Last time, I looked at which MLB teams do and don’t pursue players born in the five most prolific non-draft-eligible countries (the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, and Japan). Part of the goal there was to identify which of the 30 MLB organizations are the most aggressive and/or progressive in terms of finding the best talent they possibly can o’er the entire globe.
Of course, looking at how teams approach well-established springs of baseball talent like the Dominican is hardly the only way to identify whether or not a team is looking for new and novel opportunities outside of the Nifty Fifty. In the past twenty or so years, there are five other countries who — while they have not produced a similar total number of MLB players as the aforementioned Established Five — are producing more and more MLB-caliber players as time goes on: Australia, Colombia, Curacao, South Korea, and Taiwan. Teams who sign the most players from these locales are, at the very least, in admirable pursuit of new and unexpected sources of that rare gem: an MLB-caliber player.
This time I will only be tallying which team signed which player as an international free agents — I will not be tallying other MLB teams that each player eventually played for during their careers stateside. Players who were born in these countries but who were eventually drafted in the rookie draft are excluded from the count. I used a lot of help from Baseball Reference and Baseball Almanac. Here we go!
28 all-time / 24 modern, undrafted players / 3 in 2014
|Twins||5||Grant Balfour, Peter Moylan, Trent Oeltjen, Luke Hughes, Liam Hendriks|
|Dodgers||4||Craig Shipley, Jeff Williams, Luke Prokopec, Brad Thomas|
|Braves||2||Damian Moss, Glenn Williams|
|Padres||2||Cam Cairncross, Chris Oxspring|
|Angels||2||Trent Durrington, Rich Thompson|
|Mariners||2||Travis Blackley, Ryan Rowland-Smith|
|Blue Jays||1||Graeme Lloyd|
This country filled with fellow English-speakers is a safe option for teams who are hungry for talent but don’t want to have to deal, with, like, an entirely different culture in order to find it. The Phillies, Blue Jays, Brewers, Angels, and even the league-leading Twins will not appear elsewhere on this list.
14 all-time / 11 modern, undrafted players / 5 in 2014
|Nationals/Expos||3||Orlando Cabrera, Jolbert Cabrera, Jhonatan Solano|
|Pirates||2||Yamid Haad, Dilson Herrera|
Compared to the relative lack of big league performance from the assorted Australians above, there are an incredible three World Series rings (Renteria in 1997 and 2010; O. Cabrera in 2004) on this short list, no doubt making Colombia the country with the most playoff wins per player. While Teheran and Quintana are in no position to win a ring here in 2015, nobody would be surprised if they found themselves champions at some point during their future playing careers.
14 all-time / 13 modern, undrafted players / 5 in 2014
|Braves||2||Andruw Jones, Randall Simon|
|Orioles||2||Ivanon Coffie, Jonathan Schoop|
What’s incredible about the Braves’ relationship with Curaçao is: the one Curaçao player to ever be taken in the domestic draft is Andrelton Simmons (who briefly attended Western Oklahoma State College). Between him, Jansen, and the much-awaited Profar, Curaçao has produced some of the most thrilling players in the majors today, period. When you consider that the whole country has fewer people than Rancho Cucamonga, California, this country is an outstanding source of baseball talent. About one in every 300,000 Americans played in the MLB in 2014. One of about every 30,000 Curaçaoans was in the majors last year.
16 all-time / 15 modern, undrafted players / 2 in 2014
|Red Sox||3||Jin Ho Cho, Sang-Hoon Lee, Sun-Woo Kim|
|Cubs||3||Jae Kuk Ryu, Chang-Yong Lim|
|Mets||2||Jae Seo, Dae-Sung Koo|
|Mariners||2||Cha Seung Baek, Shin-Soo Choo|
|Dodgers||2||Chan Ho Park, Hyun-Jin Ryu|
I cheated here: Kang has obviously yet to play for the Pirates, but I’m going to include him here anyhow since he’s been such a hot topic of late. I find it interesting that: while we’ve been questioning Kang’s stats since Korea’s professional league is known as a hitters’ paradise, Choo and Kang are the only position players on this list.
11 all-time / 11 modern, undrafted players / 3 in 2014
|Dodgers||3||Chin-Feng Chen, Hong-Chih Kuo, Chin-lung Hu|
|Red Sox||1||Che-Hsuan Lin|
Eight pitchers out of 11 Taiwanese players here, and the three position players (Chin-Feng Chin, Lu, and Lin) lasted a combined 251 plate appearances. Although he didn’t appear in the majors in 2014, Lo remains in the Astros’ system and could see the big leagues again soon. (Incredibly, he hasn’t pitched over 50 innings in a season since 2009, his first in the Astros’ system.)
The WAR tallies in the table below use Baseball Reference’s WAR and only include value that the player accumulated when with the team that originally signed him. (I.e., the Mariners do not reap the bounty of Choo’s production because they traded him just a few dozen games into his big league career.)
|Team||Total Number||Total WAR|
|Blue Jays, Cardinals, Giants, Rays||1||0|
|A’s, Reds, Royals, White Sox||0||0|
Well, clearly, the Dodgers and the Braves are lapping the field here. Most of the Braves’ production comes, of course, from Jones (61 WAR in Atlanta). But even if you want to artificially tie a hand behind the Braves’ back and swap out Jones for Simmons (13.1 WAR so far), the Braves would still be comfortably ahead of third base, and meantime approaching the Dodgers.
One interesting question comes to mind, looking at this graph: is it better to have loved and lost (i.e., the Mariners, Twins, Red Sox), or to never have loved at all (A’s, Reds, Royals, White Sox)? I think the answer depends on whether or not you view replacement-level players as freely available off the street, or if you view them as a precious (if visually unspectacular) commodity.
Clearly the Dodgers and Braves have invested considerable sums into their global scouting — and the return on that investment has been plentiful.