Baseball scouts have amazing memories. They can recall a kid they saw 10 years ago and recite the report as if it were written yesterday.

"Oh, yeah, I remember him. Inside-out swing. Good runner. Soft hands. Decent range. So-so arm. Signed with the Cardinals. Never got out of A ball."

Just don't ask a baseball scout what color rental car he's driving - thank goodness for those remote-control horns - what room he's staying in, or even what airport he flew out of.

Not at this time of the year, at least.

Not when they've been on the road for 3 1/2 months preparing for the draft.

"You don't remember what you did yesterday, only where you need to be next," said Phillies scout Eric Valent.

The quest to find the next great Phillie can be so consuming that a scout can forget which city his trip started in.

Jim Fregosi Jr. used to cover the Western United States for the Phillies. Several years ago, he drove from his Southern California home to the airport to begin a 25-day trip that took him in and out of cities, stadiums and airports. He watched games, worked out prospects, and wrote dozens of reports before he decided it was time to go home.

He booked a ticket to Los Angeles International Airport. He landed, picked up his luggage, and took the shuttle to the parking lot. A veteran traveler, Fregosi always parked in the same area. That's why it was so startling when his car wasn't there.

He flagged down a security guard, and they drove up and down the aisles looking for the car.

Finally, they gave up and headed to the office. Fregosi called the police. Then he called his wife.

"I'm at LAX," Fregosi told his wife. "My car's been stolen."

"What are you doing at LAX?" Mary Fregosi asked. "You flew out of Ontario," she said, referring to a different Southern California airport.

Fregosi, who now covers the major leagues for the Phillies, laughed as he recalled the story the other day.

"I hung up the phone before the cops arrived, rented a car, and drove to Ontario," he said.

Major League Baseball's first-year player draft begins tomorrow night and runs through Thursday. If you think this is just another event on the baseball calendar, think again. The Phillies won the World Series last year largely on the strength of a nucleus that includes Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Ryan Madson. All were drafted by the organization. Closer Brad Lidge, who recorded the final out of the World Series, came in a trade for three players originally drafted by the Phils.

The draft is the culmination of a yearlong effort that includes 21 full-time scouts, a dozen part-time scouts, and a handful of front-office employees.

Actually, the process of identifying and ultimately selecting a player can last years.

Gene Schall, the Phils' East region supervisor, began keeping "a book" on New Jersey high school pitcher Jason Knapp in 2006. Last year, the Phils selected Knapp in the second round of the draft, and he is now one of the organization's top prospects. In 2002, Phillies scouts took a liking to outfielder Michael Taylor, then a high school sophomore in Florida. Five years later, the team selected him in the fifth round, after his junior year at Stanford.

Every time a Phillies scout sees a player that the team has an interest in, the scout fills out a detailed report. According to Rob Holiday, the Phils' assistant director of scouting, the team has 800 players and more than 1,200 reports in its computer system as it prepares for tomorrow's draft.

Overwhelming?

"We're all brain-dead at this point," scouting director Marti Wolever said. "If you're getting five hours of sleep at this time of year, you're doing pretty well."

Wolever and his top lieutenants, Mike Ledna, Bill Moore, Brian Kohlscheen, Darrell Conner, and Schall, arrived in Philadelphia last Monday for a week's worth of round-the-clock meetings. While Howard, Utley, Rollins and Hamels were on the West Coast playing games, the Phillies' scouting bosses sat in front of a row of laptops and pored over reports, some of which they had filed, others of which had come from other members of the scouting staff.

On Thursday morning, the scouts reviewed every high school pitcher in their system. They phoned area scouts for last-minute appraisals. They debated the strengths and weaknesses of each pitcher. Maybe they even argued a little.

"Healthy discussion," Wolever said, smiling.

By the time the meeting had broken up, they had ranked each pitcher and had a plan on how to proceed once the draft begins. Some of the pitchers will end up with other clubs. One might be a future Phillies ace.

"This is where we guess," Kohlscheen said with a laugh in the Phils' draft war room.

