World Baseball Classic
Slideshow: International stars to watch
More than 30 percent of the players in MLB today were born outside the United States, and that trend is expected to rise in the next 10 years.
And while most players beyond U.S. borders will always hail from Latin America and Asia, many MLB teams are now scouting talent in growing markets like Canada, Australia, Europe and Africa.
An organization is only as good as the international players it signs and develops, so as the second World Baseball Classic is upon us followed by the 2009 MLB season, let’s take a look, division-by-division, at how each team fares with scouting top non-U.S. born talent:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
1. Boston: Before the John Henry-Larry Lucchino-Tom Werner regime, among the Red Sox biggest original international signs were the likes of Panamanian Ben Ogilvie and South Korea’s Tomo Ohka. Seriously.
Once far behind their division foes in international scouting, the Red Sox have quickly caught up, especially in Asia where they’ve not only scored big with Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, who helped win the 2007 World Series, but they also signed young Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa, and have Taiwan’s Che-Hsuan Lin in the fold. He was 2008 MLB All-Star Futures Game MVP. Also, they've got Taiwanese star Chih-Hsien Chiang.
Boston hasn’t slouched in Latin America either, signing Venezuelan shortstop Argenis Diaz. In the Dominican Republic, the Red Sox not only signed Hanley Ramirez, but today have top infield prospects in Yamaico Navarro and Michael Almanzar, and pitcher Stolmy Pimentel, among others. Boston has also signed Mitch Dening (Australia) and Justin Erasmus (South African).
2. New York: The Yankees' run of three World Series titles in four years was largely the result of outstanding scouting in Latin America, signing the likes of Panamanians Mariano Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza, Cuban Orlando Hernandez, and Puerto Ricans Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. They were also one of the first organizations to scout the Netherlands Antilles, signing Hensley Meulens out of Curacao.
Today, the Yanks remain not only strong in Latin America, with the likes of Dominicans Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, but in Asia with Hideki Matsui (Japan) and Chien-Ming Wang (Taiwan). The Bronx Bombers have Venezuelan catcher Jesus Montero waiting in the wings, as well as a fallback option in fellow countryman Francisco Cervelli. Other ones to watch include Mexican pitcher Alfredo Aceves and fellow countryman and shortstop Ramiro Pena. Additionally, the Yanks have signed a pair of Chinese players in pitcher Kai Liu and catcher Zhenwang Zhang.
3. Toronto: The Blue Jays' back-to-back World Series crown in the early 1990s had a lot to with their sound international scouting, with homegrown talents like Tony Fernandez, Tony Castillo, Juan Guzman and Luis Leal.
4. Tampa Bay: Before the Rays signed Akinori Iwamura, their first big sign out of Asia, the only previous notable international ink was for Mexican Jorge Cantu. And while the Rays are still behind the international scouting depth of the Red Sox and Yankees, they're catching up with facilities in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Some notable non-U.S. born talent in the system includes Puerto Rican catcher Christian Lopez and Dominican infielder Jairo de la Rosa.
5. Baltimore: The Orioles had have limited success on the international scene, with Dennis Martinez, the club’s original sign out of Nicaragua, its most notable face. Dominicans Armando Benitez and Daniel Cabrera, Canadian Erik Bedard and Dutchman Sidney Ponson have been more recent limited successes, and Baltimore did help elevate baseball on Aruba, an island in the Caribbean, with not only the signings of Ponson but also Eugene Kingsale and Calvin Maduro. But Canadian Adam Loewen was a bust and Dominican Radhamas Liz has yet to shine. The Orioles made their first big Asia sign with Japanese right-hander Koji Uehara, but the organization remains behind its counterparts in the division.
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