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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Scouting Children: Why MLB Has Teams Competing For 14-Year-Olds

BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic—It’s an early January morning at the Yankees academy in the Dominican Republic. In a couple of hours, hundreds of scouts will be here to watch some of the top Dominican prospects in the 2014 signing class.

For now, on one field, the Yankees are holding a private workout with a pack of team personnel there to evaluate the players. On an adjacent field, with only a few people watching, a pair of infielders are out early taking grounders.

They both look young—too young to be July 2 players for this year. One wears a Nationals shirt and carries a Phillies equipment bag. He looks like he belongs in Little League. He has the mechanics of a child and the arm strength to match.

“He looks like he could be a guy,” said an agent, using the industry nomenclature for a legitimate prospect.

The player is 13 years old, international class of 2016. It’s a school day, but instead he’s here, taking infield on a professional diamond. If the agent doesn’t get him now, someone else will. By paying a family and his youth league coach a few thousand dollars today, a trainer can secure in the neighborhood of 20-40 percent of a player’s future signing bonus.

In Latin America, this sight is not unusual. The system now in place with Major League Baseball drives teams to aggressively scout 14-year-old boys, with trainers and agents looking for the next great 12-year-old. Want to sign one of the top 16-year-old players for this year? You’re probably too late. The aggressive nature of international scouting, combined with MLB’s bonus pool system, gives players incentive to reach agreements with teams earlier than ever. The 2014-15 international signing period begins on July 2, but for some teams, it’s already over, and has been for several months. The race is on to sign the top players for 2015.

“The market really has gone sideways for me,” an American League executive said. “It’s really against my scouting instincts to go get out there on 14- and 15-year-olds. Holy smokes. Who knows? Sometimes you have to do what the rest of the industry does.”

Very interesting article (not behind the usual BA paywall) on the evolving state of the international draft.

The John Wetland Memorial Death (CoB) Posted: April 10, 2014 at 11:01 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: international draft

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   1. Rants Mulliniks Posted: April 11, 2014 at 09:10 AM (#4684316)
I don't think NHL scouts are traveling around to see kids playing hockey in Canada, but you'd think they were by the way the parents act. There are highly competitive teams here for kids as young as 6, and they travel up to 7 hours for tournaments, several times a year. I think its disgusting.
   2. Russ Posted: April 11, 2014 at 09:35 AM (#4684330)
I don't think NHL scouts are traveling around to see kids playing hockey in Canada, but you'd think they were by the way the parents act.


The scouts don't need to go to the games... for the kids that matter, the media hype is so great that the scouts here about them without even needing to travel to see them.
   3. DL from MN Posted: April 11, 2014 at 11:13 AM (#4684430)
Then we wonder why some of the hyped kids don't pan out? It's called puberty.
   4. if nature called, ladodger34 would listen Posted: April 11, 2014 at 11:33 AM (#4684449)
Then we wonder why some of the hyped kids don't pan out? It's called puberty.


There was a guy in our Bronco and Pony league that just towered over us and he threw hard. He just intimidated the heck out of most folks in the league and was dominant.

Then we got to high school. He stopped growing while a bunch of us didn't. He had to start throwing at 60'6". Other guys were throwing just as hard or harder and suddenly, he wasn't quite so dominant.

It's funny - he was recruited by a local Catholic high school (as were a couple of other guys) when he was dominant 13 or 14 year old and he was never that great in high school. He was good, don't get me wrong but not like I think the high school school coach dreamed of.
   5. Rants Mulliniks Posted: April 11, 2014 at 11:34 AM (#4684450)
#2 good point. There is no corresponding example in the US that equates to hockey in Canada, which is literally treated with religious obsession by the media and a good proportion of our citizens.
   6. Canker Soriano Posted: April 11, 2014 at 11:58 AM (#4684477)
There was a guy in our Bronco and Pony league that just towered over us and he threw hard. He just intimidated the heck out of most folks in the league and was dominant.

This was me. At age 11, I started the regional all-star game and struck out all 9 batters I faced. I was 6 inches taller than the next biggest player on the team, nearly as tall as our manager. I looked like I probably drove myself to the game.

I didn't even end up playing in high school. The others caught up pretty quick when we were 12-13 (I never got so much as an inch taller than I was at 11), and then I got sidetracked with other stuff that I found I'd rather be doing.
   7. Randy Jones Posted: April 11, 2014 at 12:11 PM (#4684488)
14 year olds? Pro soccer teams have like 10 year olds in their academies.
   8. BDC Posted: April 11, 2014 at 12:19 PM (#4684490)
It involves different social-class strata, but the top conservatories definitely have scouting networks that keep tabs on very young musicians. Kids get pre-professionalized into talent specializations younger and younger.
   9. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 11, 2014 at 12:21 PM (#4684491)
14 year olds, Dude.
   10. DL from MN Posted: April 11, 2014 at 12:49 PM (#4684507)
Kids get pre-professionalized into talent specializations younger and younger.


I agree and I wonder why. Do they actually get better players or could you train a really good athlete at 15 and have him just as good as the kids who have done it forever by the time he turns 16?

