Rockies Reap Latin Scouting Rewards
Both the Rockies (and Cleveland) are following a team-building plan pioneered by a successful franchise in the 80’s and 90’s.
The Colorado Rockies’ run to the World Series (and the Cleveland Indians as well if they make it) was built the way most pennant-winning clubs are built, through good scouting and player development, creating a core of homegrown players who contribute or even star in the big leagues while earning far less than they are worth on the open market.
It seems to me that both teams are following the blueprint authored by Pat Gillick who was general manager of the Blue Jays in the 80’s and 90’s. What I mean by that is relying heavily on Latin countries as a resource for talent.
Cleveland has Fausto Carmona and the Raffys, Colorado has Franklin Morales Ubaldo Jimenez and Manny Corpas. One of my favourite writers, Keith Law, looked into the Colorado Rockies system a little bit further and here is what he has to say.
“In 2001, we really put the emphasis on Latin America,” Bill Schmidt (VP of Scouting) says. “Rolando (Fernandez, director of Latin Operations) took over the scouting and player development for the region.
Fernandez assembled a team of scouts to cover the two primary markets for baseball talent in Latin America: the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Fernandez himself covers other Latin American markets, such as Nicaragua, by utilizing the network of contacts he has built up in those countries.
The effort has paid off, although it took several years to bear fruit at the major league level, since players signed as amateur free agents in the Dominican Republic,Venezuela and Panama are signedoften as young as 16. The Rockies are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to signing teenage prospects from Latin America because they lack a club in either of the entry-level complex leagues, with their lowest level being in the more competitive Pioneer League. The first dividends from the Rockies’ Latin American program are three pitchers who all played major roles in the march to the World Series. Franklin Morales, a 21-year-old lefty from Venezuela, was the most interesting of the prospects because he was converted from an outfielder to a pitcher.
The Rockies signed him for $40,000. A week after he signed, he pitched at their complex in the Dominican Republic and already saw his velocity jump from 87-88 mph to 90 mph. Morales now is pitching 93-95 mph with a plus curveball that is death to left-handed hitters, and he has got plenty of development ahead of him, as well.
Not to mention the poise he has displayed in the NLDS and NLCS for such a young pitcher.
Only two or three other teams weredabbling in the bidding for Ubaldo Jimenez, and the Rockies signed him for the bargain basement price of $35,000, which Fernandez said wouldn’t be possible in today’s environment: “Nowadays, he’d get $150,000 or more.”
Sinkerballer Manny Corpas completes the Rockies’ OAS-like pitching staff, signed as a teenager in September 1999 in Panama.
Corpas missed the year because of injuryand didn’t pitch again until the following summer in the Dominican Republic. Originally a starter, Corpas moved to the pen when he came to the United States because the Rockies thought his arm action was better suited to relief work. (Good move)He almost went unprotected in the Rule 5 draft after 2005, but he pitched so well in his first few outings in the Venezuelan Winter League that the Rockies added him to their 40-man roster that November.
In my opinion, stuff-wise, next year we will be talking about Corpas in the same breath as his fellow countryman Rivera. He can rely on his sinker like Rivera does his cutter, both pitches are pure filth.
Behind this troika of power arms is another, potentially larger, wave of top pitching prospects mined from the Rockies’ Latin American programs. Juan Morillo, who can run his fastball up to 100 mph but lacks a good second pitch, already has had a short callup with the big club.
Even with the increase in signing bonuses for Latin amateur players, the region still represents a cost-effective avenue for teams to acquire talent. (JP, take notice)
By jumping ahead of this trend a few years ago (but not really, since the trend started in 1983 or so with the Jays – C), the Rockies were able to acquire some cogs in this year’s pennant-winning club. They also established the networks of personal relationships (like Jays scout Epy Guerrero did)that are so key to finding and signing top amateur players in Latin America, increasing their chances of keeping the flow of talent coming, even if it’s just another three or four power arms.