For years some teams have pushed for an International Draft in Major League Baseball and recent developments over the past few weeks make it appear as if that is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality. For Brewers fans, the question is, will this help or hurt their ballclub.
While it’s hard to answer that question until a draft is official and all of the details are announced, it is clear that international scouting has been, and will continue to be, an important part of building a quality farm system.
While the Brewers may not scour the globe with the efforts of teams like the Mariners, Yankees and Rangers, they do have quite an international feel to their big league squad and continue to look for players in all parts of the world.
More than half of the players on the Brewers current 25-man roster were born outside of the United States. Milwaukee has five players from the Dominican Republic (Wily Peralta, Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, Alfredo Figaro and Aramis Ramirez); two each from Puerto Rico (Martin Maldanado and Hiram Burgos), Mexico (Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada) and Canada (John Axford and Jim Henderson); and one a piece from Cuba (Yuniesky Betancourt), Venezuela (Alex Gonzalez) and Japan (Norichika Aoki).
Of those fourteen players however, only Gallardo, Peralta and Aoki began in the Brewers organization. Gallardo moved to the United States early on, attended high school in Texas, and was a second round draft pick in 2004. Aoki signed with Milwaukee in 2012 after playing professionally for eight years in Japan for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
Peralta, on the other hand, is the type of player the Brewers hope to find more of with increased efforts in the Dominican Republic, and Latin America in general. Peralta was signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2005 for $450,000, but the Brewers did not field a team in the Dominican for the 2006 season, and so Peralta was forced to begin his career stateside. He struggled early on going 2-5 with a 6.63 ERA his first season against older competition before eventually developing into the pitching prospect the Brewers had envisioned.
Asking a player at such a young age to come to the United States and face players fresh out of college in the Arizona League is a tough task. The Brewers realized this, and wanting to increase their presence in the Dominican Republic, fielded a co-op team with the Baltimore Orioles in the Dominican Summer League for the 2009 season.
After being without a team in the DSL for five seasons from 2004-2008 the Brewers were able to form their own squad for the 2010 season.
In November of 2011, Milwaukee announced the opening of a baseball academy in San Pedro de Macoris. The facility is owned by former Brewers closer Salomon Torres and features housing, classrooms and a cafeteria in addition to the baseball facilities. The baseball academy not only teaches players how to play baseball, but also things like how to eat properly as well as daily English lessons.
These are all positive steps in the right direction and provide valuable help to young Latin players. Still, many of the international signings won’t even find their way to affiliated ball in the United States. Others may struggle with the transition and culture shock. This all makes international signings a bit of a crapshoot.
In 2005 the Brewers signed 17-year-old pitcher Rolando Pascual to a $710,000 deal. It was the biggest deal Milwaukee had given to an international free agent. Pascual pitched six seasons in the Brewers organization, never making it past High-A Brevard County. In 85 career games, he compiled a record of 7-21 with an 8.15 ERA and was eventually released following the 2011 season.
Conversely, in 2003, the Brewers inked a young Venezuelan shortstop by the name of Alcides Escobar to a contract for a mere $33,000. Escobar shot his way up through the Brewers system and went on to become Milwaukee’s starting shortstop before being dealt to Kansas City as a key component in the 2010 trade for Zack Greinke.
Some of the Brewers more recent big-ticket signings include Dominican outfielder Jose Pena, who was signed for $400,000 in 2009, and Venezuelan pitcher Yosmer Leal who signed for $370,000 last July.
Pena spent his first two seasons playing for the Brewers Dominican Summer League team, then split last season between Milwaukee’s two rookie league clubs in Maryvale and Helena. He handled himself well in his first season in the United States, batting a combined .302 in 61 games while belting eight home runs and knocking in 46 runs. Having just turned 20 in March, Pena stayed in Extended Spring Training and is ticketed for a return trip to Helena when their season begins in June, but could find his way to Wisconsin before the end of the season.
The 17-year-old Leal will begin his career in June in the DSL.
Showing a further emphasis on improving their International Scouting department, Milwaukee shook up their scouting staff in the offseason, letting go of Fernando Arango who had been with the Brewers since 2003, and who signed Peralta in 2005.
They promoted Eduardo Brizuela to Director of Latin America Operations and Manny Batista to Director of Latin American Scouting. In addition they hired Manuel Vargas as the Assistant Coordinator of Latin America Operations. According to the Brewers 2013 Media Guide, they have nine additional scouts in Latin America, including four each in the Dominican and Venezuela.
Every team is looking for the next Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols or David Ortiz and what happens with the International Draft remains to be seen, but the Brewers are hopeful that a deeper presence in Latin America will help the organization’s farm system get back to where it once was as one of the best in baseball.