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Must-Click Link: Scouting 14-year-olds in Latin America

Apr 10, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT

Dominican Republic

Ben Badler has an eye-opening report for Baseball America about how teams are scouting and committing to international prospects. Sometimes kids as young as 12 or 13-years-old, with 14-year-olds becoming the norm:

In Latin America, this sight is not unusual. The system now in place with Major League Baseball drives teams to aggressively scout 14-year-old boys, with trainers and agents looking for the next great 12-year-old. Want to sign one of the top 16-year-old players for this year? You’re probably too late. The aggressive nature of international scouting, combined with MLB’s bonus pool system, gives players incentive to reach agreements with teams earlier than ever. The 2014-15 international signing period begins on July 2, but for some teams, it’s already over, and has been for several months. The race is on to sign the top players for 2015.

Competition for talent is one driver, but another driver is the caps on bonuses to international players imposed in the last collective bargaining agreement. With only so much to spend — and with every team given the same amount to spend — the race is on to lock up more players at younger ages for cheaper amounts lest they have to pay way more when the player approaches 16, blowing their budgets. Or, to find out as international signing day comes closer, that no legitimate players are left, leaving them with unused bonus money.

The logistics of it all aside, it seems so unseemly. This exchange captures it for me:

They both look young—too young to be July 2 players for this year. One wears a Nationals shirt and carries a Phillies equipment bag. He looks like he belongs in Little League. He has the mechanics of a child and the arm strength to match.

“He looks like he could be a guy,” said an agent, using the industry nomenclature for a legitimate prospect.

No, he’s a kid. And baseball is treating kids like meat.

It’s a must-read.

  1. chacochicken - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    You know how good scouts are at picking out the best college aged baseball players. A kid of 13 or 14 should be be easy.

    • historiophiliac - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:46 PM

      Did we not learn anything from Wilson Betemit?

  2. andreweac - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    Considering how valuable players are before they reach arbitration is this any surprise?

    If I were a front office type I would be doing anything and everything to gain a competitive advantage. I’m surprised some sort of genetic testing isn’t more widely used to attempt to project 10 year-olds.

    • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:55 AM

      Right, because the understanding of genetics has reached a point where all you do is have to run a test on someone and you’ll be able to project physical development and baseball skills.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:53 PM

        It would probably be easier to clone an army of Verlanders.

      • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:31 PM

        First, can we clone an army of Kate Uptons?

      • historiophiliac - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:47 PM

        Ahem.

      • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:58 PM

        One of you is enough. :-P

      • historiophiliac - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        Damn straight.

      • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:08 PM

        At least I didn’t say that one was already too many. :-)

      • historiophiliac - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:08 PM

        Whatever. Y’all love me.

      • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:08 PM

        BTW, Jose Tigre is looking pretty attractive these days….isn’t he?

      • historiophiliac - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:21 PM

        Et tu, paper?

      • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:22 PM

        Somebody has to keep Tiger games exciting….looks like this year it’ll be Joba and Joe.

      • historiophiliac - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:30 PM

        I thought Castallenos and V-Mart took care of that just fine. Pbblt.

      • renaado - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:00 PM

        paperlions… Please tell me how to do that face.

      • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:03 PM

        colon dash P

      • renaado - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        :_P

      • renaado - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        :-P

      • renaado - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:07 PM

        Finally! Thanks man :-).

  3. echech88 - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    This may as well be part 2 of the Dr. James Andrews piece on why everyone’s elbows are getting blown out.

    This is gross.

    • pmcenroe - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:21 AM

      This is exactly what I was thinking. But it’d be interesting to see a comparison on the number of pitchers who need TJ from N. American vs. Latin America.

    • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      Except, it is totally different.

      While the treatment and predatory nature is highly unseemly, teams that invest in players do NOT abuse them. Quite the opposite, they do everything they can to physically protect them until their bodies can handle particular tasks or workloads.

      • zengreaser - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:03 PM

        They might not PHYSICALLY put their bodies through abuse, but the very nature of what baseball scouts, teams, & agents are doing is still a form of abuse. At the very least they are treating these kids as no more than an asset to be handled until they show they are of no use to the clubs. Then it’s to the curb with them. I know ball players in the minors & bigs are basically viewed the same way, but they are adults (at least legal adults) who are (we assume) capable of making decisions for themselves.

      • paperlions - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:12 PM

        Yes, my point is just that if all players were signed as 12 yr old by MLB teams there would be far far far fewer teenagers having TJ surgery because the teams have a reason to protect their investments. Coaches in HS, college, and those horrible travelling teams have no interest in protecting the kids arms.

