We looked last week at the teams that signed the most international prospects in the 2010 Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
The Yankees, Rockies, Mets and Phillies all came out at the top of the class with at least 10 international signings, but how much predictive power do those numbers have on a team's ability to produce international talent where it counts: at the major league level?
One way to test that is to look back at the 2005 Prospect Handbook, repeating the same process we used last week to count each team's international signings in the 2010 Prospect Handbook. Going back five years ago gives us enough time so that there's just a small amount of prospects who appear in both books, with enough time having passed to give us some idea of the major league success of the players in the 2005 book.
Again, just like last week, the methodology isn't perfect. There is still some slight overlap for a few players like Alcides Escobar and Carlos Carrasco who were in the 2005 Handbook but haven't quite exhausted their prospect eligibility yet, but it's a long enough time period for almost complete prospect churn. On the other end, Elvis Andrus slips through our accounting system having signed with the Braves in January 2005 and zoomed to the big leagues by age 20.
One other issue is we're going to miss some players who were signed but weren't in the 2005 Prospect Handbook, then later elevated their status and ended up reaching the big leagues. This little loophole ends up hurting the Diamondbacks the most for not getting credited for Miguel Montero or Gerardo Parra. Johnny Cueto (Reds), Luis Valbuena (Mariners), Franklin Morales (Rockies), Jose Mijares (Twins), Jose Arredondo (Angels), Eugenio Velez (Giants) and Alexi Casilla (Angels) seem to be the other meaningful omissions, but we're talking about just a handful of players here, so can keep them in mind when looking at the table below.
TEAM TOP 30 NOTABLE PROSPECTS Braves 13 Martin Prado, Wilson Betemit, Gregor Blanco Phillies 13 Carlos Ruiz, Robinson Tejeda, Carlos Carrasco Dodgers 12 Franklin Gutierrez, Willy Aybar, Francisco Cruceta Yankees 12 Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera Mariners 12 Felix Hernandez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo Red Sox 10 Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Luis Cruz Mets 9 Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gomez, Yusmeiro Petit White Sox 8 Tadahito Iguchi, Humberto Quintero, Fabio Castro Angels 8 Ervin Santana, Kendry Morales, Erick Aybar Cubs 7 Carlos Marmol, Felix Pie, Renyel Pinto Astros 7 Fernando Nieve, Juan Gutierrez, Edwin Maysonet Blue Jays 7 Gustavo Chacin, Guillermo Quiroz, Francisco Rosario Athletics 6 Santiago Casilla, Gregorio Petit, Javier Herrera D-Backs 5 Carlos Gonzalez, RHP Tony Pena, Jorge de la Rosa Indians 5 Fausto Carmona, Maicer Izturis, Willy Taveras Tigers 5 Jair Jurrjens, Wilkin Ramirez, Anderson Hernandez Marlins 5 Denny Bautista, Rick VandenHurk, Yorman Bazardo Padres 5 Freddy Guzman, Yordany Ramirez, Wilmer Villatoro Rangers 5 Edinson Volquez, Ramon Ramirez, Juan Dominguez Rockies 4 Ubaldo Jimenez, Juan Morillo, Samuel Deduno Brewers 3 Alcides Escobar, Hernan Irabarren, Luis Pena Twins 3 Alex Romero, Alexander Smit, Frank Mata Pirates 3 Leo Nunez, Javier Guzman, Roberto Novoa Giants 3 Pablo Sandoval, Francisco Liriano, Felix Diaz Orioles 2 Eddy Rodriguez, Fredy Deza Nationals 2 Roger Bernadina, Wilson Valdez Rays 2 Bartolome Fortunato, Jose de la Cruz Reds 2 William Bergolla, Miguel Perez Royals 2 Ambiorix Burgos, Andres Blanco Cardinals 1 Juan Lucena
The first thing we need to acknowledge here before comparing the raw numbers to the 2010 Handbook is that there are 202 international prospects in the 2010 Handbook compared to 181 in the 2005 Handbook. That's an extra 21 international prospects, an increase of 10-12 percent depending on whether you want to count Aroldis Chapman and Noel Arguelles from the appendix.
Why are there more international prospects ranked now than five years ago? Without having combed through the other eight Handbooks, I'm not sure if the increase is truly a trend or if it's just a blip. Since we still mostly haven't ranked players from the Dominican Summer League or Venezuelan Summer League, my guess is that two things are happening.
One is that we're probably ranking more players without professional experience than we had in the past. The Latin American market has changed rapidly in the past five years, with players getting more money and more exposure, and in turn we have more information about those players than ever before to compile accurate scouting reports. Even so, I counted just nine international signings from 2009 that we ranked in the 2010 Handbook, so I'm not sure that accounts entirely for the increase.
The second thing I think might be going on is that more talent is coming to the minor leagues not just from Latin America but from across the world, as teams have become more aggressive scouting (and spending) in Korea, Taiwan and Europe. In our team top tens alone, there's an Italian third baseman (Alex Liddi), a 17-year-old German outfielder (Max Kepler), a Korean shortstop (Hak-Ju Lee), a Japanese righthander (Junichi Tazawa) and a Taiwanese reliever (Chia-Jen Lo).
