Nationals Baseball: Still nothing nationally, a little internationally

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Still nothing nationally, a little internationally

 Last week was the international signing period and the Nats did what you want them to. They IDd a top prospect and they paid money to sign him. In fact they paid the most money they ever spent on an international prospect.  So welcome Cristhian Vaquero.

 What does that mean? Well a ton of players come internationally, more than their share drafted.  Of course part of that is the fact baseball drafts a ton times a ton of players. But international players are very important and signing the best ones is usually the best bet. 

That being said one only needs to look at who held the Nats record previously to see how much of a crapshoot this really is. It was held dually by Armando Cruz, who as a 17 year old put up a "talented 17 year old in the Dominican Summer League" season which is to say - not very good in general, but he's super young (in fact his 18th birthday was just a couple days ago) and by Yasel Antuna, who as a 21 year old MI now OF put up a "averagish for a 21 year old in High A" season - which is to say also not very good, but he's still young for his league. If you want to be positive, they've hung on in levels above their ages. If you want to be negative, they haven't done anything outside of Antuna's 17yo rookie league season. If you want to be fair, Antuna is getting toward a make or break time since it was hoped he'd be knocking on the door by now, and it wasn't a good start for Cruz but it's so far off writing him off that you can ignore it other than to say he's probably not a first ballot HoFer to be. 

 I went over international signings a while ago and I felt they were best described as lottery tickets, even more so than draft picks.  Generally if you have a top half first round draft pick you should end up with a ML player. If you didn't you either got bad injury luck or messed up. But the Top 15 international signings? No guarantee. The variance is wild. But you hope that you got the Juan Soto* of the year and not the Yadier Alvarez. 


Juan Soto at 17? Had a fantastic Gulf Coast Rookie season. Juan Soto at 21? That was 2020.


Nattydread said...

Seems we should be better able to assess top-level talent earlier, that it shouldn't be such a crap shoot.

We heard about Strasburg and Harper as generational talents long before they were signed. Both were on the covers of magazines and both were no-brainer number one draft picks. Both have more or less lived up to the hype. Harper more so, but SS also had games where he was sublime.

Its hard to understand how someone like Soto seemingly comes out of nowhere and outperforms two generational talents. How is it that he wasn't on the cover of magazines at 17?

Remember Bowden was taken down by a scandal where people really weren't doing their homework in the DR. A player's age was under-estimated, his ability was over-estimated and the scouts seemed like small time mafia characters from The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight.

Is international scouting that bad? Do MLB teams just lack the manpower and scouting to cover Latin America the way they do continental US? Are there any international players that got the media attention of SS and BH before they got signed? Have we got better at international scouting? Or are baseball camps in countries like the Dominican Republic totally second rate and difficult to extract good data from?

Anonymous said...

Eh, I'm actually pretty amazed that teams can have any success at all scouting 14 and 15 year olds.

Harper was drafted at 17, and Stras a month before his 21st birthday, and I agree that they were both remarkably low-variance picks (especially Harper), but that's 100% the exception. There are tons of upside and downside misses every draft. And that's for players that are much older and, typically, have played more against better competition than IFAs.

Just think about your life and how much someone who knew you well could have predicted your area and degree of professional success at age 15 vs age 21? (And really, also age 21 vs age 25 -- which is why all these prospects have huge error bars. These are human people, with all that entails.)

Harper said...

ND - it's just very hard to assess 15/16/17 yo talent to start, especially in terms of how it shakes out in the majors. You aren't just evaluating physical talent while bodies are still changing, you are judging based on results on questionable talent pools and the differences between great player, good player, marginal player, AAA player, AA player... are very slim. You ever play baseball with anyone who played DI college ball? They are great!

I think it does work in one direction pretty well. "OMG this guy is a generational talent!" are usually close to right. But you hear that about a couple players every 20 years and probably 20 players could fight for that designation so the other 15+ come from other places. But it's not like that's crazy. You are saying these 5 guys will be great - 3 of them are and 1 only isn't because of injuries. You are saying these 5000 guys aren't great and hey 15 were. Still means 4985 weren't!

College picks are a little safer (which is why drafts have tended in that direction recently) because the talent pool is more even so the evaluation against other college players at least holds. High schools... it's tough. Travel/All-Star/etc teams help but also have a limited number of times you see a guy