Not surprisingly, when 29-year-old Cuban second basemen Hector Olivera held a showcase last week in the Dominican Republic, only one general manager joined the hundreds of scouts and other front office personnel in attendance. That GM — naturally — just so happened to be the Padres AJ Preller.
Preller is like the cop who gets the promotion to the cushy office job after 20 years on the beat, yet can’t resist the temptation to return to the streets. You’ve seen the movie before. And Preller apparently wasn’t there just because somewhere buried in his contract it says that he has to scout every player. According to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, the Padres are the favorites to sign Olivera once he becomes available (more on that later), flanked by the Giants, A’s, and Braves as other leading potential landing spots.
Back in August, Badler and Baseball America ranked Olivera as the sixth-best player left in Cuba, a nation that seems to grow baseball stars at the same rate it loses them. The infielder was a perennial star in Cuba toward the end of the previous decade, impressing scouts on the international stage (like the 2009 World Baseball Classic) and tearing up Cuba’s Serie Nacional with loud contact and a solid approach. In the 2011-2012 Cuban season, his best offensive output, Olivera hit .341/.468/.626 with 17 home runs and a two-to-one walk-to-strikeout ratio in 258 plate appearances. He wasn’t a one hit wonder either, as Olivera posted a .900-plus OPS in each of the four seasons that preceded his 2011-’12 campaign.
A few days ago Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote an article about the international spending by each major league team. Like free-agency, and the Rule 4 Amateur draft, the signing of international amateurs is a vital component to talent acquisition. Similar to the Rule 4 amateur draft, the signing of international free-agents is a cheap avenue to explore when adding talent to an organization.
Young players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Columbia, Nicaragua and other baseball hotbeds cover the landscape of each MLB affiliate as well as the 40 man rosters of MLB teams. How many of these international free agents are on the Padres roster right now? Everth Cabrera was signed in 2004 (Nicaragua – Rockies), Alexi Amarista signed in 2007 (Venezuela – Angels), as well as the recently acquired Joaquin Benoit (Dominican Republic – Rangers) and Alex Torres (Venezuela – Angels) signed in 1996 and 2005 respectively.
But not every organization invests equally in places such as the Dominican Republic. However, if done correctly these signings can be game-changing.
The article came to my attention via David Marver. He and I had a discussion that began with snark but ultimately became rewarding as it pushed me to delve a little deeper into the murkiness that surrounds the signing of international amateur baseball players.
What I discovered is that looking at a rank list of spending estimates does not paint a very accurate picture when it comes to international amateurs. How are the Padres doing in this area of talent procurement? Let’s see . . .