Global Baseball: Still Dominated by DR and VE
I meant to do something of a writeup on the Caribbean Series a bit closer to the end of it, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the beauty of Okinawa, the spectacle of Okinawan baseball, and the bevy of friends from different parts of my life that descended on this small island in the short time I’ve been here.
During the latter days of the series, however, I started thinking about how far baseball is along in its path towards true globalization. Looking over rosters, the answer came back loud and clear: not very.
Teams are pumping more and more resources into Nicaragua, Columbia, and Panama. Major league baseball’s spending millions promoting the game in China and South Africa. There’s talk of MLB funding the rebirth of the Australian Professional League, which would do a lot to alleviate the huge hit Australian baseball is taking since the IOC decided to dump baseball from the list of events at the summer Olympics (speed walking, however, is still an Olympic event). Israel’s starting up a professional league. The Caribbean Series is considering expanding to include the Nicaraguan and Columbian winter leagues (a bad idea unless the invitation also goes out to Cuba). The MLB European Academy is netting intriguing young talent, and the Seattle Mariners even signed the first kid from El Salvador this offseason. Taiwanese teenagers choose to sign with major league clubs instead of enter the Japanese League’s draft with ever-increasing regularity, and speaking of Japanese baseball, the NPB and Major League Baseball are going to have to seriously re-work the system of player exchange in the next couple of years, as neither side can be particularly happy with the posting system at this point.
There’s growth on the horizon.
However, there’s still a lot of growing left to do.
The top prospects in baseball not acquired through the draft still come from two places: the DR, and Venezuela. Even countries that have produced a handful of quality major leaguers in the past 10-15 years are not showing much of a sign that their output is growing in any meaningful way.
To illustrate this point, let’s look at the top prospects from countries where the draft does not take place not named the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
If anyone feels I’ve missed anybody, feel free to chime in. Combing for prospects is a rather difficult process, so I’m bound to leave some people out.
Major Leaguers produced: 98
Best Active Players: Erubiel Durazo, Oliver Perez, Esteban Loaiza
Joakim Soria, RHP, Royals , Luis Cruz, SS, Padres, Pablo Mehchaca, RHP, Padres
Major Leaguers Produced: 48
Best Active Players: Carlos Lee, Mariano Rivera
Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies, Davis Romero, LHP, Blue Jays
Major Leaguers Produced: 20
Best Active Players: Umm…Chris Snelling? Justin Huber? It’s a real down cycle for Australian major leaguers.
Shane Lindsay, RHP, Rockies (injured), John Hussey, SP, Padres, Jason Smit, SS, Indians
Major Leaguers Produced: 13
Best Active Players: Um…Jae Wong Seo? Chan Ho Park? Shin Soo Choo?
Best Prospect: Yong Il Jung, RHP, Angels
Major Leaguers Produced: 9
Best Active Player: Vicente Padilla
Top Prospects: Nobody really of note. Seattle RHP Juan Carlos Ramirez has some buzz about him in the low minors, but that’s about it.
Major Leaguers Produced: 8
Best Active Players: Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera
Top Prospects: Emiliano Fruto, RHP, Nationals, Ronald Ramirez, 2B/SS, Astros
Major Leaguers Produced: 8
Best Active Player: N/A – best ever: Bert Blyleven
Top Prospects: Alexander Smit, LHP, Twins, Rick Vanden Hurk, RHP, Marlins, Greg Halman, OF, Mariners
Major Leaguers Produced: 6
Best Active Player: Andruw Jones
Top Prospects: Wladimir Balentien, OF, Mariners, Scharlon Schoop, SS, Giants, Shairon Martis, RHP, Giants
Major Leaguers Produced: 4
Best Active Players: Chien Ming Wang, RHP, Yankees, Hong Chih Kuo, LHP, Dodgers
Top Prospects: Chin Ling Hu, SS, Dodgers, Seung Wei Tseng, RHP, Indians, Yung Chi Chen, Mariners
If baseball is growing in areas in Latin America outside of the traditional power houses, the current level of minor league talent from those countries is not showing it. In some cases, there are extenuating circumstances. For instance, it’s really difficult to scout Columbia effectively, what with it occupying a prominent spot on the state department’s travel warning list.
However, outside of Latin America, the sport is clearly growing. Australia’s hit a bit of a low spot since its winter league went broke in the late-90s, but with the possibility of the league’s rebirth, there’s potential to get another strong wave of Australian prospects starting in a couple of years.
The real signs of growth are in Europe and Taiwan. It’s pretty clear that we can attribute the growth of these countries’ minor league representation to money pumped in by major league baseball in the former case, and by individual teams in the latter instance. There are a handful of Nederlanders in the minors who are potential major leaguers, along with a couple of Italian prospects. In the next year, I fully expect to see players from the Czech Republic and South Africa (South Africa’s best young players participate in the MLB European Academy) begin to show up.
Major League Baseball clearly wants to grow the game’s international audience, and with good reason. There are huge markets out there. To put a cynical outlook on it, there are countries out there where baseball can find kids who do not have access to quality agents and have no clear idea of what their talent is worth.
Of course, there’s also the issue of Cuban Baseball potentially opening up its doors to American scouts in the next few years after Castro kicks the bucket, which will completely overhaul the makeup of the minor leagues first, and then eventually the majors, and baseball will come out stronger than ever because of it.
Money to be made + money to be saved = significant motivation to go out and expand the game. It will be interesting to watch MLB’s attempt to become a truly global league unfold over the next decade or two.
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