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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Past, Present, and Future of International Scouting

When discussing the international scouting scene, the conversation inevitably shifts toward the future. Apart from the possibility of a draft, there’s another big question: Where will the next great baseball hotbed be?

There are already a few candidates. Perhaps the most obvious one is Europe, which has produced several big leaguers over the last decade. While the domestic leagues around the continent are tiny, the sport itself is slowly but steadily growing. One source was excited about the prospect of a super league, a sort of Champions League of baseball that would pit top teams from various countries against each other, as a sign of the game’s burgeoning interest and competitiveness in Europe. A small handful of teams already have full-time scouts in Europe, and I suspect that more will be on the ground in the next 10 years.

Brazil is another candidate. The world’s sixth biggest country, there’s certainly plenty of athletic talent available if the sport gains more of a foothold. Even though it’s only played by a small minority of the population, six Brazilians made their big league debut in the last decade, and more will be coming. For now, few teams have a regular presence there.

The wild card is China. Talent in the country lags behind Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, but there too the game is growing. And in a nation of more than one billion people, it only takes one gifted athlete in the right place at the right time to make an impression and inspire a generation to take interest in the game.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 15, 2021 at 10:19 AM | 6 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: international players

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: September 15, 2021 at 07:41 PM (#6039879)
And in a nation of more than one billion people, it only takes one gifted athlete in the right place at the right time to make an impression and inspire a generation to take interest in the game.

That's interesting logic.

Anyway, I won't say it can't happen but I don't think it will happen anywhere unless MLB is willing to make a substantial investment. I'm sure someone has already written the various histories but it's pretty random that baseball became a cultural touchstone in Cuba, DR and Venezuela but not partcularly elsewhere in Latin America. Baseball has caught on well in Japan, Korea and Taiwan (to an extent) but that doesn't tell us anything about China. It's not impossible -- I suppose there was a time when basketball wasn't big in Europe. And as concussion concerns grow for soccer and rugby, maybe baseball will be an attractive, safer option for parents.


DR: 825
Ven: 435
Cuba: 378
Canada: 258
Mexico: 139
Panama: 77
Japan: 72

For example, the last Mexican player to reach 1000 PA was Alfredo Amezaga (2002-11). Vinny Castilla (debut 1991) is the most recent Mexican position player of note. There have been some reasonably successful Mexican-born pitchers in that time (Oliver Perez, Gallardo, Marco Estrada and a few others) and the explosion in relievers has meant a good number of Mexican-born pitchers will continue to make the majors.

Which is likely what we'll see globally. MLB will probably be able to track down guys who have great arm strength then might be able to train them up to the point where they can at least pitch some relief innings. That probably doesn't require a big baseball culture. But I'll predict that ML hitters will be hard to find anywhere other than places where baseball is a big piece of the sporting culture.
   2. Jay Seaver Posted: September 15, 2021 at 10:58 PM (#6039920)
In terms of growing the game internationally, it's a shame that it's such a poor fit for the Olympics - even once you get past the summer games taking place mid-season, the fact that the games need purpose-built fields and take a while to play, with short tournaments always being more random than one might like, it means the field is generally limited to the folks that already play at a high level. I suspect if some places like China and Europe thought they could get in just by showing up, it might be an easier program to justify. I love the World Baseball Classic and think it should be held every odd-numbered year, but it's not going to put the game in front of otherwise disinterested eyes the way the Olympics does (for all its many, many faults).

Jumping off the same sentence as Walt, I figure that could apply just as much to India, where there's already rabid fondness for bat-and-ball games and where I gather the people feel some attachment to members of the diaspora even if their family has been American for a couple of generations; someone like Kumar Rocker could be a big deal in India the way a Chinese-American star (or even a Taiwanese player like Tzu-Wei Lin) might not be in mainland China. It's not really something you can plan, of course; MLB just needs to be ready if they suddenly have a star with that sort of international appeal.
   3. Rally Posted: September 16, 2021 at 08:48 AM (#6039944)
They did a movie about trying to find talent in India. Jon Hamm was the scout, based on a true story and the Pirates did have a pitcher in the minors from this experiment.

But it’s not an easy route. Some cricket players can make million dollar salaries over there. It would be hard to convince them to give that up to make 1500 a month in the minors, even a small chance at making MLB money if things work out.
   4. Ron J Posted: September 16, 2021 at 08:59 AM (#6039945)
#3 Not to mention the cultural angle. Cricket's big in India. Baseball is at best a niche sport there. The games are different enough that you can imagine a guy who's a non-prospect in cricket but has a chance to make it in baseball but most are going to stick with cricket as long as there's the slightest chance of making it.
   5. SoSH U at work Posted: September 16, 2021 at 09:01 AM (#6039946)
the Pirates did have a pitcher in the minors from this experiment.

Two, one of whom is now, apparently, a professional wrestler in the WWE.
   6. Jay Seaver Posted: September 16, 2021 at 01:19 PM (#6039981)
That's why I kind of figure that MLB would be better off being ready should they wind up with an Indian-American star rather than trying to start from scratch in India.

I also kind of vaguely wonder where the Australian league is in terms of being a respectable league these days. They've expanded to have one team in New Zealand and one which splits time with a city in Korea (which strikes me as kind of crazy, both in terms of the length of the road trip and having the higher-quality KBO nearby), although neither are playing this year.

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