The Next Market Inefficiencies: East Asian Talent


Source: The Washington Post

Consider this: The MLB’s opening day rosters were 72.3% America-born and, therefore, 27.7% foreign-born. Moreover, my diligent Googling skillz have suggested that 42 million Americans play baseball — recreationally, collegiately, high schoolally, professionally, or otherwise. So, that is 7 out of every 10 MLB players coming from a stock of 13.4% of Americans (24 42 million players / 313 million Americans).

In other words, the pool for American baseball talent is large and well-tapped (because it fills the most roster spots). High school and college teams have done an excellent job of vetting young American talent, ensuring that only the best reach the minors — and then the best of the best reach the majors. Despite this considerable pool of American talent, the teams that want an edge know they cannot let the local talent satisfy their needs. Enter: East Asia.

If there is just a single 2 WAR player (a starting-quality player) stuck in Cuba, it is worth signing 10 minor league Cubans (at $1M each) to find him. It is no wonder, then, that MLB teams have begun constructing Latin American academies and prolifically signing Cuban refugees like Aroldis Chapman, Leslie Anderson, and the like. Not only do these players represent a relatively untapped pool of baseball talent, they are also not subject to the minor league draft — so it is, as they no doubt say, finders-keepers.

The advantage of Latin American academies — which both educate and train their student-athletes — has become apparent to nearly every franchise at this point. For instance, the Tampa Bay Rays have even built an academy in Brazil. When I think of Brazil, I do not think of the word “home run,” but instead “goal” — spelled with 18 o’s. Nonetheless, the Rays are attempting to be the first to take advantage of a nascent baseball community in the nation holding more Japanese ex-pats than any other.

America and Canada combined total about 350 million people. Latin America constitutes 580 million people, so the advantages of entering this market are potentially huge. But if finding talent is a game of numbers, then the western hemisphere is losing:

Source: CIA World Factbook

Oh, the possibilities! We presently get most of our east Asian talent from the last three nations on the graph (Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan). Imagine if China had a proper professional league — even one comparable to just Low-A quality talent.

In 2007, the New York Yankees made waves, signing two Chinese-born prospects, Liu Kai and Zhang Zhenwang. The experiment did not last long, however, and the two never made it to A-ball. Later that same year, the MLB announced it would open a baseball academy in a city outside of Shanghai, Wuxi (a small city by Chinese standards, with an urban population of 2+ million; y’know, about Chicago’s urban population, no big deal). In 2008, the MLB played its first games in China, a two-game exhibition series featuring the Dodgers, Padres, and a slew of confused fans:

Chinese fans struggled to understand baseball, cheering foul balls and sitting silently for a seventh-inning chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Nonetheless, baseball has begun in China. This is a powerful movement because, unlike India, China boasts a more culturally homogeneous population (in comparison to ethnically diverse India) and the economic incentive of learning English (whereas the means to learn English already exists widely in India) — a powerful asset for MLB teams wanting to build an academy. Together, this means the MLB has an easier task in integrating with the Chinese culture and economy. Moreover, the Chinese population boasts the world’s largest labor force (read: potential athletes):

Source: CIA World Factbook

So if 13% of Americans create 70% of MLB athletes, then what could 13% of China produce? Better yet, what about just 5%? Just 5% of the Chinese population would produce 66.8 million baseball players, compared to America’s 42 million. Right now, an estimated 4 million Chinese citizens play baseball, a mere 0.3% of the population. But that number is bound to grow as the MLB and business owners actively pursue the sport’s development.

Chinese academies are coming. They make too much sense. And the first teams in will enjoy the largest bounty of China’s offerings. Consider:

1. Population: It is big. A larger population means a greater chance at finding premium talent.

2. Geography: Despite the vastness of the nation’s boundaries, the heft of the country’s population is compressed along the eastern coast:

Source: Wikipedia

This means coaches and scouts will not need to travel far to find recruits for the academy or teams to play against. In America, scouts spend 8 hours on the road to watch a single pitcher in another state. In China’s east coast, you are almost invariably a half-hour train ride away from a completely new set of 10 million people.

3. Economy: The Chinese government (of which I am not a huge fan) has been deliberately suppressing its exchange rate in an effort to boost its exports industry. As a result, Chinese goods and labor have been exceptionally cheap over the last decade.

