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September 30, 2011

Future Shock

Constructing a Champion

by Kevin Goldstein

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Whenever a team brings in a new regime, or even discusses how to improve a struggling franchise, much of the talk revolves around a commitment to scouting and player development. But how much do this year’s playoff contenders practice what is often preached? Here is a ranking of the American League post-season participants, based on how much of their success is self-made.

1. Tampa Bay Rays: Tampa is one of the models for modern scouting and player development philosophies, but let's face it, having oodles of top picks sure helps.
The Count: If Joe Maddon benches the slumping Desmond Jennings, there will be playoff games in which third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder B.J. Upton are the only homegrown players. The pitching staff more than makes up for it. All 162 games the Rays played during the regular season were started by a player Tampa drafted. Of course, only one of those starts came from the best pitching prospect in the game, Matt Moore. He will obviously play a much larger role next year.
The Story: While the Rays have four single-digit draft picks on their playoff roster, they deserve credit for doing the right thing with them. While there is plenty of time for them to be surpassed, Upton and Price are the two most productive first overall picks of the last 10. One has to go back to 2001 (Gavin Floyd) to find a pitcher drafted fourth overall to have a better career than Jeff Niemann, while Evan Longoria is already the best third overall pick since Troy Glaus in 1997.

2. New York Yankees: For a team that often garners a reputation for buying wins, the core of the team has always been homegrown.
The Count: The only American League playoff team with a homegrown double-play combination, Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter both play huge roles in the lineup, while Brett Gardner and Jorge Posada (or rookie phenom Jesus Montero at DH) are more support types. While the bulk of the pitching staff arrived via free agency, New York has received tons of value from Ivan Nova, who signed for less than six figures seven years ago, and David Robertson, a 17th-round pick in 2006. Meanwhile, closer Mariano Rivera is one of the best Latin-American signings in the history of the game.
The Story: While fans have only just started to get excited about summertime big-budget international signings, remember than Cano signed for just $100,000 10 years ago, and was never seen as anything more than a solid prospect. In fact, the Rangers passed on acquiring him, choosing the more highly regarded (at the time) Joaquin Arias in the Alex Rodriguez deal.

3. Texas Rangers: The Rangers have one of the best scouting and player development groups in baseball, but that's not where this team came from, as the four-year-old Mark Teixeira trade continues to pay big dividends.
The Count: The Rangers have only two everyday players they initially drafted or signed; that jumps to three when Craig Gentry plays center field. The pitching is far more a tribute to the organization's scouting, as all but Matt Harrison are homegrown; this includes re-signing Colby Lewis from Japan, and signing Alexei Ogando nine years ago to convert him from the outfield, while also waiting out his visa situation.
The Story: Two everyday players in the lineup drafted in the 17th round have exceeded every expectation put on them when they signed their first professional contracts. Second baseman Ian Kinsler was seen as no more than an organizational type when drafted out of the University of Missouri in 2003. Four years later, the Rangers had their eyes on power-armed college reliever Mitch Moreland as more than a pitcher. Kinsler and Moreland are the only 17th-round selections from either of their classes to sign and play more than 40 games in the majors. Just as big a find is Game Two starter Derek Holland, a 25th-round pick in 2006 who signed the following spring as a draft-and-follow. Shortly thereafter, Holland had scouts wondering how they missed on him.

4. Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are a tribute to how to win without the commitment to scouting and player development, although to be fair, plenty of their talent has come through the trading of young talent.
The Count: On days that manager Jim Leyland puts Magglio Ordonez in right field, catcher Alex Avila will be the only homegrown player in the lineup, and he's a remarkable find as a fifth-round pick who signed for $169,000 and turned into an All-Star within three years. A pair of first-round picks, Justin Verlander (2004) and Rick Porcello (2007), are in the rotation, but like the lineup, much of the pitching staff was assembled through sound trades and playoff acquisitions.
The Story: The Tigers are thankful every day for Matt Bush’s existence. Drafting second overall in the 2004 draft, the Tigers had their eye on Verlander and a trio of Rice pitchers, but they had to wait and see what the Padres would do with the first overall pick. When the Padres were told by ownership that they couldn't take an expensive Scott Boras client like Jered Weaver or Stephen Drew, they started to lower the sights. San Diego was on Verlander, but Bush stepped in as the cheap local product and one of the biggest first overall pick busts in draft history. Meanwhile, Verlander is well on his way to being the best pitcher ever selected with the second pick.

            A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article.

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