06 April 2013

Original Signees on International League Rosters

The Norfolk Tides were to have opened at home on Thursday, April 4, and I was scheduled to be the milb.com datacaster. Unfortunately, the game was postponed by rain; I'll still end up working four of the seven games on the Tides' first homestand. I'll have a thorough look at those first Norfolk games next week.

While waiting for the rain to stop or for the front office to officially postpone the game, I amused myself by looking at the Tides' roster. One of the first things I noticed is that the Tides feature only four players who were originally drafted / signed by the parent Orioles -- Zach Britton, Zach Clark, L.J. Hoes, and Jonathan Schoop.

I think we can all agree that the Orioles have not had particularly deep drafts in recent years. They have identified top talents at the very top of their drafts -- Matt Wieters, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, maybe Brian Matusz -- but after that their selections haven't been very productive. And it would make sense that the  lack of original signees on their AAA roster would provide further evidence that their drafting has been shallow.

Then I looked at the Durham roster - printed rosters are available in the press box for me to compare with the milb.com Gameday rosters to make sure all players are entered in the system - and saw that the Durham Bulls had only six players on its roster originally signed by Tampa Bay. There are reasons for that - the Bulls' roster includes six prospects from the Matt Garza and James Shields trades - but it was still surprising that Durham had only two more players originally signed by their parent club than Norfolk. So, there are two questions - how many such players do AAA teams have, and is there a correlation between the number of such players and the quality of a team's farm system?

The following table lists the fourteen International League teams, with their parent, the number of players on the team originally signed by the parent, and the ranking of the parent team's farm system in the updated Baseball America preseason talent rankings.

Lehigh Valley Phillies 14 24
Scranton Yankees 13 11
Toledo Tigers 12 27
Louisville Reds 11 15
Charlotte White Sox 10 29
Gwinnett Braves 9 26
Indianapolis Pirates 9 7
Pawtucket Red Sox 9 6
Columbus Indians 8 20
Syracuse Nationals 8 13
Rochester Twins 7 10
Durham Rays 6 4
Norfolk Orioles 4 17
Buffalo Blue Jays 2 22

Norfolk and Durham, in fact, have fewer players originally signed and developed in their parent organizations than most other International League teams. The lowest is Buffalo, for which there are two reasons. First, the Blue Jays' stripped their farm system in offseason trades with the Marlins and Mets, and hence needed more veteran free agents than other teams. Second, Buffalo replaced the Mets with Toronto as their parent because the Mets hadn't been providing the Bisons with competitive teams; Toronto wants to develop a long-term relationship with nearby Buffalo and provided them with veterans to help them win.

In fact, the bottom four teams all have different reasons for their low ranking. Norfolk has few such players because the Orioles' drafts have not provided depth. Durham has few such players because they trade veterans for prospects. Rochester has few such players, at least temporarily, because they have a lot of players on their disabled list and retained more of their free-agent signings.

There also doesn't appear to be much of a correlation between the number of players on the AAA team who were originally signed by the parent club and how good a farm system is. The worst farm systems do seem to have more such players than the average or better farm systems. So, if there are a lot of your team's farm-system products on its AAA affiliate, that's not a good sign.

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