The European Baseball League had its series of championships and qualifiers for next year`s tournaments a little over a week ago, and while the final results at the highest level were nothing new, there were interesting developments brewing beyond the championships.
In the 2007 European Cup in San Marino, the tournament was won by Corenden Kinheim of the Netherlands. To give you a little background, the European cup has been absolutely dominated by the Dutch and Italian professional leagues since its inception. Since 1968, either a Dutch or Italian team has taken the title every single year.
There was, however, a little shakeup in European baseball`s most coveted championship. In the semifinals, the French Rouen Huskies beat ASD Ramini of the Italian league 4-3 to advance to the championship game, where they lost 3-1 to Kinheim. This was the first time in at least 11 years that the European Cup´s second-place team did not come from either the Dutch or Italian league. (The team from the Republic of San Marino has placed both first (2006) and second (2001) during this time, but they play in Serie A1, the Italian Professional League).
In addition to the European Cup, the Cup Winners cup took place on the same dates in Hoofdorp, Netherlands. Traditional European powerhouse Door Neptunus was participating in the cup, after failing to reach the Holland Series in 2006. Neptunus, winners of 5 of the last 8 European Cups, ran the table in what was essentially a consolation event for the Dutch team. They had little trouble, invoking the mercy rule in three of their five contests, including the semifinal match with Arrows Ostrava of the Czech Republic. All in all, Neptunus went 5-0 in the tournament, outscoring their opponents 48-6, with their one close game a 2-0 victory in the final over Saint Boi of the Spanish League. Door Neptunus is well positioned to play with the big boys again next year, as they currently sit atop the Hoofdklasse (Dutch professional league) standings with a 17-5 record.
These tournaments only figure to get more interesting as MLB´s plan to open up Europe continues.
For prospect junkies more concerned about players who might end up coming over to the US than the top-level European competitions, the European Juvinile (July 10-14), Cadet (July 17-21), and Junior Championships (July 30-Aug. 10) are all coming up shortly, and MLB Europe is likely close to announcing the participants at the 2007 MLB European Academy, which will be held in Italy again this summer.
While Major League Baseball has not yet released the full roster of names for the 2007 European Academy, we learn from the Swedish Baseball Blog that no Swedish players were selected this year. We also learn that there is a fair amount of acrimony over the manner in which the tryouts were held this year. Citing the early tryout date (mid-April) and unfavorable location (in Leksend, in the colder Northern part of Sweden), the author of the Swedish blog accuses the academy selection process of being biased towards Southern Europeans, likening tryouts in Leksend in mid-April to attempting to evaluate baseball talent in Alaska in Spring.
Having spoken at length to a representative of MLB’s efforts in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, I doubt that the bias is intentional. At this point, MLB is investing significant resources to developing the game everywhere it sees the potential for baseball to take hold. It does sound like there were serious problems with this particular tryout process, however. Hopefully MLB’s European office will figure out a way to balance interests in this relatively new process to keep as many people as possible happy in the future.
Courtesy of J. from Mariner Minors, the Seattle Times as an interesting piece up on Italian 3B Alex Liddi´s journey through the minor leagues. I´ve had one occasion to see Liddi play in person, at the Mariners’ minor league camp last year. He´s a very exciting talent with tons of raw power and a problem making contact, which is to be expected for an 18-year-old in the Midwest League. Liddi´s currently hitting .229/.333/.414 for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
The success of players like Liddi, fellow Mariner farmhand Greg Halman, and Cubs pitcher Alessandro Maestri could open a floodgate of European scouting, as the game is growing pretty quickly in several different European nations. Outside of Ichiro, baseball hasn´t really had a Dirk Nowitzky moment in awhile. Venezuela became a more consistent talent pipeline in the mid-80s, and there was a rush on Australian prospects when Chris Snelling, Justin Huber, and Travis Blackley were starting to knock on the door to the majors, but that has cooled off a bit.
The Times article includes this quote, which shows that Liddi is conscious of his role as the only Italian position player in the minor leagues:
Liddi is confident he will adjust and said his goal is to make it to the major leagues in three years. “If that happens, I think baseball would get more popular in Italy and it might make it easier for other players from Italy to get signed,” he said.
As part of his efforts to spread the game in his home country, Liddi used to regularly update his blog, which charted his day-to-day progress, but it’s been silent for nearly a year (we here at Global Baseball wouldn’t know anything about that…). However, his countryman Maestri still seems to be checking in every once in awhile at his blog. It’s in Italian, so um…good luck.
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.
- Listin Diario
- Taiwan Baseball
- UK Baseball Fans!
- Mariner Minors
- Dominican Summer League
- Flintoff and Dunn’s Australian Baseball Page
- Nicaraguan Winter League
- Columbian Winter League
- Mexican Winter League
- Venezuelan Winter League
- Cuban Baseball Federation
- Puerto Rican Baseball
- Global Baseball’s 2006 International Bonus Database
- African Baseball
- Angel Villalona
- Australian Baseball
- Ballpark Antics
- Batista Blog
- Buscon System
- Caribbean Series
- Carlos Triunfel
- Chinese Baseball
- Chris Snelling
- Cuban Baseball
- Daisuke Matsuzaka
- Dominican Baseball
- Dutch Baseball
- Dutch Prospects
- European Baseball
- Fantasy Baseball
- Felix Hernandez
- Hardball Times
- IBAF World Cup
- International Signings
- Israeli Baseball
- Local Media
- Minor League Free Agents
- Random Musings
- Scouting Trends
- Signing Period
- South African Baseball
- Taiwanese Baseball
- Willy Aybar
- Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
- Women's Baseball
- World Cup