— More than 30 percent of the players in MLB today were born outside the United States, and that trend is expected to rise in the next 10 years.
And while most players beyond U.S. borders will always hail from Latin America and Asia, many MLB teams are now scouting talent in growing markets like Canada, Australia, Europe and Africa.
An organization is only as good as the international players it signs and develops, so as the second World Baseball Classic is upon us followed by the 2009 MLB season, let’s take a look, division-by-division, at how each team fares with scouting top non-U.S. born talent:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
1. Boston: Before the John Henry-Larry Lucchino-Tom Werner regime, among the Red Sox biggest original international signs were the likes of Panamanian Ben Ogilvie and South Korea’s Tomo Ohka. Seriously.
Once far behind their division foes in international scouting, the Red Sox have quickly caught up, especially in Asia where they’ve not only scored big with Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, who helped win the 2007 World Series, but they also signed young Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa, and have Taiwan’s Che-Hsuan Lin in the fold. He was 2008 MLB All-Star Futures Game MVP. Also, they've got Taiwanese star Chih-Hsien Chiang.
Boston hasn’t slouched in Latin America either, signing Venezuelan shortstop Argenis Diaz. In the Dominican Republic, the Red Sox not only signed Hanley Ramirez, but today have top infield prospects in Yamaico Navarro and Michael Almanzar, and pitcher Stolmy Pimentel, among others. Boston has also signed Mitch Dening (Australia) and Justin Erasmus (South African).
2. New York: The Yankees' run of three World Series titles in four years was largely the result of outstanding scouting in Latin America, signing the likes of Panamanians Mariano Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza, Cuban Orlando Hernandez, and Puerto Ricans Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. They were also one of the first organizations to scout the Netherlands Antilles, signing Hensley Meulens out of Curacao.
Today, the Yanks remain not only strong in Latin America, with the likes of Dominicans Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, but in Asia with Hideki Matsui (Japan) and Chien-Ming Wang (Taiwan). The Bronx Bombers have Venezuelan catcher Jesus Montero waiting in the wings, as well as a fallback option in fellow countryman Francisco Cervelli. Other ones to watch include Mexican pitcher Alfredo Aceves and fellow countryman and shortstop Ramiro Pena. Additionally, the Yanks have signed a pair of Chinese players in pitcher Kai Liu and catcher Zhenwang Zhang.
3. Toronto: The Blue Jays' back-to-back World Series crown in the early 1990s had a lot to with their sound international scouting, with homegrown talents like Tony Fernandez, Tony Castillo, Juan Guzman and Luis Leal.
The Jays were also among the first to sign Australian talent, when they inked lefty Graeme Lloyd, who later helped the Yankees to World Series wins. Now the Jays are trying to get their international scouting mojo back, and have shown signs of aggressiveness by inking Dominican stud shortstop Gustavo Pierre. Among Toronto’s other top international prospects are Dominican outfielder Moises Sierra and New Zealand-born infielder Scott Campbell, who in 2008 became the first Kiwi to play in the All-Star Futures Game.
4. Tampa Bay: Before the Rays signed Akinori Iwamura, their first big sign out of Asia, the only previous notable international ink was for Mexican Jorge Cantu. And while the Rays are still behind the international scouting depth of the Red Sox and Yankees, they're catching up with facilities in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Some notable non-U.S. born talent in the system includes Puerto Rican catcher Christian Lopez and Dominican infielder Jairo de la Rosa.
5. Baltimore: The Orioles had have limited success on the international scene, with Dennis Martinez, the club’s original sign out of Nicaragua, its most notable face. Dominicans Armando Benitez and Daniel Cabrera, Canadian Erik Bedard and Dutchman Sidney Ponson have been more recent limited successes, and Baltimore did help elevate baseball on Aruba, an island in the Caribbean, with not only the signings of Ponson but also Eugene Kingsale and Calvin Maduro. But Canadian Adam Loewen was a bust and Dominican Radhamas Liz has yet to shine. The Orioles made their first big Asia sign with Japanese right-hander Koji Uehara, but the organization remains behind its counterparts in the division.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Cleveland: The organization that was the first to sign the likes of Cubans Luis Tiant and Minnie Minoso and Dominicans Alfredo Griffin and Pedro Guerrero hasn’t looked back, although now its goal is keeping its top international homegrown talent, as evidence by the success shown by Dominicans Bartolo Colon, Manny Ramirez, Jhonny Peralta and Fausto Carmona, and Venezuelan Victor Martinez.