"Educated guess," Moore said.

"Calculated guess," Wolever said.

The draft can be a bit of a crapshoot. That's how an Albert Pujols goes in the 13th round and a Mike Piazza in the 62d round. Trying to project what a 17-year-old high school outfielder will look like when he's 23 is not easy. Trying to determine if a college slugger can make the transition from aluminum bat to wooden bat is difficult.

It's calculated guesswork.

But endless hours of homework go into the guesswork.

Valent learned that this year.

You remember Eric Valent, right? The Phillies selected him with the 42d pick in the 1998 draft. (The Phils received that pick as compensation for not signing top pick J.D. Drew the year before.) Valent, who had starred at UCLA, went on to play parts of five seasons in the majors with the Phils, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Mets.

After his playing career ended in 2006, Valent, 32, coached in the minors for the Phils before joining the scouting staff this past winter. He covers the Northeast - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England - and his job comes with a company car.

"I got it on Jan. 5, and it had 23,000 miles on it," he said Thursday. "Now it has 41,000."

That's some serious driving.

Valent's first scouting trip began Feb. 26. He left his home in Sinking Spring, Pa., stopped at the University of North Carolina to watch a player, then proceeded to Florida, where he spent three weeks trailing college teams from the Northeast that were playing in the Sunshine State. On the way home, he caught a game at the University of Maryland.

"From Feb. 26 through the first two weeks of May, I saw a game every day, including a triple-header in Florida," Valent said.

The job requires long hours away from his wife, Jen, and two young sons, but Valent enjoys it.

"I always knew I wanted to stay in baseball," he said.

Covering the Northeast is a challenge. The college and high school seasons are short because of the weather, and a scout must be well-organized in planning his schedule. A couple of days of rain can throw off an entire week.

"I spend a lot of time on weather.com," Valent said, laughing.

Valent tries to see "profile" draft prospects - those who might go in the top eight rounds - three times: early season, midseason and late. In pitchers, he looks for velocity, the movement of pitches, the ability to change speeds, and the pitcher's overall feel for pitching. A long, pitcher's-type body doesn't hurt, either.

"You look for ingredients that the player-development staff can work with," he said.

In position players, Valent looks at the five big tools - overall hitting ability, power, speed, fielding, and throwing arm. He grades players on the 20-80 scale that all scouts use. On the scale, 50 is a baseline major-league player, 55 is a big-league starter, 60 is a borderline all-star, and "70 is Barry Bonds," Valent said.

Valent grades every tool and comes up with a total number. If the player grades out at 50 or better, Schall, a former La Salle High and Villanova star who went on to play for the Phillies, comes out for a look. If he likes what he sees, Ledna, Moore and Wolever might come out for a look.

If the scouting staff wants to see a little more of a player, it invites him to Citizens Bank Park for a predraft workout. On Thursday, two pitchers whom Valent had scouted extensively, Darin Gorski of Kutztown University and Ryan Buch of Monmouth University, threw for a gaggle of Phillies scouts and executives at the park.

Personal workouts give Phillies scouts a chance to meet players and get to know them a little. In addition to judging a player's physical tools, scouts try to get a read on the player's character. What makes him tick? Is he a competitor? Is he soft? It all falls under the heading of makeup.

"Makeup is important," Valent said. "You don't want to be picking a bad guy.

"But in the end, talent is what you want. No one would care that Chase played the game hard if he stunk. That doesn't help you win the World Series."

The Phillies do not have a first-round pick in tomorrow night's draft. They forfeited it for signing free agent Raul Ibanez. (No one is complaining about that after the start Ibanez has had.) The team's first pick will be 75th overall. That's nothing to sneeze at. Remember, Howard was picked 140th overall in 2001.

Regardless of where they pick, Phils scouts have worked just as hard as always on this draft. They have watched hundreds of prospects and written more than a thousand reports. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel. They have logged thousands of miles in rental cars and hundreds of nights in hotel rooms.

All in search of the next great Phillie.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.