainly has some pep in her step.
However, she has a major hitch in her swing, and the awkwardness of it saps much of her power. She isn’t a bad runner, but she’s no burner either. Ultimately, what holds the “MVP” back from being an actual MVP is how disappointing her tools actually play in-game. She has the potential to be a shortstop who can hit in the middle of an order, but instead fits better as a right fielder who hits somewhere in the 6-8 range.
If she can iron out the hitch, there’s still a lot of value here. If not, she could end up as one of those “what could have been” types.
Perfect World Comp: Cameron Maybin
6: Achmed Khan
Batting: 4, Running: 3, Pitching: 2, Fielding: 2
The kid affectionately known as “Axeman” is the first truly great hitter to appear on our list. With a quick, compact swing, Achmed has the power to park any pitch that catches too much of the zone, but the smarts simply go with the pitch as needed. His above-average speed makes him a serious threat on the bases, and allows him to cover a pretty good chunk of real estate in the outfield.
Since the eldest Khan hits enough, the fact that he profiles as a right fielder only doesn’t hurt his stock much. The biggest issue here might be pulling him away from his inevitable punk rock career.
With an athletic frame that allows him plenty of room to grow, there’s no reason to think the kid can’t continue to be an elite hitter as he gets older. The biggest thing keeping Achmed out of the top 5 is simply the fact that he plays a position already stocked with elite bats.
Perfect World Comp: Ryan Braun
#5. Tony Delvecchio
Batting: 3, Running: 2, Pitching: 2, Fielding: 3
Known simply as “The Vec”, Tony has easily the best outfield arm in the league. He doesn’t quite have the speed you want out of a center fielder, but he handles the position well and can stick there as he grows older. At the plate, he has gap power that makes him a natural 5-hitter, and he has the speed to leg out extra bases when needed.
While there isn’t much in his game that holds him back, most of his issues are the off-field. Never one to get along with coaches and teammates, it’s likely that his attitude will cause problems as he gets older. Despite these issues, “The Vec” certainly has the talent to do some special things. Baseball runs in his family’s blood, as his sister Angela might be the best pitcher in the league. If he can keep the non-baseball stuff off the field, there’s a potential impact player here.
Perfect World Comp: Jim Edmonds
#4. Keisha Phillips
Batting: 4, Running: 4, Pitching: 2, Fielding: 3
If you’ve played this game, this will be a pretty controversial ranking. A quick glance at the ratings above looks an awful lot like Bo Jackson. If you know anything about the world of baseball scouting, you know that Bo Jackson is a guy you simply do not compare people to, as there’s really never been anyone like him, before or since. Nonetheless, those numbers don’t lie. Phillips has light-tower power, an uncanny ability to barrel up a baseball, and despite being one of the biggest kids in the league, game-changing speed.
This list is, however, based on the future potential of the player. While in the present, Keisha is a perennial all-star and a top three position player, it’s hard to see the body allowing her tools to age well. The speed will be the first thing to go, and once that’s gone, she’s a first base-only player who will have to hit to survive. If size continues to be a problem, she could lose much of her power long-term.
Perfect World Comp: Jason Giambi
#3. Stephanie Morgan
Batting: 3, Running: 3, Pitching: 2, Fielding: 3
The reason Morgan is this high on the list is the same reason Keisha Phillips is not: future potential. The daughter of a former minor-leaguer, Stephanie can play shortstop, and she can stick. She certainly looks the part, with a lanky, projectable frame. Her power will never be more than average, but quick hands and a flat swing allow her to drive the gaps and occasionally poke one out. While speed isn’t a major part of her game, good instincts allow her a fair share of stolen bases.
Morgan is what scouts call a “baseball rat”, and with no real weaknesses in her game, she might be the best bet of all the BBLers to make the show someday. What she lacks in flair, she makes up for in polish.