Among some top up-and-coming prospects in the Tribe system are Dominican southpaw Kelvin de la Cruz and a pair of Venezuelans, pitcher Hector Rondon and shortstop Carlos Rivero. Canadian outfielder Nick Weglarz is yet another prospect. The Indians also signed Taiwanese pitcher Seung-Wei Tseng in 2006 and Japanese veteran Masahide Kobayashi last season and this year inked a Czech Republic catcher, Martin Cervenka.
2. Minnesota: Few organizations have been more successful in the international market than the Twins, from Latin America with the likes of Cuban Tony Oliva and Panamanian Rod Carew, to Canadians Corey Koskie, Jesse Crain and Justin Morneau, and Australians Grant Balfour and Peter Moylan.
Its Venezuelan Academy proudly once displayed homegrown talent that included the likes of Juan Rincon. The Twins continue to scour the earth for talent like Aussie Luke Hughes, plus signing two players from Russia, one from France and another from South Africa. Among the top prospects in the Twins system are a pair of Venezuelans, catcher Wilson Ramos and left-hander Jose Mijares, plus Puerto Rican outfielder Angel Morales.
3. Chicago: The White Sox have yet to find the next Luis Aparicio, Venezuela’s first Hall-of-Famer, but their international scouting prowess is notable when you consider names like Jorge Orta (Mexico); Carlos Lee and Olmedo Saenz (Panama); Damaso Marte (Dominican); and Magglio Ordonez (Venezuela) were original Sox signs. The Sox were also the first to draft Eric Gagne (Canada). And after Japan’s Shingo Takatsu was a bust, the Sox tried again in Asia, signing Tadahito Iguchi, who helped them win the 2005 World Series.
These days the Sox remain focused on Latin America, where they’ve recently scooped up two Cuban defectors in Alexei Ramirez and Dayán Viciedo. The club is also high on Venezuelan shortstop Eduardo Escobar.
4. Detroit: The Tigers have signed some great players on the international market in recent years only to trade them to other teams like Curacao’s Jair Jurrjens and Venezuelans Gorkys Hernandez and Guillermo Moscoso. The Dominican Fernando Rodney is Motown’s most notable homegrown international sign on its MLB roster, with former Dominican signs like Francisco Cordero, Jose Lima, Danny Bautista and Juan Encarnacion in the history books. Among two top international prospects the Tigers have held onto are Canada’s Cale Iorg and Dominican outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, who played in the 2008 MLB All-Star Futures Game.
5. Kansas City: You can’t fault the Royals for trying. After all, this is an organization that has had everyone from an American Samoan (Tony Solaita) to a South African Minor League All-Star (Barry Armitage) in its system. It has seen mixed results for its most recent efforts, with Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran a success among larger disappointments like Dominicans Angel Berroa, Runelvys Hernandez and Ambiorix Burgos. Dominican pitcher Carlos Rosa, Venezuelan catcher Salvador Perez and fellow Venezuelan infielder Mario Lisson are among the Royals' top international prospects, and Dylan Lindsay is KC’s latest sign out of South Africa.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
1. Texas: The Rangers still haven’t won a playoff series, but all the years of futility may be coming to an end in the near future, thanks to their international scouting efforts. The organization that first signed Dominicans Sammy Sosa, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit and Edinson Volquez; Puerto Ricans Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez; and Canadian Ryan Dempster, has a loaded crop of current Latin talent. It starts with Dominican pitcher Neftali Perez and other notables include Venezuelans Max Ramirez, Martin Perez and Wilfredo Boscan, and Dominicans Kennil Gomez, Jose Vallejo and Joaquin Arias.
2. Seattle: After the Dodgers, perhaps no organization has been more progressive and successful across continents on the international scouting market than the Mariners, yet a World Series appearance have been elusive.
Before there was Japan’s Ichiro, there was Kazahiro Sasaki. Before there were Venezuelans Felix Hernandez and Jose Lopez and Cuban Yuniesky Betancourt, there were Puerto Rican Edgar Martinez, Venezuelan Omar Vizquel and Dominican David Ortiz. The Mariners also have signed talent out of South Korea (Shin-Soo Choo and Cha-Seung Baek); China (Wang Wei and first baseman Yu Bing Jia); Australia (Travis Blackley and Ryan Rowland-Smith); the Netherlands (Wladimir Balentien and Greg Halman); Canada (Mike Saunders and Phillipe Aumont); Italy (Alex Liddi); South Africa (Anthony Phillips) and Taiwan (Yung-Chi Chen).
Some of their top Latin American prospects are a pair of Nicaraguan pitchers, Juan Ramirez and Francisco Valdivia. Other top Latin talent are two shortstops, the DR’s Carlos Triunfel and Venezuela’s Luis Valbuena.