Or it could be that I'm just full of it and that it's merely noise in the data. I'm not really sure.
More Is Better
Generally speaking, the more international prospects a team had among its top 30 prospects, the more likely they were to develop productive major leaguers. Just look at the teams at the top of the list and the ones at the bottom and tell me which players you'd rather have right now. Breakthrough stuff, right?
There's just little margin for error if you're at the bottom of the list. The Giants weren't heavy on international talent, but any team would gladly take Pablo Sandoval and Francisco Liriano, both signed while Rick Ragazzo (who joined the Dodgers as a special assistant in 2008) was the Giants' coordinator of international operations. Being at the top of the list isn't a guarantee of having a future star on your hands, while having less quantity doesn't necessarily preclude a team from having quality future big leaguers.
Other than the Giants, however, the teams at the bottom of the list didn't do as well developing international talent as the teams at the top. The teams in the bottom 10 generally weren't big spenders or among the most active teams in Latin America, and years later the results bear that out.
• The Yankees have been a force on the international market for more than a decade, signing two well above-average big leaguers (Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang), a pair of everyday regulars (Melky Cabrera and Dioner Navarro) and two more big leaguers (Joaquin Arias and Yhency Brazoban). Many of those players were signed by Victor Mata, who is still with the Yankees as their Dominican scouting supervisor, and Carlos Rios, who the team fired in August 2008 amid allegations of bonus skimming, though Rios later won a wrongful termination suit against the Yankees in a Dominican court.
The Yankees have an edge over every team because of their financial resources. Not just money to spend on signing bonuses, but also to hire more scouts, which means more people in the organization to find diamonds in the rough, more eyeballs to evaluate those players, more people to develop favorable relationships with trainers and with families and more incentive for agents and trainers to prioritize the Yankees when showcasing their players. But ultimately it comes down to good scouting, and the Yankees' scouts have produced some of the best results on the international market in the last decade and already have some promising ones in the pipeline for the next decade.
• Since hiring Clay Daniel as their international scouting director in 2000, the Angels mined Latin America for three starters from their 2009 American League West championship squad (Erick Aybar, Kendry Morales and Ervin Santana), as well as Alberto Callaspo, Arredondo and Casilla. The team's international program is in rebuilding mode, however, since the Angels dismissed Daniel last year shortly before July 2 and have since cleaned house in their international scouting department.
• Like the Yankees, the Mariners scout well and spend big for international talent under the direction of Bob Engle, the team's vice president of international operations. The Mariners compete for top-of-the-market prospects (and seem to usually get their target) but also find lower-cost talent, particularly in Venezuela, where Venezuelan supervisor Emilio Carrasquel has signed Felix Hernandez as well as Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena. The Mariners have also been among the top teams signing prospects from Europe and Asia.
• The Cardinals' lone international prospect in the 2005 Handbook was Juan Lucena, a Rookie-ball shortstop whose career ended three years later after never making it past Double-A. The Cardinals have improved their Latin American program since Jeff Luhnow took over as vice president of amateur scouting and player development, as the Cardinals now have two prospects (Eduardo Sanchez and Francisco Samuel) who should help their bullpen in the near future.
Since the Cardinals hired Latin American supervisor Juan Mercado away from the Mets and director of international operations Moises Rodriguez from the commissioner's office in December 2007, they've stepped up their spending in Latin America as well, giving a seven-figure bonus to Dominican third baseman Roberto de la Cruz in 2008 and agreeing to terms with Dominican outfielder Wagner Mateo for $3.1 million before voiding the deal after Mateo did not pass his physical.
• The Twins have become more internationally focused, especially outside of Latin America, though their two top international prospects are Venezuelan (Wilson Ramos) and Dominican (Miguel Sano). International scouting director Howie Norsetter has turned the Twins farm system into baseball's United Nations, signing prospects in their Top 30 from across Latin America, Australia and Europe.
• The Rays went from an essentially non-existent Latin American program to an up-and-coming one since Carlos Alfonso took over as director of international operations in 2006, the same year they hired Venezuelan scouting pioneer Andres Reiner as a special assistant. In 2007 the Rays opened an academy in Venezuela and have been among the most active teams in the country the last couple of years.
• The Giants and Reds have both revved up their international spending in the Dominican Republic the last few years. The Giants paid $2.1 million for Angel Villalona in 2006, $2.55 million for Rafael Rodriguez in 2008, made a strong push for Mateo last summer and agreed to terms with Dominican third baseman Duanel Jones for a seven-figure bonus at the end of last year before his contract was voided after he failed a drug test.
Since the Reds brought aboard Tony Arias from the Blue Jays in September 2006 after he spent seven seasons as Toronto's director of Latin American operations, the Reds have paid $2 million for Juan Duran and $2.5 million for Yorman Rodriguez in 2008, then followed that up with the Aroldis Chapman signing and another hefty bonus for Venezuelan shortstop Humberto Valor last year.
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