For baseball teams, this means building an academy in China will be more inexpensive than doing so in Latin America — and certainly the European Union or Australia. As China’s economy grows, however, the government no doubt eases closer and closer to a revaluation of their currency. This would sap the potential financial leverage a team would enjoy in establishing a Chinese academy.

In other words, teams who buy the land, build the academy, and hire the staff now will have a huge advantage over those who come late to the game. Wages in China have been rising lately too, so MLB teams must compete with factory wages (which are generally quite good) in order to secure the best staff and young adult athletes.

4. Draft Status: As noted before, Chinese citizens are not eligible for the MLB draft. The team which uncovers the talents keeps the talent.

Conclusion
China, as well as India, Taiwan, and South Korea, represents one of the next great market inefficiencies. India, with its vast population, offers a strong pool of athletic talent — and could possibly have the beginnings of baseball interest considering its affinity for the sport’s European sister, Cricket. However, India offers as many obstacles as it does opportunities (in the form of geographic complexity and cultural/linguistic diversity).

India is a tougher egg to crack, but no less valuable. The path to Chinese academies, however, is obstructed by tolls, not mountains. And the first team to pass through will no doubt explore the future of baseball. And we can rest assured on one fact: The future of baseball will have fewer Johnsons and more Wangs.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


161 Responses to “The Next Market Inefficiencies: East Asian Talent”

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  1. Nitty Gritty Red Rebellion says:

    Excellent post. I always thought that these markets aren’t scouted enough. And first post before someone cites Japanese players who failed simply because are Asian.

    Finding that baseball Yao Ming could really help out some teams.

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  2. Xeifrank says:

    >> The future of baseball will have fewer Johnsons and more Wangs.

    Lovely article until that pun. And it is not a long sounding “a” in Wang. The pronunciation (though not exactly) sounds like “ah” or the “o” sound in bong.

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    • Thanks Frank, but I am well aware of that. Seeing as how I speak Chinese.

      (Cue “You Got Served”-like dancing and gesturing.)

      But seriously, glad you liked the article. :)

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    • matt w says:

      As a Weiner, I appreciated the pun.

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    • My echo and bunnymen says:

      Anyone with a little knowledge of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, or in fact many of the Asian languages got this. Though I must admit, I rolled my eyes at that pun, which I think was the goal, unless it’s another dick joke, then I’ll re-roll them.

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  3. Bernie says:

    But what will become of all the Cox and Dix?

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  4. Dave says:

    Very interesting article and a fun read. Highlight of my day so far, even supplanting the cultural clash I witnessed at Subway earlier today.

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  5. MX says:

    Great post. But i believe it’s not easy.

    Unlike basketball, which was already very very popular before Yao Ming, baseball has zero popularity in China. It’ll be very very hard to find that super star talent.

    Japan, Korea and Taiwan have long history of baseball, but how many of them have succeeded in the big league?

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    • Japan, Korea and Taiwan have populations more comparable to Canada. There’s certainly not as many Canadian stars as east Asians right now, but that is sort of expected considering the smaller pool they draw from.

      China and India, on the other hand, have ginormous pools of talent. Yeah, basketball was big pre-Ming (Yao, not dynasty), but if you wave enough cash and free education around, you will find ways to lure in athletes.

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      • Japan has a population of about 125m. It’s an aging population but much bigger than Canada’s.

        Japan has produced quite a bit of MLB-caliber talent, but most of Japan’s top players spend their prime years playing locally. Japan is the only country in the world outside of North America where you can make $1m a year playing baseball. The pro leagues in Korea and Taiwan are not as well established and many of the top Korean and Taiwanese players sign with MLB or NPB teams as amateurs.

        The real progress to be made in places like China and India is through having a great amateur tradition. You can find the best player in China and train him there, but he’s not going to get better if there’s no one good for him to play against. Academies will work for exporting older talent.

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      • Yeah, what he said.

        I shouldn’t have lumped Japan in with that Canada comparison. The truth is Japan has produced a LOT of successful, talented players. And, as Patrick points out, these are not typically players in their prime.

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      • bill says:

        “There’s certainly not as many Canadian stars as east Asians right now…”

        I guess it depends on what you mean by “star” but I’m not sure that proposition is certain. Off my head Votto, Dempster, Francis, Bedard, Russell. Martin, Morneau, Harden, Axford are all Canucks; and for prospects Michael Saunders and Bret Lawrie are hosers too. I think in most June drafts there is at least one Canadian that goes in the first round (though not this year).