3. Anaheim: The Angels won their first World Series in 2002 with big help from original signs, Venezuelan Francisco Rodriguez and Puerto Rican Benjie Molina. And even with K-Rod and Molina long gone, homegrown international signs like Dominicans Ervin Santana, Jose Arredondo and Erick Aybar, and Cuban Kendry Morales could be keys to winning a second title.
For sure, the Angels have improved from the days when the likes of Sid Monge (Mexico) and Roberto Hernandez (Puerto Rico) passed for international scouting success. These days among two homegrown international prospects are Venezuelan pitcher Anthony Ortega and Dominican catcher Anel de los Santos. The Angels aren’t just tapping into Latin America, having signed South Korean pitcher Pil Joon Jang last season, perhaps there first notable Asian sign since Japan’s Shigetoshi Hasegawa
4. Oakland: The Athletics have been international scouting giants for years, especially in Latin American, going way to back when they inked Bert Campaneris (Cuba) and continuing with the signings of Dominicans Miguel Tejada and Tony Batista, Venezuelan Ramon Hernandez and Canadian Rich Harden.
And while the Athletics are still trying to find a new suitable option for a new ballpark, it hasn’t stopped them from spending and reenergizing their international scouting efforts. Oakland spent a record $4.25 million for an amateur free agent bonus on Dominican pitcher Michael Inoa. The Athletics are also high on Henry Rodriguez, who pitched in the 2008 MLB All-Star Futures Game, as well as Venezuelan outfielder Javier Herrera.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
1. Atlanta: The Braves' incredible run of 14 straight division titles was largely the result of outstanding international scouting, with homegrown signs like Andruw Jones (Curacao), Javy Lopez (Puerto Rico), Rafael Furcal (Dominican) and Vinny Castilla (Mexico), even briefly, Damian Moss (Australia).
Atlanta’s international forays continued with signings of infielders, Venezuelan Elvis Andrus and Cuban Yunel Escobar, and more recently of Colombian pitcher Julio Teheran, Panamanians Randall Delgado and Christian Bethancourt, and Dominicans Santos Rodriguez and Carlos Perez. Besides South Korea’s Jung Bong, the Braves have largely seen limited success in Asia but hope that changes with Taiwanese signs Wei Cheng Huang and Meng Hsiu Tsai.
2. New York: The Amazins’ have traditionally had less success in Asia and elsewhere but more success in Latin America, with flops including Japan’s Kazuo Matsui, Masato Yoshii and Tsuyoshi Shinjo, South Korea’s Jae Weong Seo and Australia’s Justin Huber.
Jose Reyes is the singular face of the Mets international scouting success today, not Rey Ordonez (Cuba), Edgardo Alfonso, Endy Chavez or Deolis Guerra (Venezuela), or Carlos Gomez, Guillermo Moto, Octavio Dotel or Manuel Lee (Dominican). The Metropolitans show no signs of slowing down in Latin America, with top prospect signs like outfielder Fernando Martinez, third baseman Jeffry Marte and righthander Jenrry Mejia, all Dominicans, and Venezuelan shortstop Wilmer Flores.
3. Philadelphia: Canadian Ferguson Jenkins; Puerto Ricans Ozzie Virgil and Willie Hernandez; Dominicans George Bell and Julio Franco; and Nicaraguan Marvin Bernard were all Philly original signs that had bigger impacts with other clubs. But Venezuelan Manny Trillo and Dominican Nino Espinosa helped the Phils win the 1980 title, and last year, Panamanian catcher Carlos Ruiz did the same.
Philly’s top non-U.S. born prospects are Venezuelans, pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who pitched in the MLB All-Star Futures Game a year ago, and infielder Freddy Galvis. The Fightin’ Phils are also high on Aussie pitcher Drew Naylor.
4. Florida: The Marlins have had outstanding international scouting success, the best of the four 1990s expansion clubs. Colombian Edgar Renteria and Cuban Livan Hernandez helped the Fish win the ’97 title while Venezuelans Miguel Cabrera and Alex Gonzalez and Dominican Luis Castillo helped lift the upstart Marlins to the 2003 crown. But since then, the low-spending Marlins have seen less success internationally, although a pair of pitchers, Venezuelan Jesus Delgado and Puerto Rican Hector Correa show promise.
5. Washington: The Nationals, formerly known as the Expos, are a long way away from their international scouting glory days which reaped the likes of Canadians Larry Walker, Jason Bay and Matt Stairs; Puerto Ricans Wil Cordero, Jose Vidro and Javier Vazquez; Venezuelans Andres Galarraga and Ugueth Urbina; Dominicans Vladimir Guerrero, Antonio Alfonseca and Miguel Batista; and Colombian Orlando Cabrera.
