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From Little League to the Pros, Pitch Count Rule Promotes Good Health and ‘Projectability’

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (Dec. 18, 2006) – Jimmy Lester of Columbus, Ga., is a Little League baseball graduate, a former Minor League baseball player and coach, a professional baseball scout, and father to a Little League Baseball World Series champion. Whether on the field or in the stands, he’s seen plenty of baseball, and believes that Little League’s pitch count rule will assure more young players will pitch, and those pitchers will enjoy better health no matter how long they play.

“I go around the country seeing and comparing the best amateur players,” Mr. Lester, one of the top talent evaluators for the Pittsburgh Pirates, said. “It’s easy to see a player’s arm strength, because we can all read a radar gun, but the main thing is projecting what he can be and determine what his risk factors are.”

More information on the Little League pitch count rule can be found here: http://www.littleleague.org/media/pitch_Count_Resource_Page.asp

For 15 years, Mr. Lester has been a professional baseball scout for the Colorado Rockies, Montreal Expos, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Pirates. During his playing days he was a second baseman and shortstop in the Expos and San Diego Padres organizations (1985-88); and later was hitting coach for the Padres’ Class A long-season team in Charleston, S.C. (1989-91).

With the Pirates for the past five years, Mr. Lester is the organization’s national cross-checker. In consultation with three regional supervisors in the U.S., the majority of his research, observations and critiques precede the annual amateur entry draft in June.

“I try to get as many opinions as possible,” Mr. Lester said. “We do extensive medical background checks and look at a player’s entire medical history, right down to their basic family doctor appointments.”

The goal is to find players who are sound in mind and body, and worthy of the potential investment.

“Multi-sport athletes show versatility,” Mr. Lester said. “Playing other sports adds dimensions to a player’s game, and (scouts) go watch to find out more about his competitiveness.”

Pitching is always at a premium and for that reason alone, Mr. Lester is thrilled Little League has decided to institute a pitch count. On a personal level, he is pleased to see Little League take the responsibility of protecting the players in its program.

“I think the pitch count is warranted in Little League, but it will change the game,” he said. “Counting pitches will increase the number of strikes kids will try to throw, so coaches have to work more on mechanics and strike-throwing ability. Also, I think the pitch count will help put more strategy into the game, because a manager is now going to need four or five pitchers to compete.”

Mr. Lester enjoyed the unique opportunity of following his son, Josh, and the Columbus (Ga.) Northern Little League that defeated Kawaguchi City, Japan, 2-1, to win the 2006 Little League Baseball World Series. As the team traveled the road to Williamsport, Mr. Lester saw managers push the limits of their pitcher’s arms.

“I thought (a team) could get to the World Series with one dominant pitcher,” Mr. Lester said. “Fortunately, we had two in Kyle Carter and J.T. Phillips. Now, with the pitch count, I think a team will need more pitchers to get there and win the tournament. Moreover, you’ll have to have guys who can throw quality strikes, because all of the hitters can hit and each of the teams can play defense.”

In his opinion, Little League games in the regular season and in tournament play will be more exciting because there won’t be as many strikeouts and teams will have to be better defensively and at the plate.

Pitch counts are nothing new to professional baseball players, but when applying limits to Little Leaguers and later to high school-age players, Mr. Lester said it helps to gauge the “projectability” or strength and mechanics of a player.

“We as scouts like fresh arms and cringe when we hear of players throwing 100-plus pitches,” he said. “You can teach players with fresh arms and mold them. Older players, or players who have thrown a lot, simply don’t adapt well to change and have a greater chance of being injured.”

As an 11-year-old in 1973, Mr. Lester was a member of the Eastern Little League from Columbus that won the Georgia state championship and played in the Southern Region tournament in St. Petersburg, Fla. This past summer, his son’s team had the same opportunity, and eventually achieved what he did not – reaching, and winning the Little League World Series.

Mr. Lester believes it was pitching that separated the fortunes of those two teams, and now Kyle Carter, who was the first World Series pitcher to record four decisions in one World Series tournament, and J.T. Phillips, have caught the eyes of scouts.

“Those guys put themselves on the map because of their arms,” Mr. Lester said. “Rich Carter, Kyle’s dad, was also the team’s pitching coach, and he had both players on a pitch count. Throughout the all-stars they had fresher arms, and now as they get older their arm strength will be building, and I expect them to be pretty much injury-free.”

As for his son, who did not pitch in the Little League International Tournament, Mr. Lester said, “Josh didn't have the arm strength to pitch at that level but he is a good strike thrower. There is not doubt in my mind that there will be a need for pitchers like Josh who don’t throw hard. I suspect that with the pitch count in place you’ll find that a kid is a good pitcher who may not otherwise pitch. There’s no doubt there will be a need to throw more strikes, which means more hits, but that’s OK because that’s why you have defense behind you.”

Jimmy Lester, a national cross-checker for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is one of the Major League Baseball team’s top scouts. Mr. Lester is also the father to Josh Lester, who was a member of the 2006 Little League Baseball World Series champions from Columbus (Ga.) Northern Little League.

(Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates.)
Josh Lester played second base and shortstop for the Columbus Northern Little League during the 2006 Little League Baseball World Series. Josh led the team defensively, recording eight putouts and seven assists without an error.
Columbus Northern Little League players Cody Walker, left, and Josh Lester, right, meet with Manager Randy Morris during a pitching change in a pool play game at the 2006 Little League Baseball World Series. Lester was the leading hitter for the World Champions with a .438 batting average. Walker batted .412 and hit the World Series-winning home run in the team’s 2-1 win over Kawaguchi City, Japan in the championship game.