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      • Going back to the opening day rosters document, there were 16 Canadians and 10 Japanese players. Considering Japan has significant barriers between the players and the MLB — and also well-paid alternatives in the NPB — I think that ratio sounds about right.

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      • RC says:

        Yeah, China has a bigger talent pool, but there’s probably more people PLAYING BASEBALL in Japan than there is in China.

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      • jorgath says:

        @bill

        Don’t forget the AMAZING MATT STAIRS(TM)

        :)

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      • Rudegaar says:

        But RC,
        % wise China doesn’t need that many playing. If you get one community to go nuts for it, you’ve got a couple million players right there. Get a couple communities and some rivalries, even if you in only a handful of cities, at a couple million per, that adds up quick. It takes 10% of Japan playing to equal 1% of China playing, and you’ve got much better margins to work with. Plus, the structure of their culture and desire to dominate seemingly everything possible athletically could lead very well to producing baseball talent.

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  6. Fat Spiderman says:

    You only briefly mentioned India, but you neglected to mention that MLB teams (or team, anyway), are beginning to make inroads there. The Pirates have an Indian LHP, Rinku Singh, in their minor league system, who, if I’m not mistaken, is something of a prospect.

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    • Oh, most excellent! I did not mention Mr. Singh because I did not know about him. Still, I think the obstacles to building an academy in India are greater, but the rewards no more substantial than building a Chinese academy.

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      • Richard Gadsden says:

        I think you could get away with no academy (or much less of one) by grabbing players as they wash out in cricket. That way, the huge domestic cricket infrastructure does most of the work for you.

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      • matt w says:

        Of course Rinku Singh did not reach the Pirates through a baseball academy, nor by washing out in cricket, but through a reality television show, “Million Dollar Arm.”

        Seriously, you should look into the Rinku story. Rinku and his co-winner Dinesh Patel had a blog, which unfortunately hasn’t been updated for a while; Dinesh has been cut from the Pirates’ system but Rinku actually earned a promotion from the rookie league into short-season ball after putting up 20 Ks and 8 walks in 20.2 innings. It seems like a story you’d like.

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      • A guy from PA says:

        The Pirates signed two reality show winners from India, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who proved they could throw a fastball at 85 MPH in the strike zone with virtually no formal baseball experience. Dinesh already washed out IIRC, but Rinku is a 22 year old in the Dominican Summer league who managed to at least hold his own in low A ball. He currently has 35 ks and 14 BB in 42 IP career wise for respectable ratios, albeit at a low level.

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      • sc2gg says:

        So I lived in Australia for a year, and obviously cricket is a big deal there (by the way, cricket is a fantastic chess game to watch at high levels – I suggest you read this article here for some shocking monetary figures: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Premier_League), but something I wanted to note is that, it really struck me that you could take some of the more excellent cricket players and make them into baseball players, since they’d earn more money.
        After reading this salary figures, though, it might just be a good idea for Votto to go swat 6s all day and night, since he’s got to be able to, right? I bet he’d make 25mil.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        sc2gg, I’ve looked into cricket a bit. Sports Science did this thing where they “proved” it was harder to hit a baseball. Mark Reynolds hit the shit out of a cricket ball, and he misses a LOT of major league baseballs. I don’t think cricket players on average, even the best, could hit major league pitching. albert pujols the cricket player though…

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    • Richard Gadsden says:

      Bah, LHP. Of course.

      There’s no platoon advantage in cricket (well, there is a bit, but nothing like baseball) so lefty bowlers are much rarer than lefty pitchers are in baseball.

      The lefty bowler who isn’t quite good enough to make it at the highest level at cricket is someone that you could convert to being a LOOGY.

      Goes with my suggestion further down that the way for baseball to recruit is to go for 17-20 year olds who are not going to make it in cricket, but who have skillsets that work better in baseball than in crickets.

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    • Steve says:

      IIRC the Pirates held some sort of a contest in India where anyone that could throw harder than 90 MPH would a minor league contract. It doesn’t look like either of the winners panned out, but it would be interesting to see these mass tryouts in other regions like China.

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      • matt w says:

        It was an Indian reality TV show, and the show wasn’t associated with the Pirates; the winners got a tryout, and the Pirates signed them from there.

        I just realized that Rinku Singh isn’t listed on the State College roster, so I don’t know if he’s still in the system, but he might be.