Also, is it a good idea to have kids spending so much of their time on something they will probably never do later in life? I saw a recent scholarly article about changes in mood for college senior athletes when they realize they can't play at a high level of competition any longer. I try to keep my kids fairly balanced but it seems like that is not an option with many activities. You're either all-in or there is no program available.
   11. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: April 11, 2014 at 01:58 PM (#4684546)
Also, is it a good idea to have kids spending so much of their time on something they will probably never do later in life?

They're doing that already. You know how much basketball a stud 13 or 14 year old basketball player plays? Jabari Parker's scholarship offers started rolling in when he was 14. He went to a Top 100 NBA camp before high school. Maybe things shouldn't be this way, but they already are.

There's at least some evidence that the professionalized academy concept that's proliferated in soccer has actually helped bring a little more balance to the players' lives since the academies can at least now do some things to ensure it's not always about soccer all the time 24/7.

The difficulty with baseball of course comes down to pitching as there's a balance between developing skills and wear and tear on arms. But hitters would definitely benefit from academy type setups in terms of their hitting and fielding skills. The problem is one of just compensation for players that young, but of course that's already the problem now, too.
   12. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: April 11, 2014 at 02:19 PM (#4684564)
14 year olds, Dude.
Not another Chad Curtis thread.
   13. if nature called, ladodger34 would listen Posted: April 11, 2014 at 03:12 PM (#4684590)
There's at least some evidence that the professionalized academy concept that's proliferated in soccer has actually helped bring a little more balance to the players' lives since the academies can at least now do some things to ensure it's not always about soccer all the time 24/7.


I would think that the academies that are run by teams might be a bit more protective of the kids. I posted about this yesterday, but a stud 14 year old here in CA could theoretically play tournament ball during the winter months (dec - feb), youth league and travel ball during the spring (feb - jun), summer tournaments, winter ball (aug - nov). There are travel ball tournaments of some sort to be found for every holiday weekend or extended holiday (there are tournaments starting the Friday after thanksgiving) and tournaments between Christmas and New Years.

The biggest problem with this is of course the no down time thing. But a smaller problem is that the same kid probably has 3 or 4 different coaches for the teams he plays on and quite a few parents don't advocate enough for their kids. They see it is a badge of pride that little Billy plays 100+ games a year.

At least with an academy type setting (especially if a team is footing the bill) the players are at least viewed as an investment. I could be wrong of course since I know absolutely nothing about the Dominican academies.

* As a side note, my boys are only 6 and 4. We play soccer during the fall and baseball during the spring. We'll see how that goes in the future, but my current thought is that sports are a good way to stay active, have some fun, etc.
   14. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: April 11, 2014 at 03:19 PM (#4684597)
MLB should have its children taken away.
   15. Manny Coon Posted: April 11, 2014 at 04:04 PM (#4684647)
I agree and I wonder why. Do they actually get better players or could you train a really good athlete at 15 and have him just as good as the kids who have done it forever by the time he turns 16?


In soccer the general thought seems to be certainly skills are easier to pickup at different ages. Ball skills, especially related to ball control and touch seem best learned at a very young age. Mental skills and power skills seem to things guys pick up as they are older. Some people believe this is why American players while often being fit or physical often lack the technique of players from somewhere like Spain.

A completely different activity but not long ago I was reading a story about chess player Judit Polgar and her sisters. Her father basically believed that genius was made and gave his three daughters specialized chess training and home schooling from a young age. All three daughters ended up elite chess players; Judit is considered the best female player ever, her sister Susan was the first woman to become a men's Grandmaster and was woman's world champion and the third sister was "only" a woman's GM and men's IM.

For baseball it would be interesting to see if certain skills were developed better young than others. To me something like pitch recognition of very fast pitches seems like something you would want to train early and often, because it's incredibly difficult at the highest levels.
   16. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 11, 2014 at 04:07 PM (#4684650)
Also, is it a good idea to have kids spending so much of their time on something they will probably never do later in life?


Almost everything I did as a kid was something I didn't directly do in my later life. Doesn't mean I didn't get a lot out of it.

Algebra, psh! Its for suckers!
   17. Walt Davis Posted: April 11, 2014 at 05:49 PM (#4684760)
This was me. At age 11, I started the regional all-star game and struck out all 9 batters I faced. I was 6 inches taller than the next biggest player on the team, nearly as tall as our manager. I looked like I probably drove myself to the game.

I didn't even end up playing in high school. The others caught up pretty quick when we were 12-13 (I never got so much as an inch taller than I was at 11), and then I got sidetracked with other stuff that I found I'd rather be doing.


Sounds to me like you were 3 years older than you claimed. Probably playing under your cousin's name, hoping to pull a Pujols.
   18. Joe Kehoskie Posted: April 11, 2014 at 06:00 PM (#4684771)
At least with an academy type setting (especially if a team is footing the bill) the players are at least viewed as an investment. I could be wrong of course since I know absolutely nothing about the Dominican academies.

