When we think of initial talent acquisition, we generally think about the Amateur Draft or Free Agency. Undoubtedly this is because of the amount of media coverage of these to areas due, in part because of the predictability and relative immediacy of the impact these moves make. Free agents are very often on the 40 man roster, if not the 25 man roster meaning they will play in the MLB season. Drafted players can often be projected to play a role on their parent club within a few years of their drafting, some even get the call less than a year after they sign. One area that is overlooked by fans (but is gaining a small and dedicated following) are the Latin American acquisitions a club makes. These are perhaps the most long-term investments a club can make.
If the MLB Draft can be considered a crap-shoot, the Latin American signings have to basically be hopes and dreams tied to the wings of prayers. Instead having an established track record like MLB Free Agents, or loads of scouting reports and video on mostly mature men with the MLB Draft, the signings most teams make in Latin America are boys – kids that would be sophomores and juniors in High School here in the States.
The Detroit Tigers have actually has success in the international signings though. Strangely, many of the most notable names out of their Latin American operations have been used as trade chips. Perhaps this is due to the Tigers being able to uncover talent in this region more often than other teams. Maybe because of their relative lack of success in the draft their Latin American players take on added significance. Regardless, the Tigers have used this facet of initial player acquisitions to strengthen their major league club, although it may not be through direct contributions from those players. Two of the best known players might be Jair Jurrjens and Guillermo Moscoso, pitchers who were both traded to add hitters to teh Tigers 25 man roster.
This season the Tigers used this pipeline of players as trade chips to help the 25 man – trading Francisco Martinez in the deal for Doug Fister, dealing Antonio Cruz and Julio Rodriguez for Wilson Betemit, and Lester Oliveros was the PTBNL in the Delmon Young deal. Without the Tigers’ Latin American scouting, it is possible these deals do not happen and the Tigers might not be leading the AL Central right now. Luis Marte and Jose Ortega are two players who are on the 40 man, with Marte getting called up to pitch this season (though maybe not always in the best spots).
Of course, the Tigers have players several players in the minors who they scouted and signed in Latin America – namely Danry Vasquez as profiled by James Chipman earlier. Recent history suggest that many of these players who succeed will do so with teams others than the Tigers, but that does not lessen the importance of this sector of the Tigers scouting and player development department. In fact, right now, a case could be made that this is the most important piece of the puzzle for the Tigers continued success.