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  7. Luke in MN says:

    I think by a similar logic, a lot more Americans should be succeeding at soccer on the international level. It’s not just demographics and economics; it’s building the infrastructure over generations and then getting the sport popular enough to compete with other sports for the best athletes.

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    • IAgreeWithLuke says:

      The Dominican Republic doesn’t produce a lot of baseball talent because of ppoluation or economy. Nor because MLB decided arbitrarily to build some academies there. It’s becuase baseball is very much a part of the culture. If all it takes to be a talent pool is a big population, how does Canada maintain the top rung in hockey, why is Australia America’s only rival in men’s swimming, and how come Norway dominates cross-country skiing? Where would you rather invest your ski scouts (if there were such thing) – in Norway or India?

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      • The same argument works in reverse, though: Baseball is not big at all in Australia, yet they are 5 Aussies in the MLB (per the above Bizball link).

        A strong baseball culture, yes, is more likely to produce more top athletes because they won’t be diverted to other sports. But a weak baseball culture will still produce top athletes, relative to its size.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Bradley, you’re talking about an outlier. Plus Australians and Americans are more similar in culture in general than Asians and North Americans. Really, Latin Americans and North Americans are closer than North Americans and Asians. It’s not just that these are places on different parts of the world. Think of it like this, I live in Missouri, it wouldn’t be a HUGE adjustment for me to move to Australia. Yea, missing family, friends, etc. However, the culture is similar enough that I wouldn’t have to totally change myself. If I moved to China I would.

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  8. bc says:

    Think of how many midgets China must have!

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  9. Naveed says:

    Best dick joke I’ve read in quite a while.

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  10. World's first openly-gay SABRist says:

    What about good ole American blacks?

    Sign up the ones who are getting football scholarships and yet aren’t good enough for the NFL: Less concussions for them, more leveraging inefficiencies for us.

    Brandon wins! America wins!

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  11. Richard Gadsden says:

    Excellent article.

    I think you may have got the effect of cricket on baseball recruitment in India backwards, though. Cricket is huge in India. The IPL pays multi-million-dollar salaries to top players, and only plays for two months. For just that short season, 10 teams spread $9m (salary cap) across a roster limited at 20 players (they only play 11 in a game, and there isn’t really a rotation).

    Add on endorsements and what they earn from the rest of the year, and lots of players make millions of dollar. The best paid is Tendulkar, who is on about $8m (including endorsements).

    With that kind of money – and there are lots of million-dollar salaries around – it’s going to be hard for baseball to attract potential players away from cricket. Especially as the cricketers are on Indian TV all the time, and will be the heroes of the boys you’re trying to recruit – and bear in mind that as India gets richer, so the TV rights and the ticket prices go up, which means the players just earn more and more.

    If baseball is ever going to recruit in India, what it will need to do is to work out what sort of player won’t make it in cricket but will in baseball and then recruit them out of the cricket development system.

    In cricket, you need terrific bat control – hitting the ball hard is nice, but there’s much less margin for error (none of this three strikes wussiness; you can be out on any pitch, plus you’re expected to get 35 runs for every out); sluggers with a low batting average would not be very useful. You can use someone that hits .250 with 30 homers in baseball. That’s one category of player you’d want to convert.

    I suspect you could get some great defensive shortstops who can’t hit much – you do see amazing diving catches, but those players are still really in the team for their hitting.

    Pitching and bowling are so far apart that I’m not sure who converts. The obvious thing is to look for anyone who is in trouble for “chucking” (using the elbow to get more on the pitch – which is, of course, legal in baseball). Other than that, I don’t know, but I suspect that a baseball scouting operation could work out what types of players convert over a few years.

    The players who will become star cricketers, even if they would convert to baseball, you’re simply not going to get, because they will choose to be rich and famous to their own hometown, rather than rich and no-one at home has ever heard of them.

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    • Excellent insight! Thanks for sharing!

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    • Nick Rogers says:

      Despite needing excellent bat control in cricket the fact a round bat isn’t used makes the whole process quite a bit easier.
      As an Australian I can tell you its considerably easier to hit in cricket than baseball, but if you make a mistake it has much greater consequences.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      how do you feel about Sports Science and Mark Reynolds hitting cricket pitching? I’m not being a jerk, I honestly wanna know because that show always seems fishy to me.

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      • Aaron says:

        It’s a fun but uninformative segment, really, and it makes a spurious comparison.