Teams foot the bill, but with the exception of players there for short periods for tryouts, the "academies" are full of players already under MLB contract. Teams aren't bringing young amateur kids in and teaching them baseball. ("Academy" is little more than a synonym for "foreign (spring) training complex.")
   19. Canker Soriano Posted: April 11, 2014 at 06:13 PM (#4684777)
Sounds to me like you were 3 years older than you claimed. Probably playing under your cousin's name, hoping to pull a Pujols.

I'd show you my long-form birth certificate, but I have to request it from the Kenyan embassy.
   20. if nature called, ladodger34 would listen Posted: April 11, 2014 at 11:43 PM (#4684895)
Teams foot the bill, but with the exception of players there for short periods for tryouts, the "academies" are full of players already under MLB contract. Teams aren't bringing young amateur kids in and teaching them baseball. ("Academy" is little more than a synonym for "foreign (spring) training complex.")


No, I knew that part. It's sort of like the soccer "academies" in Europe.
   21. if nature called, ladodger34 would listen Posted: April 12, 2014 at 03:11 AM (#4684948)
And really, I'm just more concerned with the current "one sport" movement in high school sports, especially here in CA. When I was in high school (get off my lawn) a season was very well defined. The baseball coach had the kids from February to June (probably really May or so) and if you played in a summer league, the varsity coach wasn't allowed to be around (an assistant could of course). These days, if you play baseball, the coach pretty much has you year round. He or she can even coach travel ball teams from the school. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I still don't like it.

For example, my wife coaches Cross Country which is a fall sport. Coaches of other sports discourage their kids from participating (like basketball) because they can practice during that same time period. It boggles my mind that a high school coach (especially basketball or soccer) would actively discourage their players from participating in something like cross country. If done right, the cross country coach would get all of your endurance training out of the way (aside from sprints and all) so you could just focus on basketball or soccer skills.

Aside from that, it's asinine that a high school coach would prohibit a student from participating in as many sports as possible. In reality, the chance of a kid being elite in one sport is minute. It detracts from the high school experience to discourage kids from participating in other sports.
   22. Swedish Chef Posted: April 12, 2014 at 04:46 AM (#4684956)
No, I knew that part. It's sort of like the soccer "academies" in Europe.

In Brazil things are stranger. There a player that is among the top prospects is likely owned by a consortium of investors that places him in a suitable club for showcasing his talents.
   23. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: April 12, 2014 at 10:24 AM (#4685000)
Coaches of other sports discourage their kids from participating (like basketball) because they can practice during that same time period. It boggles my mind that a high school coach (especially basketball or soccer) would actively discourage their players from participating in something like cross country.


Fear of injury. No coach wants to lose their star player because s/he got hurt running around on a golf course in their pajamas.
   24. Golfing Great Mitch Cumstein Posted: April 12, 2014 at 11:57 AM (#4685028)
I agree and I wonder why. Do they actually get better players or could you train a really good athlete at 15 and have him just as good as the kids who have done it forever by the time he turns 16?


I believe that what makes most great players is playing the game over and over. By playing so much they get a sense for the game, what other players will likely do, how the ball reacts, how to shoot the ball or puck from a certain point. You can't teach these things. You can help them along, but there can be no replacement.
   25. BDC Posted: April 12, 2014 at 12:38 PM (#4685035)
I believe that what makes most great players is playing the game over and over. By playing so much they get a sense for the game, what other players will likely do, how the ball reacts, how to shoot the ball or puck from a certain point

This is undeniable; and yet, not so long ago, quite a few outstanding baseball players grew up playing whatever sport was in season, and starring at most of them. Jackie Robinson, Jackie Jensen, Dick Groat, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Kirk Gibson, Kenny Lofton – I'm just naming people offhand at the highest end of baseball talent. And it's hardly ancient history; Joe Mauer played high-school basketball, Grady Sizemore played high-school football: these are guys who have pretty good baseball instincts. Carl Crawford played several sports well in high school, though I know Red Sox fans will say baseball was his worst :) Clearly, even in an age of specialization, there's no bar to an athletic kid developing as a baseball player if he excels in several sports. The cross-training probably helps; and as for injury, you can get hurt playing any sport at any time; it's just that psychologically it seems more a "waste" if a baseball player gets hurt running the 200m as opposed to getting hurt running the bases. It's really more a cultural thing than anything else. For an athlete these days to generate the most buzz and get scouted and recruited, he (or she) is probably well-advised to cultivate their "brand" as a single-sport player, and network within a given sport's "community."
   26. DL from MN Posted: April 12, 2014 at 01:58 PM (#4685066)
Fear of injury.


Injury in another sport = bad
Overuse injury from overtraining in one sport = good?
   27. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: April 12, 2014 at 02:35 PM (#4685079)
Unnecessary injury = very bad.
Injury while training for one's own sport = unavoidable.
   28. BDC Posted: April 12, 2014 at 03:56 PM (#4685102)
Well, I've just lived through an offseason where Rangers pitchers hurt themselves by walking their dogs upstairs and sleeping on their pillows funny. I'm hardly going to get outraged if they hurt themselves running 10Ks or playing basketball to stay in shape.
   29. odds are meatwad is drunk Posted: April 13, 2014 at 12:09 AM (#4685258)
I would think you would want young pitchers to play other sports like cc to save there arms.

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