In 2006, the Tigers finally showed some signs of serious life on the international scene, as they participated for the first time in the Venezuelan Summer League; fielding a joint team with the Florida Marlins. It is likely no coincidence that the Tigers branched out with a cooperative agreement with General Manager Dave Dombrowski's former club. This step forward appeared as though it may have been an attempt by the organization to establish a firm footing in the talent rich region.
Their steps forward in Venezuela were not alone, as the organization also further solidified their hold on a training complex in the Dominican Republic, and enhanced their scouting department in these regions as well. The combination of these moves had the potential to make the Tigers serious players on an international market that they had largely ignored in years prior. Though a late start by some MLB standards, the old adage holds true; better late than never.
With the increased presence in the Dominican and in Venezuela, the Tigers have since been able to attract much larger groups of talented players; an influx of talent we are just now beginning to see in the United States, and on the prospect radar. In 2005, the TigsTown Top 50 included 12 players initially acquired by the organization outside of the MLB First-year Player Draft. That number remained at 12 in the 2006 TigsTown Top 50, before growing to 13 in 2007, and ultimately 15 in last fall's TigsTown rankings.
Though nominal growth on the surface, when looked at in conjunction with the number of prospects found worthy of making their stateside debuts, it becomes much more impressive. In 2008, the Tigers debuted nine new Latin American prospects, and one prospect from Taiwan. In 2009, the Tigers are prepared to debut 19 new Latin prospects in the States, along with another prospect from Taiwan, and an amateur signee from Australia.
The growth in Latin America is largely unsurprising. The firm establishment of complexes in the Dominican and Venezuela were signals that the organization was going to take their scouting and development in these regions far more seriously. The signings out of Taiwan and Australia, however, are far more encouraging. These are the first moves of this kind since Randy Smith brought luminaries such as Masao Kida, Rikki Johnston, and Brad Wise into the fold in the 1990s.
As an increasing number of MLB teams became highly active in the Pacific Rim, the Tigers under Dave Dombrowski appeared to remain on the sidelines, with little activity in pursuing prospects or MLB-ready talent across the Pacific Ocean. That changed when the Tigers signed Chao-Ting Tang last year, and continued to change when they beefed up their scouting teams in the region. Left-hander Fu-Te Ni joined the organization for the 2009 season, and the recent signing of Aussie catcher Byron Aird is yet another indication of their increased presence in that region of the globe.
Though it may not appear on the radar of many Tiger fans, the Tigers increased efforts abroad could be setting the stage for a run of sustained success down the line. Its human nature – particularly after two decades of ineptitude at the MLB level – to want results now, but there should be some comfort in knowing that the front office isn't purely focused on the 2009 World Series, but rather the long term viability of the organization as a whole. Expanding their presence in other talent-rich areas of the globe can only enhance their ability to develop prospects that can fill holes and play important roles on future Major League teams (whether that be via trade or promotion to Detroit).
It may have taken longer than you or I would have liked, but the Tigers are finally getting boots on the ground across the globe, and we should take solace in the fact that the organization will be better for this progress. Keep an eye on guys like Tang, Ni, and Aird, but also know that they may only be the beginning. Kudos to the organization for taking the steps necessary to expand their presence and reach in the global race for elite talent.