        It is of course much easier to put a cricket ball “in play” than a baseball, because of the greater surface area, but failing to make contact on a ball hitting the stumps or flying/popping/fouling out ends your batting for the entire game. Mark Reynolds’ approach in the segment is not how cricketers bat – he’s basically taking baseball swings at what is, by world standards, fairly average bowling (the USA cricket team isn’t all that, understandably).

        There is a limited place for pure “sluggers” in cricket, especially in the modern shortened version that is Twenty20, because a shorter game means batters place less premium on not getting out. In a Test match, lasting up to 5 days and with both sides batting twice, the batters will each face on average around 80-90 balls for maybe 40-50 runs. Anyone trying to bat exactly like Mark Reynolds would probably face 2-5 balls on average for 5-15 runs.

        This book by Ed Smith (formerly of Kent and briefly of England, and who attended Spring Training with the Mets for a few seasons) may be of interest: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Playing-Hard-Ball-Cricket-Baseball/dp/0349116660

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  12. david says:

    what about sidd finch? teams should probably consider tibet too.

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  13. Jesse says:

    “So, that is 7 out of every 10 MLB players coming from a stock of 13.4% of Americans (24 million players / 313 million Americans).”

    3 sentences in an already a typo

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  14. DonCoburleone says:

    Nice article and this is probably just nitpicking but isn’t this more like cultivating a new talent pool rather than a market inefficiency? If there were actually millions of Chinese currently playing baseball and MLB had no academies or presence over there then that would be a market inefficiency… High OBP guys was a market inefficiency 10-15 years ago because there were players readily available who could give you a good OBP for very little money. Same goes for quality defensive players in the last 5 years or so.. China is completely different IMO because it has to be established from the ground up before a team will see any benefits.

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  15. Nate says:

    Nice article! As a big fan of the WBC and a guy who tries to keep up on international baseball, I’m always interested in hearing about the sport’s growth potential. I’ve often wondered about the potential explosion of talent from China, and I’m glad someone finally put it all together in a well-researched article. Well done!

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  16. Telo says:

    Unfortunately, as some posters have suggested, it’s far less about the population of the country but the number of children who are exposed to the game on a daily basis. You can’t point at a large group of people and assume because of the sheer number of people that you have a few baseball players in there. There are coordinated, athletic people everywhere. It’s about what children choose to do with their time. And despite the number of people in China, unless the country changes drastically, you will never see a proportional, or even a significant number of Chinese in the MLB. The society just doesn’t care, thus the children don’t play. This is not a market inefficiency, it’s culture.

    As an addendum – yes, by setting up camps like the Yankees have to catch the best, most coordinated/athletic kids (who somehow aren’t playing a sport they care about) is a viable option to find a few diamonds in the rough, but it’s not any sort of long term plan. It’s about the people and what they have passion for.

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    • Xeifrank says:

      The Chinese love sports. From the handful of times I have been there visiting family I have been amazed at their love of sports. But never did I once see a baseball field, diamond or backstop other than the Olympic facility. Of the mainstream sports that are popular in the US, basketball and soccer are by far the most played sports. When I visit China and stop by and visit with elemantary school students I always bring with me a stack of basketball cards. They are a huge hit. All the kids know all the NBA players and will ask me which player(s) I think are the best. To a lesser degree they know the European and S.American soccer stars. I really don’t see China as being the huge pipeline of MLB caliber players any time soon. The population size is a plus, but it is misleading due to the number of people in China living in poverty. They don’t yet have the love of the game that the Carribean nations do. Land is also very scarce in China. Cities are extremely crowded, there is not much room for baseball fields. The rural areas house the countries farmers and peasants, not exactly baseball playing material. If the Chinese government (Olympic arm of) puts their mind to it, I could see a trickling of players 15 years down the road joining MLB teams. I really hope I see the day when it happens. But will believe it when I see it.
      vr, Xei

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      • Captain Obvious says:

        Interesting, because China’s pretty crap at soccer… I don’t know what this means for baseball in China though.

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      • juan pierre's mustache says:

        their women’s team has been pretty good for a while

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      • jorgath says:

        Yes, but said “trickling” of players is a percentage. Hence why in the article he’s looking at a 5% school population base instead of a 13.7% American school population base. And 5% of China playing baseball is still a LOT of people to draw from. It’ll never be basketball-level, of course. But it doesn’t need to be.

