So, this topic was inspired by Mike Piazza, a guy who was picked incredibly late in the draft and became a HoFer. I wondered this morning, are there players who could become useful major leaguers if they were given a chance to develop? With the cost of a mediocre FA starting pitcher close to becoming $10M/yr, would it make sense for teams to spend more time and resources trying to develop young talent? I had this crazy thought that teams could start a baseball college. They would identify players that were good athletes and had good hand-eye coordination, but just hadn’t become good baseball players yet.
A team could build basically a small campus with the intent to develop athletes into major league players. It would have dorms, a cafeteria, 4 diamonds, a gym and classrooms. Teams would recruit athletes that weren’t deemed ready for the minor leagues and offer them a free colledge education as long as they participated in the baseball development program. The actual academic program would be the smallest possible to be able to offer a full bachelors program in a few degrees, probably education, business, computer science. It would be small enough that for some subjects you would probably only need one professor in a department to fill the necessary non-major core classes (one for English, History, Math, etc).
You could build it somewhere in the south where baseball could be played as much as possible, and hopefully where land and cost of living is cheap. The students wouldn’t play in competitive leagues. The school would have enough players that they could play games against each other. You would probably have to have 3 times as many pitchers as position players, so that a pitcher’s arm wouldn’t get overworked (I’m envisioning 9 months of baseball, with pitchers only being allowed to participate 3 months at a time).
For students, it’s an easy decision. You get to go to college without having to pay for tuition, room, or board. If a student was interested in the program but wanted a different major, you could have them participate in the baseball program, and they could get an online degree of their choice, paid for by the team. You could even keep school costs down and let players earn spending money by having them do basic jobs like kitchen help, janitorial, etc.
For teams, you get to develop a player the way you want. You control their diet, their workouts, and you have more time to actually coach baseball than you do in a minor league. You could offer the facility to your minor leaguers when their team isn’t in season. They could move on campus, get a free education in the offseason, and you get to work with them to refine skills and help keep them in shape. You could teach alternate skills in the offseason. How useful would it be if a utility infielder learned how to catch in the offseason? Wouldn’t it be fun if you could teach the knuckleball to position players and pitchers as a backup for when a game gets out of hand and the bullpen is shot.
When a player graduates, a player may get invited to be a minor leaguer, or some other spot in the organization, or they get to use their degree and enter the real world. I also think it would be interesting if the team would offer education on how to be a scout to all their students. Even if a graduate of the program left, how useful would it be to have a trained scout be able to watch local players wherever they live and file reports part time?
I don’t know how much this would all cost, but I imagine it would be less than the cost of a mediocre FA.