Ben Badler has an eye-opening report for Baseball America about how teams are scouting and committing to international prospects. Sometimes kids as young as 12 or 13-years-old, with 14-year-olds becoming the norm:
In Latin America, this sight is not unusual. The system now in place with Major League Baseball drives teams to aggressively scout 14-year-old boys, with trainers and agents looking for the next great 12-year-old. Want to sign one of the top 16-year-old players for this year? You’re probably too late. The aggressive nature of international scouting, combined with MLB’s bonus pool system, gives players incentive to reach agreements with teams earlier than ever. The 2014-15 international signing period begins on July 2, but for some teams, it’s already over, and has been for several months. The race is on to sign the top players for 2015.
Competition for talent is one driver, but another driver is the caps on bonuses to international players imposed in the last collective bargaining agreement. With only so much to spend — and with every team given the same amount to spend — the race is on to lock up more players at younger ages for cheaper amounts lest they have to pay way more when the player approaches 16, blowing their budgets. Or, to find out as international signing day comes closer, that no legitimate players are left, leaving them with unused bonus money.
The logistics of it all aside, it seems so unseemly. This exchange captures it for me:
They both look young—too young to be July 2 players for this year. One wears a Nationals shirt and carries a Phillies equipment bag. He looks like he belongs in Little League. He has the mechanics of a child and the arm strength to match.
“He looks like he could be a guy,” said an agent, using the industry nomenclature for a legitimate prospect.
No, he’s a kid. And baseball is treating kids like meat.
It’s a must-read.