Global Baseball

One man\’s year-long journey through the world of baseball

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.

Mexico

Major Leaguers produced: 98

Best Active Players: Erubiel Durazo, Oliver Perez, Esteban Loaiza

Top prospects:

Joakim Soria, RHP, Royals , Luis Cruz, SS, Padres, Pablo Mehchaca, RHP, Padres

Panama 

Major Leaguers Produced: 48

Best Active Players: Carlos Lee, Mariano Rivera

Top Prospects:

Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies, Davis Romero, LHP,  Blue Jays

Australia

Major Leaguers Produced: 20

Best Active Players: Umm…Chris Snelling?  Justin Huber?  It’s a real down cycle for Australian major leaguers.

Top Prospects:

Shane Lindsay, RHP, Rockies (injured), John Hussey, SP, Padres, Jason Smit, SS, Indians

South Korea 

Major Leaguers Produced: 13

Best Active Players: Um…Jae Wong Seo?  Chan Ho Park?  Shin Soo Choo?

Best Prospect: Yong Il Jung, RHP, Angels

Nicaragua

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.

Columbia

Major Leaguers Produced: 8

Best Active Players: Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera

Top Prospects: Emiliano Fruto, RHP, Nationals, Ronald Ramirez, 2B/SS, Astros

Netherlands

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

Curacao

Major Leaguers Produced: 6

Best Active Player: Andruw Jones

Top Prospects: Wladimir Balentien, OF, Mariners, Scharlon Schoop, SS, Giants, Shairon Martis, RHP, Giants

Taiwan

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

The Verdict

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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March 6, 2007 - Posted by | Australian Baseball, European Baseball, Prospects, Random Musings, Taiwanese Baseball

8 Comments »

  1. Here is a good article on a prospect from Nicaragua. He is currently trying to make the major league team. Devern Hansack. It’s a good read, beleive me!

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2762971

    Comment by Dominican soxfan | March 6, 2007

  2. Thanks!

    There’s one corollary to what I wrote, which is that in prospect combing, I didn’t really do a good job of finding kids from other countries who went to high school in the states. Yovani Gallardo, for example, was born in Mexico, but came up through the Amateur Draft because he went to high school in Texas. For my purposes, I’m not really sure if that counts, but there are a lot of guys like that out there.

    Comment by jhelfgott | March 6, 2007

  3. My wife is from Brazil and I know there are a handful of Brazilian minor league prospects currently playing in the United States. Will MLB ever make a push into Brazil?

    Comment by Richard | March 9, 2007

  4. you are missing someone from mexico.YOVANI GALLARDO, rhp, Brewers he participate on the future game representing mexico he is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.i wanted to know if you knew the name for some internacional player who have some buzz going into the 2007 singing period? and who of the 2006 player have been cnsider a bargin considerin the money they sign.

    Comment by norberto paulino | March 11, 2007

  5. Jaime Garcia is from Mexico. I believe he is currently rated the second best prospect in the Cardinals system.

    Comment by Richard | March 11, 2007

  6. norberto, jhelf mentioned Gallardo in comment two. If someone plays high school ball in the USA are they are a product of their origin country’s talent or of the US coaching?

    It is a tough call, and likely lies in the “both” category with the amount of time spent in the USA being the key.

    Comment by bedir than average | March 12, 2007

  7. Garcia was drafted by the Cardinals and is listed as being born in the US. That doesn’t mean he isn’t Mexican, but again, if a team acquires a player through the draft that means they came up through some sort of US (or Puerto Rican) talent development system. At that point, I don’t think they really count as international talent, if for no other reason than the team is using its domestic budget to scout/sign guys like Gallardo and Garcia.

    Re: Brazil,

    I pretty seriously doubt it. Soccer (futbol) has too much of a stranglehold on the top athletic talent there to develop the kind of depth of talent needed to start regularly producing major league talent. If the game’s demographics change considerably in the next few years it will be because of increased representation of Taiwanese and Japanese players and the re-incorporation of Cuban players into the majors.

    Comment by jhelfgott | March 23, 2007

  8. I just signed Pablo Menchaca (spelling is wrong on your blog) He threw 6 hitless innings in extended spring training this past week against the Royals in AZ. He’s an up and coming phenom that should be on a full season team real soon. Mexico has some hidden gems that our agency is soon to bring to the big leagues! Great job on your project! We solely represent Latino players. Here are some names to watch out for. Rangers: Wilmer Font(VZL) RHP (16 year old) 6’6 throws 96. KC: Alwin Perez (Pan)- 2B- great hands and bat speed. Padres: Rayner Contreras 3b, 5 tool player at fort wayne (DOM) Luis Durango (Pan)OF= broke 60 yard sprint record during spring training- 6.22- won batting champ title for AZL rookie last year

    Comment by Adrian | April 27, 2007


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