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    • Mayor McFleas says:

      Also, keep in mind that you’re asking the Chinese government, which has to fully support any venture such as this, to back an endeavor in which they’re going to be absolutely steamrolled by Japan, Korea, and Taiwan in any kind of international competition for a long, long while. Good luck with that.

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      • In my experience, money has quieted all regulatory trifles within the CCP.

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      • Nate says:

        They could also look at it as an opportunity to compete with and eventually beat all three of those countries (and maybe the US) internationally.

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      • Liem says:

        McFleas,

        That China’s East Asian rivals have been successful is an excellent observation, but I think the conclusion you draw is wrong.The fact that Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei (as the PRC would like it to be known) have been largely successful in international competition will only fuel (or has already fueled?) the Chinese desire to kick start a baseball program. The Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese in Taipei have already demonstrated that the East Asians have the ability to compete at the highest levels of baseball with the type of athletes China is good at producing: men with 5’9″-6’2″ medium to large builds, good hand-eye coordination, excellent balance, quick/soft feet and hands. That is to say, the PRC doesn’t need to scour the country for a 7’6” Yao Ming freak; they only need round up the most athletic 5-6 year olds, force them to move to a state-run sports facility, import high quality baseball coaches to teach fundamental baseball skills, and see which players develop into decent ball players. This a formula they’ve already used to build their Olympic gymnastics, swim, diving, and track programs.

        Also, while basketball and soccer will not doubt remain popular, neither of those sports provides a realistic chance for a successful male Chinese athlete to become an international success. This means that baseball has much more allure in terms of fame, fortune, and even nation honor (Who will rise as China’s champion against Japan’s Ichiro and Hideki Matsui? Although many Americans may dismiss the honor aspect of sports, I, having grown up in a Chinese-American household, can you that this is perhaps the strongest motivation for an East-Asian athlete to compete.).

        Remember, the mainland Chinese are far from being front runners. This is a country that went from winning zero medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics to 51 GOLD medals 32 years later. They understand how to start from humble beginnings. The success of neighboring countries is not be a deterrent. Instead their nationalistic fervor (or insanity) will motivate them to humble their historical enemies, Japan and South Korea, and subdue the defectors in Taiwan.

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  17. zurd says:

    Actually, there are a lot more than 2 million in the Chicago urban area. There are 8.7 million people there. 2 million is a lot closer to Portland.

    Source: 2010 census

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  18. Jason461 says:

    Your 13.4% of Americans number is flawed. You should, at the very least, cut that in half to eliminate the female population. There’s probably also reason to narrow it by age.

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  19. NYMIKE says:

    Interesting piece, has there been attempts to develop baseball in Russia. Seems like a nice resource, considering that Russians, as well as other former Soviet countries excel in sports, while a huge nation like India fails to get any medals in the olympics.

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    • A guy from PA says:

      Now you have me thinking about Comrades of Summer…

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    • Liem says:

      The former USSR was able to turn out great athletes, in greatly disproportionate rates to their population and GDP because of their fantastic amateur development system. If a child (as young as 4 years old) showed any sort of athletic disposition, that child would be moved into state-run school that focused primarily on the production of Olympic athletes in a particular sport. Imagine if every potential American baseball player was forced to go to a school like IMG Academy from the time they were 6. At these schools, Soviet athletes would have access to world class competition, coaching, and facilities. Even after athletes completed school they were typically drafted into the armed forces where, although they were posing as amateur athletes by being soldiers, sailors, or airmen, their de facto job was to play sports year round (think of the great Soviet Armed Forces Hockey teams).

      Non-communist countries, like India, do not enjoy the luxury of being able to order their citizens to such schools or draft them onto military teams. China, being a communist country, has an amateur development system very similar to the old Soviet system.

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  20. Rob says:

    As an American living in South Korea, I think it’s greatly underestimated how big baseball is here. Baseball is probably Korea’s biggest sport and they are nuts over here. While MLB scouts have done a good job of scouting Japan and the NPB, they have basically ignored the Korean equivalent KBO. As evident in the WBC, Korean baseball can stand with Japanese baseball pretty well. You have to wonder when MLB scouts will start giving Korea professional leagues proper attention. Although I’m not sure if they’d be eligible for posting or F.A. here. There are a number of players who could succeed in the US. Most notably, Dae-ho Lee is just a massive slugger (massive more like Cecil Fielder than Albert Pujols) who would be a good DH or 1B in MLB. Just take a look at his stats from last year: http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=lee—000dae

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I worked for some koreans. In general they seem to want to be like Americans. I’m trying not to insult anyone here, but really, they did. Loved the Yankees and Lakers, loved baseball.

