16 April 2008

What does Puerto Rico's inclusion in the draft mean?

For a long while, I have been thinking about the draft and what it means to domestic and international talent. As can be seen on a pedestrian level, domestic ball players are greatly restricted and must subject themselves to a draft where they have no real ability to determine who they will sign with and for how much. They can certainly demand a price, but they have only two options: go back into the draft (losing a year of earning potential) or come to some compromise with the drafting team. International talent is not subjected to this. They can sign with whomever they wish and, arguably, have more control over their own future. This seems grossly unfair for domestic talent. One idea is to incorporate international talent into the draft.

Another blog hit on this . . . Fantasy Baseball Generals (hat tip to Sabernomics). They mentioned how the talent pipeline from Puerto Rico was quite rich in the eighties. Several players were produced from that time period, including the Alomar Bros., Carlos Baerga, Wil Cordero, Carlos Delgado, Jose Hernandez, Javy Lopez, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Benito Santiago, Ruben Sierra, Jose Valentin, and Bernie Williams. Since 1990? Carlos Beltran, Jorge Posada, Javy Vazquez and Jose Vidro. Thirteen major players in the 80s and four in the nearly twenty years since. What happened? In 1990, Puerto Rico was incorporated into the amateur draft.

The basic reason?
But with the addition of Puerto Rico to the annual amateur draft, a team no longer had incentive to invest money in developing relationships in Puerto Rico because a player they spent money on could be drafted by any of the other teams in MLB. So money that might have gone to Puerto Rico now went elsewhere. Like Venezuela, which has sent Bobby Abreu, Edgardo Alfonzo, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Ramon Hernandez, Richard Hidalgo, Victor Martinez, Melvin Mora, Magglio Ordonez and Johan Santana, among others, to the majors since 1990. The Astros have been very active in Venezuela, signing Abreu, Guillen, Hidalgo and Santana from the above list.

There was no reason to spend any money on Puerto Rico. There was no reason to reach out and invest in 13 or 14 year olds. Talent evaluators and the academies no longer served a purpose because anyone could draft the players. The draft was devastating to Puerto Rican talent. It makes you pause for a moment and fully try to comprehend what it would mean to other Hispanic nations with similar per capita income. You would see talent dry up from those regions. The great Hispanic influx is, most likely, the result of MLB teams setting up a talent market. They get to Hispanic kids earlier and help them with development. This is not what American born talent receives.

This not only addresses a rather important and significant issue for the Carribbean, Latin American, and South American talent sources . . . but also the poorer regions of our country. More specifically, I am referring to the well-worn discussion about the decreasing participation of African Americans at the Major League level. Several teams do not have a single black player. This was brought up last year as the Astros donned Jackie Robinson's 42 to commemorate his breaking through the color line. Critics commented that it done because the team had no blacks on the squad. It was considered disgraceful by some. Though, maybe not as disgraceful as having Marlon Wayans are the key note speaker for the Dodgers celebration. Really, Marlon Wayans. Anyway, the question has boiled down to way are blacks not as well represented today as they were 30 or 40 years ago?

Well . . . the simple answer is that we developed better ways of scouting and developing talent. In the United States, this development is offered to those who can afford it. Elsewhere, this development is funded by individual MLB teams, so money is not important to the talent themselves. Based on the 2000 census, white households average nearly $50,000 as their per capita income. Blacks average about $30,000. This difference may explain why white ball players are able to afford, as youths, to play baseball year-round, attend clinics, participate in expensive highly competitive amateur leagues.

Income disparity also affects early youth development. Baseball is a much more complex game and difficult to practice. You need multiple players (you cannot play 2 on 2) and you need expensive equipment (glove, bat, and several balls as opposed to a single ball). Youth baseball does not incorporate shared equipment beyond bats and balls. I would also argue that baseball requires more oversight and adult supervision simply in terms of organization and umpiring games. This makes it difficult for youths to begin developing skills important for baseball. Add this in with the difficulty in participating in expensive, highly competitive amateur leagues as teenagers . . . and there isn't much positive feedback.

The final point is college. Income disparity also affects this. The quality and number of scholarships awarded to football dwarfs what baseball programs offer. Baseball scholarships are far more competitive than football scholarships. It is also an uphill climb if you did not develop skills as a youth and only have underfunded high school programs as your only significant source of instruction and maybe a few free instructional clinics, if you are invited. It is a losing proposition. I doubt many kids and families are consciously making this decision, but after a few decades . . . you'll eventually see the guys who made good and got a college education were not the average baseball players at your school, but the average football kids that were picked up. That unspoken positive feedback has to reach the community at some point. I think this is what happened.

So, the article that inspired this entry says that what needs to happen is for the draft to be eliminated. So what would happen? I imagine that international talent will get hurt badly. Not as badly as putting a draft in place, but the infrastructure that could be utilized in the US might be better to set up academies here. I imagine that the elimination of the draft would result in more American born black youths being involved in baseball because teams would scout out the 13 and 14 year olds and provide training and support. We will be exploiting talent in the US to a similar extent to our exploitation of talent internationally where there are far fewer regulations. It definitely is a tricky situation.

I may be wrong about many of my thoughts above. I try to keep an open mind, but I am fully a product of white bread suburbia. I think Stotle worked on programs with inner city kids, so hopefully he can enlighten me and correct any misguided assumptions I have.


Stotle said...

Interesting take, Craw. I think you are right on with a lot of the above. I played on a National Team that spent a month in PR. For the most part, the "tournament" seemed more and more like a fund raiser for the baseball academy down there (Roberto Clemente Academy, I believe). The big question is, "How successful can these areas become at generating their own resources to put into player development?" I want to think about this a little more, but great conversation starter!

crawdaddy said...

How successful can these areas become at generating their own resources to into player development?

Not sure. I imagine they would have to do something similar to Japanese leagues and maybe form a baseball league. They could sign guys at 14 or 15 to long term contracts and them open them up to be drafted after that point or use a posting system.

Salaries would be pretty low though. I imagine that top flight guys would be worth about 25k a year. They would also need about a few thousand for every academy student. I'm not sure the startup money would be enough and I am not sure how viable the operation would be. It would probably depend a lot on bringing in US money from the posting system.

Stotle said...

My gut says the only way an effective amount of resources can be generated is through the close involvement of current and former ML-players. That applies to both PR and inner-cities in the US. Players with capital and knowledge of the sport will have to invest time and money into helping kids from similar backgrounds. The Roberto Clemente facility in PR was used by the Alomar bros. and Pudge the winter before I played there, and I'm told they donated a fair amount of money annually. Rollins is pretty active in the Philly area, I believe. Unfortunately, there just isn't a fiscal incentive for the individual teams to pump money into these areas when the results will not solely benefit said team. MLB would have to take the lead, and I'm dubious of that. Looks to me like it will have to be the players.