While players, agents and trainers are on edge over how a potential international draft could affect them, several area scouts in foreign countries are worried about their own futures as well.
Some area scouts are worried about being relegated either to part-time status or losing their jobs altogether, particularly in countries that typically don’t produce a high volume of talent. Long term, scouts are concerned that if a draft leads to a decrease in the number of players signed in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, then that could affect scouting jobs in those countries as well.
With leagues like the Dominican Prospect League and the International Prospect League, along with Major League Baseball getting involved in the identification and showcasing of international talent, the process of finding and evaluating players has become easier for teams in the last few years.
“I think jobs will be in jeopardy,” said one scout. “Take Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Curacao, all those countries that produce three or four players per year. Why am I going to have someone there if MLB’s going to put those guys in a showcase? I’m going to see the guy, then I’ll be able to go back, get to know the player and know the family, see them play three times a year and I’m done. That’s my main concern. The guys from the Dominican Republic who cover half the country, the guys in Venezuela, they’re going to be fine. The countries who don’t produce a lot of players, their jobs could be in jeopardy.”
Most international directors when asked if they anticipated making personnel changes in their scouting department if an international draft were to come next year said they probably wouldn’t change much, if anything.
“That’s club to club,” said one international scouting director. “That wouldn’t affect our operation and I don’t think it would for most. Maybe some of the cost-cutting teams would, maybe in the small markets, but I think you should do just the opposite. There are going to be guys MLB doesn’t get to, and that’s where your area guys come into play. One of the guys they don’t find could be one of the best players and you could get him cheap.”
A second international scouting director said the shift could come not in the number of scouts a team employs but in the skill sets they bring to the table.
“You’re going to see staffing changes big time,” said the second international director. “You’re going to see much less of the Dominican scouts who are networked, who are able to coerce the system. You’re going to see more pure evaluators, guys who see players, evaluate them, line them up and put up your boards. You’re going to see staffs change, more American guys brought in.
“You have the DPL, IPL, other leagues and MLB running games. Then you have whatever you do for guys at your academy, other showcases, international tournaments, whatever. There’s no reason to have the Dominican scout who’s great in the street and has access—that’s of no value any more. So you’re going to see huge staffing changes.”
While it seems the area scouts who have stronger evaluating skills will have an edge over the scouts who teams value more for their street savvy, there is still value in keeping the scouts who know the streets.
Those scouts often have information on the true ages of prospects and which trainers are giving their players steroids, regardless of whether an MLB investigator passes him through an investigation or the players pass a drug test upon signing.
If there is a spending limit placed on nondrafted free agents, the bonus offers for those players are going to be roughly the same. So if two teams are offering a talented but under-the-radar prospect $50,000, the scout who has the best relationship with the trainer is going to be more likely to figure out a way to get the player signed.
The first year of an international draft in particular is going to be susceptible to loopholes, so keeping scouts who can help a team try to exploit those rules will still be important. A team with a corrupt international decision maker is also likely to keep those types of scouts around to help facilitate kickbacks, but there are legitimate baseball reasons for them to have value if a draft comes as well.
Ultimately teams that value the international market will likely see their scouts as a resource, not an expense. If MLB restricts what teams can spend on players, why not transfer that money to invest in the top evaluators to bring in the best talent?
“For a team that’s going to finish high in the standings for a number of years in a row, the only way to compete is to try to get that talent by having good scouts out there,” said a third international director. “That’s the beauty of the international market. We’ve got so many guys we’ve given less than $50,000 to who are prospects. I’m not bragging—every organization is like that. If we’re built to win year in, year out, we’re not going to be able to compete for the top players if they set up a draft. So if anything, we may have more scouts so we can really dig to get players who aren’t the high-profile guys, the guys you have to project on more.”