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      • hawkinscm says:

        I’m not sure I agree with that. They’re a very proud people and although they’re definitely influenced by America, that’s on a completely different level from the individual. They dress much different (especially women) and there are still many parts of their culture that continue unaltered by western influence (especially how you treat people older than you). Oh, and they don’t really have much crime…it’s assumed that people will not steal things. And they don’t.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        I get that. Keep in mind the Koreans I know are the family and friends of that family that run the restaurants I used to work for. So they were here. I do see a lot of Asians in general who seem to want to act American. There is a theory that the reason for the “Asian Miracle” after WW2 was because they adopted western strategies for production. Which appears to be fairly true. I’m not saying they’ve abandoned all of their culture, because that’s certainly not the case. However, I’d say they’re kinda like how suburban kids act black. Yea, deep down these kids are whiter than William Shatner, but they like to act “black”.

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    • hawkinscm says:

      I’ve been to Korea and went to a KBO game. I would also suggest scouts spend more time there, although I think they do to some extent already. A couple years ago, the Royals signed a 16 year old Korean catcher named Shin Jin Ho… (or Jin-Ho Shin if you want to order the names the western way). Anyway, they really are pretty crazy about baseball, although in my experience, they’re mostly concerned with Shin Soo Choo and the Indians. I saw Indians hats everywhere I went and to a lesser extent, Yankees and A’s. Besides that, many random MLB hats are worn. I even saw one Royals hat (I happened to be wearing one as well). So yeah, they’re eligible to sign, but there’s always that problem of mandatory military service.

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      • jorgath says:

        Military service in Korea is how long? 3 years from age 18, right? Or is it 5? Do they play baseball off-duty there? (F’ex, is there any sort of sandlot ball between services?)

        Either way, it’s not really that different. I assume KBO players are at least as good as AA level (probably AAA), and they all start more mature and disciplined than most American prospects (being in the military will do that to you). That’s a perfectly acceptable talent pool to go looking for talent.

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      • hawkinscm says:

        It’s actually close to 2 years, I believe.

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    • hawkinscm says:

      One thing to add. While at a KBO game, there’s all the synchronized chants and the thunder stick things they use and everything… but the best part of it all was that when someone drew a walk, they cheered just as much as they would for a base hit.

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  21. John says:

    There is a reason why only a handful of Japanese players ever make it to the Big Leagues. Asians bodies are not built the same as Americans and Latin Americans-they do not have the same height, weight, power etc. necessary to play professional baseball. So you can go search China high and low for the next big thing but your not going to find it. While your there, can you find me a couple of 6’2 210 lb hockey players as well?

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    • delv says:

      Chinese aren’t short because of genetics; they’re short because of historical nutritional patterns. Chinese people raised in the United States are much taller than Chinese raised in China.

      Europeans also were very short for a long time (shorter than the Native Americans they encountered in the 16th/17th century) until hygiene in urban centers started improving.

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      • kick me in the GO NATS says:

        Delv is totally right! The Chinese are growing taller faster than any population in the world last time I looked.

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      • Captain_Oblivious says:

        Those nutritional patterns are changing rapidly. I’ve lived and taught in China for a year and a half now and I can vouch that some of these high school aged kids are getting pretty big. As the taste shift to larger portions of protein continues, so will their typical size.

        The main problem is going to be the school system. These kids are in class from 7:15 – 11:30, then a 3-hour lunch, then 2:30-6:05 again, then about 40 minutes break for dinner and it’s back in for almost 2hours of night study. The time and dedication needed to practice a sport to achieve draft-prospect status just isn’t there.

        Space and volume of people is also an issue. They place basketball all the time here, but 9 times out of 10 it’s 3-on-3 since the courts are so busy. So certain skills, like proper defense and 3-point shooting, aren’t emphasized. Imagine trying to cram a bunch of ballplayers doing different things at once onto one field. It’s a disaster waiting to happen – especially in a culture with little to no regard for queue systems.

        Also, again because of the in-school hours, proper school teams seem to be few and far between. Which means proper coaching is even further out. These kids love basketball and have amazing energy and enthusiasm but they would likely get taken apart by your local high school team.