      • gibbyfan - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:37 PM

        I don’t know the fine print/details of these deals but I’m not so sure I see the harm here. In addition to the physical protection mentioned by PL, which we now know might be extremely important, I would assume a lot of these kids are dirt poor. So, maybe this is a chance for them to make more money than would otherwise be possible.

  4. renaado - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    Jesus MLB! Please scout the Philippines here! Latin America aren’t the only hot spots you know.

  5. zengreaser - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:58 AM

    The gross part is that American kids that young are off-limits; they are protected because it’s understood how predatory such behavior is & we don’t want our youth subjected to that. But foreigners? Who cares! They’re just commodities we can buy & sell, no matter what age they are! Gross. Absolutely gross.

    • renaado - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:12 PM

      I’ve never been to Latin America but you know their way of living there right? They need money, and these kids are doing all they can to obtain that whether it’s the easy way or the hard way in order for them to support there families, there parents may not like it because we all know that school is a number one priority here but no one absolutely wants to live a life of poverty… So if there’s a chance even though just a little bit to live a life as a Baseball player for them, then I support there decision entirely and wish them success in the near future.

      • Reflex - Apr 10, 2014 at 4:00 PM

        Exploiting poverty is still not ok.

    • carpi2 - Apr 11, 2014 at 1:47 AM

      You know what the alternative for these kids are? To get involved with the Cartels to make money. If you have the ability to make money, and not get shot, then take the opportunity.

      I am pretty sure the kids have the right to refuse signing contracts. However, I bet very few of them refuse these contracts, because it’s guaranteed money.

      If you want to find exploited athletes, then look at college football players. The NCAA has mastered the art of exploitation.

  6. Liam - Apr 10, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    Major league teams are scouting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. I remember Vladimir Guerrero’s rookie year. Oh god.

  7. Carl Hancock - Apr 10, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Unseemly? You know this is the norm in most other sports internationally right? Look at all the teenagers that compete in the Olympics in gymnastics, etc. Then there’s tennis where players also start young and work their way up. Biggest of them all is professional soccer where teams have been known to sign players as young as 7. Those young players then go on to play in a whole system of youth and development leagues before hopefully making it to the big team. It may be unseemly the way SOME, because you can’t say all, look at these kids as money… but it’s a two way street. The kid and the kids family look at it the same way. For some (a lot) these kids, baseball could be their only way out of poverty. As long as the kids are treated good, taken care of physically, I see nothing wrong with it. Let’s be real also, these are teenagers. If they catch the eye of a scout then they could then get access to equipment and training they couldn’t get otherwise. A chance to make it. Have you ever visited any of these countries Craig? And if so have you left the resort? If you had, maybe you’d think giving a 13-15 year old a better chance to develop into a legitimate baseball prospect is a good thing. Especially for the kid and his family. But because it’s Craig and we sit here in the United States on our high horse we think everyone should conform to what we think is politically correct. News flash, the rest of the world thinks we’re a bunch of dumbasses because of how politically correct everything needs to be. I know this because I do a lot of traveling, especially in Latin America where soccer teams signing kids this young isn’t unusual so why should it be for baseball?

    • kevinbnyc - Apr 10, 2014 at 3:22 PM

      I see what you’re saying, but there has to be a happy medium here. Craig’s point isn’t that we should stop scouting and signing Latin American players. It’s that the predatory behavior of organizations (who are effectively looking to take advantage of lower priced labor and kids who don’t really know they’re being taken advantage of) should be regulated in some way. Just because soccer, gymnastics (which is a pretty bad example anyway), and clothing manufacturers do it, itdoesn’t mean it’s OK and baseball should do it too.

  8. jimmyt - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    Hmmm, dirt poor kids, destined to be for the rest of their lives given a chanch to make millions. Perverse?

  9. musketmaniac - Apr 10, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    Let’s send women to do these jobs. I don’t want to read about how old baseball scouts got their game on with a Latin boy.

    • carpi2 - Apr 11, 2014 at 1:53 AM

      As long as they don’t allow Jerry Sandusky to become a baseball scout, the kids should be good.

  10. NatsLady - Apr 10, 2014 at 7:22 PM

    I keep thinking about Iglesias (sp?) the Tigers SS with two broken legs, probably from working the legs too hard and– poor nutrition? I mean, how does that happen to a young man, unless there was something in his genes, or he was mismanaged.

  11. musketmaniac - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    carp I hope your right. but that might be a little naive

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