I have long been an advocate of the organization exploring new areas of the globe in search of baseball talent, and for just as long I have been disappointed with the degree to which they've undertaken such a task. So now was my chance – in a relatively minor way – to see if there has been any progress on this front over the past five to ten years.
Laying the ground rules for this ‘mini-study,' I have considered those prospects originally signed by the organization that have spent their entire minor league careers with the Tigers. In addition, this review only considers those prospects that have participated in stateside leagues, and includes data sets from 1997, 2002, and 2007. For the purposes of breaking down the geographical regions these players have come from, I considered the following categories: 1) North America, Canada, and Puerto Rico, 2) the Dominican Republic, 3) Venezuela, 4) the Pacific Rim, and 5) other countries.
Starting in 1997, there were 120 players eligible for consideration, with 97 (81%) of them having come from the draft or North American undrafted free agent signings. All but one of the remaining 23 prospects were signed out of the Dominican Republic, with the lone outlier having been signed out of Australia; as seen in the following graph.
Throughout the prospect community, it is commonly acknowledged that at this point in time (1997 and prior); the Tigers had been woefully deficient in their efforts to cultivate talent from avenues outside the Major League Baseball draft. Considering the Tigers did not have an academy or summer league team in the Dominican at this time (in fairness, very few teams did at this juncture), the vast majority of their Latin prospects were participating in stateside leagues.
Jumping ahead five years to 2002, I was surprised to find that there was no appreciable change in the overall percentages of prospects from various locations. Of the 160 eligible prospects, 129 (again 81%) of them had been signed out of the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Twenty-three prospects (14%) had come from the Dominican Republic, with the remaining 5% (8 players) having been signed out of Venezuela. Obviously, sometime between 1997 and 2002, the Tigers had expanded their Latin American scouting program to include at least Venezuela, and possibly other countries.
However, with no academies established in any Latin American countries, the Tigers were still bringing the vast majority of their players stateside upon signing, demonstrating how few Latin prospects the Tigers truly had. Again, the following figure depicts the breakout of prospect geography in 2002.
At this point, the Tigers still had not established a significant presence in either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, but were slowly beginning to be more aggressive in these markets. The raw numbers don't bear this out, but some of the underlying evidence suggests a different course of action beginning to take place throughout the region.