Perfect World Comp: Derek Jeter
#2. Pablo Sanchez
Batting: 4, Running: 4, Pitching: 3, Fielding: 4
Simply put, Pablo Sanchez is the greatest fictional athlete of all time. Sure, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez pickled the Beast, Jimmy Chitwood made something like 98% of the shots he took in Hoosiers, and Steve Nebraska struck out all 27 batters he faced (on a mere 81 pitches) in The Scout. None of them have anything on Pablo. There is literally no position on the field that he can’t handle, and that includes the mound. Honestly, you could probably play with two outfielders if he was one of them.
Wars have been started by people with less presence than Pablo has at the plate. He has power to all fields, and generates an unheard of amount of backspin for a kid his age. True story: one season, Pablo hit home runs in eight straight at bats for me, including a 5 for 5 with 5 home runs day. There isn’t a pitch he can’t handle, and if he can barrel it up, he can hit it out. I’m not sure who Ernie Steele’s neighbors were, but they have to be damn tired of fishing Pablo’s moonshots out of their pool.
Pablo’s nickname is “The Secret Weapon”, but I’ve never talked to anyone who knows him as anything but “The Legend”. His athletic prowess doesn’t stop with baseball either. He is literally the best player in every Backyard Sports game ever. In the second installment of Backyard Baseball, Humongous Entertainment introduced MLB players into the game (as kids), and Pablo was still the best. Basketball, Football, Soccer; you name it, he dominated it.
Also, the music:
As you’ve probably figured out by now, the problem here is projection. Just look at this kid:
He’s no older than 14 and he already has what appears to be a beer belly. He might be 5 feet tall when he jumps. He’s one of the quickest players in the league right now, but there’s no way his legs allow that to continue to be true. Pablo’s bat plays anywhere with anyone, but it’s going to take an awful lot of growing to maintain that.
Perfect World Comp: TedWilliamsBot 4000
#1. Pete Wheeler
Batting: 3, Running: 4, Pitching: 3, Fielding: 3
Pete Wheeler bats from the left side. Despite this, every single time he comes to the plate, he steps in on the right side, seemingly forgetting what planet he’s on. Eventually though, he always figures it out, and steps across the plate. He toes the dish, straight-legged, arms extended. His stance is a throwback to the days of Cobb and Ruth. He looks at the pitcher with a thousand-yard stare, his mouth slightly agape, as though he’s astounded that he simply found his way to the park that day. The pitcher kicks and deals, and Pete starts his swing. His eyes narrow, his teeth clench, and he loads back. As the ball approaches the plate, he drives his hands and fires his hips with all the fury of a rabid bear. His bat makes contact, sending the ball on a rope to the right-center gap. And then, something special happens: Pete runs.
My god, does Pete run. His speed is the single-greatest tool in the game and maybe the best in all of sports, fictional or not. If he puts the ball on the ground to anyone but the pitcher and the first baseman, there is a better than 50% chance he’ll beat it out. If he puts a ball in the gap, well, look out. He’s one of those rare guys who everyone on the field knows is stealing and nobody can do anything about it. It’s entirely possible, against a catcher with a below-average arm, for Pete to steal second, and then steal third while the throw is still coming from home. He’s literally a modern day Cool Papa Bell.
Defensively, Pete can play anywhere you need him. At second, he can run balls over to first rather than throw them, and still get a good 85%-90% of runners out. He’s got the range to play anywhere in the outfield, and the arm to handle the left side of the infield. If you put him on the mound, he’s a top-five pitcher in the BBL. At the plate he has above-average power with an above-average hit tool. His swing is a little violent, and more conducive to line drives, but he’ll hit more than his share of home runs.
While Pablo Sanchez will always be the legend of the BBL, the legend of Pete Wheeler will live on in its own right. Developmentally, Pete is already tall and athletic with plenty of room to grow. There’s no reason to think that his legs can’t hold up, and although he might lose some power if that swing doesn’t come under a little more control, he should always be a good pure hitter. He looks like an impact talent at the big league level, a cornerstone guy who a franchise can be built around.
Perfect World Comp: Ichiro Suzuki