Much of the focus on player acquisition and development focuses on the Rule 4 draft, and for justifiable reasons. It's easier to follow some of those names, from showcases to college teams. I am curious, though, what people think about the Cubs forays in the International market. This isn't a post on who we've signed this year or haven't, or whether or not people are getting overpaid. Furthermore, I'm actually really curious what people think. A recent BaseballAmerica blurb got my attention, so I'll start with that.
Ben Badler had this to say on the international market
The track record of Latin American teenagers who received seven-figure bonuses isn't good. In theory, with more agents trying to find the best players and with teams gaining more experience and investing greater resources in scouting Latin America, the success rate of high-priced prospects should improve.
But there's still an enormous amount of uncertainty with these players: they're so far away from the majors; questions remain about their true ages even if they pass MLB's improving investigations; the ways in which they have to be scouted; the unfortunate reality that bonus skimming and shady dealings are still commonplace. So often the best players sign for little money, and not necessarily on or around July 2. Ask any international scouting director and he'll tell you about a player he signed for around $50,000 who he genuinely believes is just as good if not better than another prospect who signed for $1 million or more.
Dominican shortstop Sano (who's still unsigned), Cardinals outfielder Mateo and Yankees catcher Sanchez all have great potential. However, there are scouts with concerns about all three players, and none of them is a surefire bet to be a big league regular. A player with Mateo's skills could be the next Fernando Martinez, but we're willing to wait another year to gain more information on all of these prospects. The player with the best chance of those three at the Top 100 is Sano, who if he is 16—which MLB reportedly has yet to determine—has an advanced offensive skill set with a good fundamental swing, bat speed, power potential and athleticism. Assuming Sano signs, he'll get consideration for the Top 100, but he's not a lock to make the list.
Chapman is in a different category. While scouts are projecting Athletics righthander Michael Ynoa (the top prospect in the 2008 class) to one day throw in the mid-90s, we already know that Chapman can touch 100 mph, which is better than any other southpaw on the planet. There's risk with any pitcher and probably moreso with Chapman. His medical history is mostly unknown, and there will always be questions about the true age of any Cuban ballplayer. But based on his current ability and projected future talent, Chapman stacks up with the top handful of pitching prospects in baseball and would rank accordingly.
The other major factor with Chapman is whether he'll sign with a major league team by the time our 2010 Top 100 list comes out. Viciedo left Cuba in May 2008, but wasn't declared a free agent until November and didn't sign with the White Sox until December. If Chapman has the same seven-month lag between defecting and signing, he'll be cutting it close to be eligible for the Top 100 come next February.
The Cubs this year had a brief mention with both Sano and Mateo, amongst others. That said, it's been a long time since we've really hit it big in the Latin American market. I believe the last relatively big name was big Larry Suarez. There's been some intriguing pieces here and there, such as hard throwing lefty Jeffry Antigua. We've gotten some decent arms like Yohan Gonzalez and Dionis Nunez, amongst others. Raw upside bats like Nelson Perez have been picked up. Last year, the top two guys we nabbed were Joel Altagracia and Carlos Henry, both in DSL Cubs2 (someone once told me the difference between Cubs1 and Cubs2, but right now, I don't remember).
Instead of going heavy into the Latin American market, we've made a concerted effort to expand in Asia, led by Steve Wilson and Aaron Shinsano. I guess we'd be one of the top teams in Australia right now. We've done well in Korea, nabbing youngsters Dae-Eun Rhee, Hak-ju Lee, Su-ming Jung, and Ja-Hoon Ha (the latter three part of a fairly underrated Boise squad - I think the squad will struggle this year, but there's some good raw talent there, pitching and hitting, so despite not having the names of last year, I'm excited). All four are considered relatively promising kids. We've also made forays into Taiwan, but Taiwan is in a down cycle right now relatively, in terms of talent. Like other teams, we've started to go after the HS kids in Taiwan, so that we can mold them.
I've been a bit concerned at our inability to hit on a big signing in Latin America. Certainly, a lot of that has to do with the established relationships (it's not the big pocket teams winning everything - witness Ynoa and Sano). Certainly, we've been in on some. Rather than spending heavily on one or two guys, we seem to have spread the wealth around a bit, trying to nab raw guys with upside and hoping to mold them. Certainly, considering recent Cubs track record with developing "raw, toolsy" talent, some would argue that spreading the wealth is a fair approach (I wouldn't - it suggests that the developmental system hasn't changed in the past decade, but Riggins is only in his 2nd year on the job, and guys have been shifted around. Maybe you look for better coaches, but the idea has been suggested by some that the Cubs should limit their foray with toolsy guys due to their inability to develop them, which I sharply disagree with).
As Badler notes, the hit or miss rate on the top guys is still high, but there's a reason guys are first rounders and guys go later, and it's the same dynamic here. I'm a bit concerned with our inability to hit the big signing due to the lack of top shelf talent in the system. A system needs a blend of talent, and we're still building up. Furthermore, a big signing also sends a signal that we will be in on things. The attrition rate of prospects is high, but the potential to nab the next impact guy is a tantalizing doughnut that brings teams back.
Certainly, it can be said that these things happen in cycles, and that there's only a limited amount of top level talent each year. Also, when combined with our Asian forays, along with our European forays, I'm not disappointed in our efforts on the interntaional market. We went to Japan and saw Esmailin Caridad, and picked up Marco Carrillo from Mexico. They are reaching out, but it'd be nice to see us land a big time guy once in awhile.
I am curious if anyone has any thoughts. There's a couple guys that are probably more knowledgeable in this regard, such as Raisin. I'll see if I can put together other thoughts later, but I am curious what people think about our forays internationally, excluding the "veteran" signing of Fukudome.