In a four part series Jays from the Couch will look at back at the Blue Jays International Free-Agent classes dating back to 2010
Every year young men, from baseball rich Latin American countries, show off their skills in the hopes of being given an opportunity to pursue dreams of playing in the major league leagues. The Toronto Blue Jays have a proud history with a strong influence in the Latin America. This history dates back to the 1970’s when Dodgers, Ralph Avila, and Blue Jays, Epy Guerrero, founded the Dominican Republic’s first baseball academy.
These baseball academies paved the way for future Latin American Blue Jays such as Alfredo Griffin, George Bell, Tony Fernandez, Manny Lee, Carlos Delgado, Roberto Alomar, Juan Guzman, Alex Rios and more.
Under former General Manager, J.P. Riccardi, the Blue Jays withdrew from the Latin American market. A decision precipitated by cheap ownership. With a strict budget, J.P. turned his attention away from the international market, focusing on drafting college players. His philosophy was that college picks develop quicker than IFA and are cheaper. International Free-Agents tend to take many years to develop, where as, college players only take a 2-3 years to reach the majors. Unfortunately, Riccardi’s philosophy failed, the farm system suffered, and J.P. was fired.
Under Paul Beeston, newly minted General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos and his new philosophy, relations with the Latin American pipeline were quickly re-established. Beeston and Anthopoulos leaned heavily on Tony LaCava and Marco Paddy. Their hard work paid immediate dividends. Toronto aggressively perused Cuban, Aroldis Champman, eventually losing him to the Cincinnati Reds. A year later, Toronto, in the hunt for another highly touted Cuban prospect, successfully outbid the deep pockets of the New York Yankees in signing Adeiny Hechavarria.
In the following years, Toronto would spend millions of dollars to acquire IFA, while stocking a farm system. A farm system, which under the previous regime, failed to produce an everyday position player in almost a decade. The new philosophy allowed Toronto’s farm system to rise into the upper third of league and projected to yield many future major league players. Toronto’s stocked system also allowed the former president and GM to acquire talent necessary to snap more than two decades without playoff baseball in Toronto.
The loss of Alex Anthopoulos and Ismael Cruz to the Los Angeles Dodgers this off-season put the Blue Jays future Latin American presence in doubt. Fortunately, Blue Jays new General Manager Ross Atkins has experience as Director of Latin American Operations during his time with the Cleveland Indians between 2004 and 2006. Atkins quickly filled vacancies in the Blue Jays Latin American scouting department promoting Sandy Rosario, Henry Sandoval and Lornezo Perez, while hiring Farm Director Gil Kim to oversee development of minor league players. This shift movement allows the Blue Jays to continue being major players in the Latin American market and reaffirms their commitment to the region.
Next, Jays from the Couch will review International signings made since 2010, with a ‘where are they now’ focus and what we can expect in the coming years from those still in the system.
*Featured Image Credit: Open Grid Scheduler UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.