Scouting is the act of watching a player and noting different attributes - or lack thereof - and turning in reports to the major league front office (the general manager and his associates) who then make the decision on whether to attempt to sign or draft the player. For hitters, scouts look for five talents: a good glove (the ability to field their position), a good throwing arm, high running speed, the ability to hit for power, and the ability to make contact. For pitchers, control, throwing power, and the ability to throw a breaking ball are the talents scouts look for. However, if the players aren't all American, then the scouts need to go to the players.
America's pastime isn't confined to the United States anymore. Take a look at any major league roster - for instance, the Detroit Tigers. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, Jose Iglesias, and many others have all seen playing time this year. All are from Central America. Several good Japanese players are sprinkled around the majors, as well as Korean and Australian players. There's even a couple Brazilian players, most notably Yan Gomes for the Cleveland Indians. However, these players didn't just walk into America and get signed. They were found by international scouts.
Scouts are everywhere. Go to a college game and look behind home plate. They're the people – mostly single men - with the radar guns pointed toward the mound and clipboards sitting on their laps. Scouts from the same organization might be chatting amongst themselves, discussing whether the burly first baseman can slim down enough to become a contributor at the major league level or if this pitcher's elbow can hold together with his weird pitching motion, or they may just sit silently, note-taking. Every day, all year long, scouts are all over the world, doing this exact thing. Amateur American, Canadian, and players in American territories have to wait out the amateur draft before signing. Amateur players from anywhere else can sign with any team they choose. However, teams don't normally have many scouts in Central America. Even though this is possibly one of the most important areas, where teams don't have to hope the player is there on draft day, there isn't as much coverage, and many really good players fall through the cracks.
Want to be a scout? Be prepared. Teams don't just sign people off the streets who want to be scouts. Some of the best ways to get into MLB scouting is to know a scout, talk with scouts, and know baseball. Most scouts will mention you to higher-ups in their organization if you show interest and a good knowledge of baseball.
I would love this job. It is a lonely occupation, as scouts normally work alone. The pay isn't great – around $50,000 a year, according to scouts – but you get to travel the world. Your travel costs are covered, which is flying coach and staying in motels. Your food is covered. And you get to watch baseball for a living, evaluating different player talents and going where your organization tells you to go. What a job for the baseball lover!