General Manager Jim Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo are out in the wake of an FBI investigation into alleged bonus-skimming in Latin America and the Nats' top Dominican prospect, Esmailyn Gonzalez, is now four years older than originally thought and his real name is Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo. The Nats remain decidedly thin on international prospects, with Roger Bernadina (Curacao) and Sandy Leon (Venezuela) among its better homegrown signs.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Chicago: The loveable losers, still seeking their first World Series title since 1908, are certainly in the best position in their history on the international scouting scene. With homegrown signs like Dominican Carlos Marmol, Venezuelan Carlos Zambrano and Puerto Rican Geovany Soto, the Cubs are firing on all cylinders.
After failing in Asia with South Korea signs like Hee-Seop Choi and Jae-Kuk Ryu, Chicago also hit it big in ’08 with the success of Japan’s Kosuke Fukudome and hopes their first South Korea success comes soon with prospects, Dae-Eun Rhee and Hak-Ju Lee. In Latin America, the Cubs are high on a pair of Dominicans, catcher Wellington Castillo and shortstop Starlin Castro. And Alessandro Maestri is an Italian-born pitcher who the Cubs are also high on.
2. St. Louis: The face of the Cardinals international scouting success is Dominican Albert Pujols, but they’ve had a lot more highs than one player going back to the days when it signed the likes of Puerto Rican’s Willie Montanez and Jose Cruz; Canadian Reggie Cleveland; Nicaraguan David Green; and Dominicans Stan Javier and Pedro Borbon.
Japan’s So Taguchi and Puerto Rico’s Yadier Molina, along with Pujols, were cornerstones on the ’06 World Series team. Mexican hurlers Jaime Garcia and Fernando Salas could be big keys for the Cards soon, and further down the road, St. Louis fans can look forward to Dominican third baseman Roberto de la Cruz. The Redbirds also have Panamanian Arquimedes Nieto in their system.
3. Houston: You don’t need to remind Astros fans, but this organization has a rich history of signing talented players born outside the U.S. only to see them have success elsewhere, namely Venezuelans Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia, Melvin Mora, Johan Santana and Bobby Abreu.
Only Terry Puhl (Canada) and Cesar Cedeno (Dominican) are recognizable non-U.S.-born talent to also play for the big league club, along with Dominican Willy Tavares. Venezuelan southpaw Wandy Rodriguez was also an Astros original sign, but a trio of Dominicans hurlers could bode well for the future in Houston with the likes of Felipe Paulino, Samuel Gervacio and Polin Trinidad, as well as DR outfielder Yordany Ramirez.
4. Cincinnati: The organization which originally signed the likes of Cubans Dolf Luque, Tony Gonzalez, Cookie Rojas, Leo Cardenas and Hall-of-Famer Tony Perez, not to mention Venezuelan Dave Concepcion and Dominicans Joaquin Andujar and Mario Soto, isn’t where it wants to be yet but it’s getting there.
Homegrown signs like Johnny Cueto (Dominican) and Joey Votto (Canada) should be regulars in the Queen City for some time, and they soon could be joined by the likes of Cuban Yonder Alonso, Puerto Rican Neftali Soto, Venezuelan Yorman Rodriguez, and Dominicans, Juan Francisco and Juan Duran.
5. Milwaukee: The Brewers will soon be the only MLB team without its own facility in the Dominican Republic, and fans of the Beermakers remember the glorious year of 1982 and the international impact of homegrown signs like Mexican Teddy Higuera and Puerto Rican Ed Romero.
Since then the Brew Crew’s international success has been limited, from Puerto Rico’s Jaime Navarro to Australia’s Dave Nilsson. Milwaukee was among the first to scout South Africa, inking Paul Bell, who never reached Double-A. Fortunately, today’s Brewers are building a solid international scouting foundation, coming behind Mexican Yovani Gallardo, with Venezuelan shortstop Alcides Escobar, Canadian slugger Brett Lawrie and Dominican backstop Angel Salome.
6. Pittsburgh: One of the first organizations to reap success from international scouting, the Pirates signed Panamanian’s Manny Sanguillen, Omar Moreno and Rennie Stennett, which helped the Bucs to their last World Series title in 1979.
