Global Baseball

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

2007 Australian Academy

Hat tip to friend of Global Baseball David Cairns, who sent along a link to information for the 2007 list of players invited to the 2007 MLB Australian Academy. The names can be found here. While Australia’s been pretty short on impact talent lately, anyone you see signing this season out of Australia will almost definitely come from this list.

Occasionally, teams will sign an international kid and, if they are unable to get him a visa in time, they’ll pay him a rookie-ball salary and have him work out at the Australian Academy to get ready to begin affiliated ball the next season.

The players at this year’s academy who are already signed:

Justin Erasmus, RHP, Red Sox
David Harriot, RHP, Red Sox
Michael Lennox, INF, Red Sox
Elliot Biddle, LHP, Twins
Taylor Rowe, RHP, Twins
Kable Hogben, RHP, Diamondbacks
Jacob Reust, RHP, Indians
Ryan Searle, RHP, Cubs
Angus Roeger, Phillies, OF
Lachlan Hodge, Mets, LHP

Deep-minors prospect divers can check out the stats for the MLBAAP here, but keep in mind they mean absolutely nothing.

RHP Tim Stanford, one of the unsigned pitchers out of New South Wales, auditioned for a few teams last year, but experienced a sudden drop in velocity at the exact wrong time.  He was hitting the upper-80s with a decent curve as a 17-year-old last year, but was only throwing 82-83 come tryout time.  He was described by Australia’s #1 player agent Trevor Jarret as “my star prospect” half a year ago, so if his stuff’s back this summer, he’s a likely sign.

Keeping the kids company are a pair of 20-year-olds from Korea and the Czech Republic.

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June 28, 2007 Posted by | Australian Baseball | 8 Comments

Aussie Breaks New Ground

Seattle Mariners’ Reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith, who hails from Sydney, Australia, became the only player with a hyphenated last name to ever appear on a major league 25-man roster when he was called up from Triple-A a week and a half ago. Rowland-Smith spent 4 days with the major league club before being sent back down, and did not appear in a game.

Rowland-Smith is currently 2-3 with a 5.16 ERA and a 25/16 K/BB in 22.2 IP for Triple-A Tacoma. His name will show up in baseball almanacs listing full rosters, but the Australian lefty will probably have to wait a little longer (and pitch a little better in Triple-A) to get his name up at Baseball-Reference.com.

Hat tip to Elizabeth Cage of MLB’s The Pitch and Aussie & Oceania List for the info.

May 23, 2007 Posted by | Australian Baseball | Leave a comment

Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!

About 6 years ago, Australia emerged as a potentially huge source of international talent.  Since then, most Aussie players have stalled out in Double and Triple-A, including Glenn Williams, the first and (I believe) only Australian player to be represented by Scott Boras as an amateur.  Today, we bring you 3 reports on Australians fighting for regular playing time on major league rosters.

First, and most compelling, is the story of Peter Moylan, the former pharmacy representative who impressed scouts at the World Baseball Classic and now plays in the upper levels of the Braves’ system.  Moylan throws hard heat, but is just now learning what it takes to succeed at the major league level after following the Dennis Quaid path to reborn baseball relevance.

Next, we have a Kansas City Star article on Justin Huber.  Thought to be a lock as Kansas City’s first baseman of the future two years ago, Huber’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when KC acquired Ryan Shealy from the Rockies.  Huber needs a good year to improve his trade value, because it’s looking more and more like he’ll never get a shot with the Royals.  Usually, inability to crack the worst roster in major league baseball’s a pretty damning indictment of someone’s abilities, but KC’s actually pretty stacked at the corners this year.  I remain cautiously optimistic on Huber, but if he doesn’t show enough this year, he’ll turn into a Quad-A guy.

And finally, one of my favorite players, even though he’s yet to complete a full major league season.  According to the Nationals’ website, Chris Snelling seems to be the subject of a dispute in talent evaluation between Nats’ manager Manny Acta and GM Jim Bowden.  At issue: the competition between Snelling and Ryan Church for the starting Left Field job.  Bowden says Snelling’s definitely on the team and a good bet to start in left, while Acta says Church has left field locked up and Snelling’s on the bubble to make the team.  It’s only natural for Bowden to be a fan of Snelling’s.  Snelling and Fruto for Video has the potential to be the rare Bowden masterstroke, though I may be a bit biased as a Mariners fan and full-fledged member of the Cult of Doyle.
Finally,  the Boston Globe ran a piece a couple of weeks ago about the Australian National Team that took home the silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens which shows how much work is left to do promoting the game down under.  What the few Australians in baseball have managed given baseball’s relative status as an extremely specialized niche sport in the country is nothing short of remarkable.  Australians are incredible athletes, and Major League Baseball seems to be rededicating itself by setting up an MLB-funded Australian Winter League, so hopefully we’ll see significant growth in the game in Australia in the next few years.

March 21, 2007 Posted by | Australian Baseball, Chris Snelling | 1 Comment

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.

March 6, 2007 Posted by | Australian Baseball, European Baseball, Prospects, Random Musings, Taiwanese Baseball | 8 Comments

Chris Snelling’s Bizarre Injury History

Apparently, the long chain of Chris Snelling injuries didn’t begin in 2002 when Mariners’ 3rd-base coach Dave Myers told the then-20-year-old Aussie to put the breaks on, or even in 2000 when he broke his hand playing in the minors.   The  Free-Lance Star chronicles Snelling’s bizarre injury history as he prepares to battle for an outfield job in the other Washington this spring.

February 17, 2007 Posted by | Australian Baseball, Chris Snelling | Leave a comment