Minnesota's international scouting operation used to be strictly bush league. Not any more since picking up 16-year-old Miguel Angel Sano.
The Twins are outsourcing
When it came to international scouting, the Minnesota Twins used to be a laughing stock. "I think for a while we were a last resort," said Rob Antony , the Twins assistant general manager. "If guys didn't get signed by the other teams, they'd come see us." That was until last September, when the Twins surprised the baseball world by luring Miguel Angel Sano, a 16-year-old Dominican Republic shortstop, for a signing bonus of US$3.15 million (Dh11.57m), beating heavy hitters on the international market like the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners.
It was the culmination of a 15-year struggle to gain credibility beyond US shores. The Twins have poured resources into their scouting department to have success both in Latin America and as trailblazers in Europe and Australia. "Five years ago we would not have been able to sign Sano," said Mike Radcliff, who oversees the Twins international scouting. "That was a major investment there, but it's already had many side benefits as well. It increased our presence greatly and put us on the map for a lot of players and [representatives] that didn't give us the time of day before that."
Now the Minnesota farm system is a hot dish of players from all over the globe - Germany, Australia, Netherlands, Brazil and even the Czech Republic - as the Twins search far and wide for talent. When Terry Ryan took over as general manager in 1995, he made bolstering Minnesota's international operations a top priority. Teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Yankees and Mariners were cleaning up while the Twins languished with substandard resources.
The Twins have been lauded for years for their scouting and development, but the majority of those players grew up in the US and were obtained through the draft. "The Dominican was where we weren't being productive and we were spinning our wheels," Radcliff said. The Twins started by targeting two baseball-crazy nations, setting up an academy in Venezuela and steadily establishing a facility in the Dominican Republic.
"In 15 years, we've gone from no facilities to poor facilities and now to facilities in both countries that we're very proud of," said Bill Smith, the current GM. They hired Fred Guerrero in the Dominican Republic and Jose Marzan to oversee all of Latin America, and made Jose Leon the coordinator of scouting for Venezuela. In 2004, the Twins relocated to Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic, joining a complex with the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks in a much-needed upgrade.
"We went from bad to worse to bad again," Radcliff said. "And now we've got as good a facilities as anybody else down there." They did not stop there. The Twins have extended their scouting reach to new frontiers - Europe and Australia. Howie Norsetter, their Australia-based scout, has the team ahead in areas where baseball is low on the sports hierarchy. They went to the homeland of Bert Blyleven, the former Twins star who helped them win their first World Series in 1987, to sign Dutch pitchers Alexander Smit, who now is in Cincinnati, and Loek Van Mil, at 2.16 metres the tallest pitcher in baseball. They also got Luke Hughes, the infielder, from Australia, Matej Hejma, the outfielder, from the Czech Republic and signed Max Kepler, a 16-year-old German outfielder who was perhaps the most coveted prospect in Europe last year. "In Latin America, everybody's down there," Radcliff said. "In Europe, only a select few teams are involved."
The Twins spent $775,000 on Kepler and another $750,000 on Jorge Polanco, the Dominican shortstop. "We moved cautiously into this," Smith said. "We didn't just jump in and start throwing money around. We built the foundation first. We got facilities and we got staff." The investment, hard work and rebuilding is starting to pay off for the Twins, who led their division going into the weekend. Before an injury Jose Mijares, the Venezuelan pitcher, was a valued member of the bullpen. The catcher Wilson Ramos, another Venezuelan, was called up as a fill-in and went seven for nine in his first two games. Hughes homered in his first big-league at-bat in April. To hear the Twins tell it, this is only the beginning. "We want to be a threat to get some of the best players in the world every year," Smith said. "We're not going to get all the best ones every year, but we want to be a threat to get those players." * Associated Press
Teams with the most non-US players in their top 30 prospects: New York Yankees 12 Colorado Rockies 11 New York Mets 10 Philadelphia Phillies 10 Atlanta Braves 9 Boston Red Sox 9 Chicago Cubs 9 Minnesota Twins 9 Seattle Mariners 9 Texas Rangers 9