Since then, the Bucs have seen original international signs have success elsewhere like Dominicans Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez and Jose Guillen, and Mexican Esteban Loaiza. These days, the Pirates have a few homegrown Latin prospects in the system such as Dominican Jose de los Santos, Venezuelan Ronald Uviedo and Mexican Luis Cruz. With nothing to lose but more losses, Pittsburgh has also extended its global reach, signing South African Mpho Ngoepe and giving a pair of India-born pitchers, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, a one-in-a-million chance. But the Pirates need more depth in original signs, especially in Latin America.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
1. Los Angeles: No organization in MLB has been more successful — and more progressive — internationally than the Dodgers, who were among the first to build an academy in the Dominican Republic and successfully scout the Far East and Eastern Europe. Among the first Asian-born players to sign with an MLB team were the Dodgers' Hideo Nomo (Japan); Chan Ho Park (South Korea); and Ching-Feng Chen (Taiwan).
They was also among the first teams to sign Russian talent. In Latin America, Los Angeles first signed Dominican Pedro Martinez, and of course, few in Dodger Blue can forget “Fernando Mania,” Mexican southpaw Fernando Valenzuela. Many also forget that the Dodgers were the first team to sign Puerto Rican and Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente.
The Dodgers today are a melting pot of non-U.S. born homegrown talent, from Russell Martin (Canada) to Hiroki Kuroda (Japan) and Chin-Lung Hu and Hong-Chih Kuo (both from Taiwan).
They’ve also surrendered top original sign talent of late, including Mexican Joakim Soria now with the Royals, and Dominican Carlos Santana, now with the Indians. Still Dodger fans can look forward to a possible future that includes Dominican pitcher Pedro Baez and shortstop Ivan Dejesus, Jr., son of former big leaguer Ivan Dejesus.
2. Arizona: The Diamondbacks have been no strangers to scouting the international waters, with the likes of Erubial Durazo (Mexico) and Byung-Hyun Kim (South Korea) original signs that helped them win the 2001 title. Pitchers Vicente Padilla (Nicaragua), Duaner Sanchez (Dominican), Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico), Jorge De La Rosa (Mexico), as well as Dominican infielder Emilio Bonifacio, are now helping other clubs.
Arizona still has homegrown Mexican Edgar Gonzalez, Dominican Tony Pena and Venezuelan Miguel Montero in the fold, and the future is high on Dominicans, outfielder Gerardo Parra, and pitchers, Cesar Valdez and Pedro Ciriaco, plus Puerto Rican shortstop, Reynaldo Navarro.
3. San Francisco: The Giants have long been kings of progressive international scouting, going back to the days of the Alou brothers, Manny Mota and Hall-of-Famer Juan Marichal from the Dominican Republic, not to mention Puerto Rican Orlando Cepeda and Dutch sign Rikkert Faneyte.
These days, the Giants hope their recent due diligence abroad pays off soon. To support homegrown Puerto Rican southpaw Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco has stars around Venezuelan Pablo Sandoval’s eye-popping .396 average this past winter in his country’s winter league. The Giants also are high on Dominican infielder Angel Villalona, outfielder Rafael Rodriguez and pitcher Waldis Joaquin. Venezuelan infielder Ehire Adrianza is still yet another player to watch for in the Giants pipeline.
4. Colorado: The Rockies continue to delve into the non-U.S. born market for talent, seeing the success of Canadian Jeff Francis, Panamanian Manny Corpas and Dominican Ubaldo Jimenez, and hoping to see the fruits of their labor in Venezuelan Franklin Morales and Dominican Hector Gomez.
Colorado has had limited success in Asia, with Taiwan’s Chin-Hui Tsao never able to overcome arm injuries. They still have hope however for Taiwanese pitcher Ching-Lung Lo. Their Latin American scouting efforts are definitely on the up. Venezuelan hurler Jhoulys Chacin went 18-3 last year with a 2.03 ERA, and Dominicans, catcher Wilin Rosario and pitcher Esmil Rogers, are also top Rockies prospects.
5. San Diego: When CEO Sandy Alderson steps down once new owner Jeffrey Moorad takes over, his lasting legacy will be having improved the Padres Latin American scouting operations. San Diego has been behind the eight ball for some time, with only Mexican Oliver Perez a notable recent original sign.
The glory days of signing Puerto Ricans like Roberto and Sandy Alomar, Benito Santiago, Carlos Baerga, Jose Valentin, Joey Cora and Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen seem like an eternity ago. The Padres have had more success in the Asian market, like signing Akinori Otsuka, and still scout Australia, having signed Chris Oxspring and now Corey Adamson.
It signed its first South African in pitcher Alessio Angelucci (San Diego). The club’s new facility in the Dominican Republic, which opened last year, is the key and the club has become more aggressive, signing a pair of Venezuelans, pitcher Adis Portillo and outfielder Luis Domoromo, and Dominican shortstop Alvaro Aristy. Colombian Ernesto Frieri and Panamanian Luis Durango could also help the Padres in the future, along with Dominican Jackson Quezada.