Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ignoring the Island

The news is semi-official, Nationals' special assistant to the GM Jose Rijo is out and the team's Dominican program is going to be entirely revamped in light of the Esmailyn Gonzalez/Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo scandal that cost the Nats $1.4 million. Certainly this is the end of the road for Rijo, and perhaps (hopefully?) for Jim Bowden as well.

But buried deep within this ESPN article is this other little nugget: "The Milwaukee Brewers are the only organization without a Dominican academy."

What does this mean, both in philosophical and practical terms for the Brew Crew? First, it means that they are less likely to be embroiled in scandals like the Nats, and other teams, have. By refusing to pay out large bonuses to players with questionable backgrounds (not that they are questionable people, just that their identities invariably have to be suspected and vetted). It minimizes their risk, which is terribly important for a team in the smallest media market in the country. Frankly, the Brewers can't afford to throw away $1.4 million.

It also means that they are able to focus their attention heavily elsewhere. A quick perusal of their minor league system shows a heavy Venezuelan influence (including top prospect Alcides Escobar), suggesting that they are dedicated to mining Latin America for talent, just not the D.R.

But practically, their decision seems to leave their cupboard almost entirely bare of good young Dominican players. Of their top 10 prospects (as rated by Baseball America), only Angel Solome is from the Dominican, but he went to high school in the U.S. and was drafted in the 5th round. Carlos Villanueva's the only other Dominican on the 40 man roster, and he was originally signed by the Giants and acquired via trade. John Sickels rates Wily Peralta as the team's #12 prospect, and describes him as "A high upside arm, but a long way from the majors."

At this point, before minor league rosters are set, it's hard to determine with any accuracy just how out of step the Brewers' system is with the rest of the league. What is the proportion of Dominican players in the Brewers' organization vs. the rest of the league, and what is the proportion of Latin players? And it will be interesting to see just what kind of effect this organizational strategy has on their major league club going forward. The Brewers seem to have survived by drafting well (Fielder, Hardy, Hart, Braun, Gallardo, Hall, Sheets, and Parra were all draft choices), but as their success has led to lower picks, it will be interesting to see if that run of success can continue without additional support from Latin America (thusfar, only two of the players on their 40 man roster were signed as amateur free agents).

The Common Man isn't quick to condemn the Brew Crew for their novel approach. Given that other teams undoubtedly have more money to dole out to the elite prospects (like Esmailyn Gonzalez, eh?), choosing not to compete there and to corner markets elsewhere seems like a sound strategy. And as more teams expand further into Venezuela (or Hugo Chavez makes it prohibitively difficult to operate there), it will be fun to see where the next great frontier is that they can exploit? What say you? Where should the Brewers go next?

1 comment:

lar said...

It's a good point, TCM, and I'm not sure I'm ready to defend it. As you said, though, it does seem to be opening up other areas for the Brewers.

They have drafted pretty well with Braun and Hardy and Gallardo and so on, so maybe it gives them better scouts in the US? Plus, with Hall and Fielder and Weeks, they have one of the more heavily African-American clubhouses in baseball. Also, for some reason (most likely because Doug Melvin is Candian), the Brewers have a pretty high percentage of Canadians in their system (relatively high, of course). Brett Lawrie, last year's #1 choice, was drafted out of a Canadian high school and is on Canada's WBC roster at age 19.

I'm not saying those are all the answers, but it does seem like the Brewers have had success focusing elsewhere, so maybe it's all part of their plan.

One question to ask, though, is, will the Mariners follow a similar philosophy? As you probably know, their new GM, Jack Zduriencik, was the Brewers' very highly regarded scouting director for the past few years. It's likely that this philosophy of the Brewers, if it can be called that, was instituted by him and, seeing how successful he was with it, it might not be a surprise to see him try to implement it in Seattle. Just a thought...