        So yeah, needless to say, baseball is a LONG way out here.

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    • Bryz says:

      I didn’t know there was a certain body type necessary for playing baseball, considering Chris Cates, C.C. Sabathia, Jonathan Broxton, Prince Fielder, Loek Van Mil, Jon Rauch, and Dustin Pedroia all are professionals.

      As for your hockey players…

      Andrew Brunette, 6’1″, 210 lbs.
      Martin Havlat, 6’2″ 217 lbs.
      Guillaume Latendresse, 6’2″, 230 lbs
      Brad Staubitz, 6’1″, 215 lbs.

      … and those are just from perusing the forwards on the 2010-11 Minnesota Wild roster.

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      • RC says:

        Dustin Pedroia would be large in most Chinese cities. And hes an athletic freak of nature.

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      • A says:

        No, Pedroia wouldn’t be “large” in most Chinese cities. He’d be average or slightly above average at best. He’s 5’6 or 5’7 for cryin’ out loud.

        Freak of nature? Lets save that phrase for people like Michael Vick or Barry Bonds.

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    • A says:

      Frankly, this is an outdated and ridiculous load of crap of an argument. The changes are already evident with changing diets. The catch up will be very quick, if it hasn’t happened already.

      Besides, 6’2 210 pounders (that aren’t fat), aren’t exactly “common” in North America either. Especially ones that are athletic. Now factor in the fact that East Asia has a MUCH bigger population, and it’s not exactly tough to find prototypical phenotypes for baseball. Whatever that is.

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  22. DavidCEisen says:

    “China boasts a more culturally homogeneous population (in comparison to ethnically diverse India)”

    Not really. Sure most Chinese are Han, but the Han are very diverse and speak very different dialects. Sichuan, Fujian, and Beijing are not all that culturally similar.

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    • I’m totally with you on this. As a Chinese-speaker living in Chinatown, I can’t communicate with half my neighbor because they come from Taishan in Guangdong and I speak Mandarin. (The younger people speak Mandarin — or English — but people in the 50s or later, f’getuboutit).

      However, that’s a trifle compared to the ethnic diversity that is India.

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  23. Ben says:

    I am actually doing my master’s thesis on this exact topic. From the works I’ve read it seems that culture plays a lot bigger factor than economy and population base. Doing a multiple regression analysis shows that there are factors like interaction with the US, ie invaded by, colonized, a territory of, or the distance from are the things that affect it the most.

    I’ve found that just trying to project the areas where players could come from based purely on population or economic stats may be good for projecting where a business should go, but for baseball players the numbers just don’t add up. That is why for my thesis I’m trying to create a measure of baseball embeddedness which would take into account the number of professional teams, level of baseball activity, and other factors which could display the cultural aspects. Its still a work in progress, but would it be something you’d be interesting in posting when I finish?

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    • Liem says:

      This seems like a fascinating topic and sure does explain the popularity of baseball in countries like Cuba and South Korea; however, what factor would explain the popularity of baseball in Japan? From my sketchy knowledge of Japanese-American relations before WWII, it seems that the United States did have a wide spread political or economic influence on Japan until the occupation, yet baseball was wildly popular as early as the early 20th century when MLB teams would tour Japan playing exhibition games. In fact, it seems as though baseball even spread to Taiwan through Japanese influence, not American.

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      • Paul says:

        The U.S. was critical in the modernization of Japan in the late 19th century and was one of their strongest allies and trading partners. Pearl Harbor was not a surprise because the Japanese were unknown or natural enemies, but because they were longtime allies.

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  24. John says:

    The true market inefficiency lies right here in America, in the inner cities. Our best athletes get funnelled into basketball or football when they could dominate baseball. Maybe Mr. Woodrum should tell the Rays to set up a baseball academy in Chicago or Philadelphia instead of Brazil.

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    • Liem says:

      The problem is that there is no potential for marketing an inner city star. It’s not like kids in Compton are going to get excited about the next big leaguer to come out of the Urban Youth Academy, whereas if a mainland-Chinese player ever made it to the big-show, a sizable chunk of 1.6 billion people will tune in to watch his debut.

      BTW, doesn’t Philly have an UYA of its own already?

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    • Everett says:

      The other problem is that all of these kids will be subject to the draft. MLB could do academies, but there’s no benefit for a team to do it.

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  25. John says:

    Mr. Woodrum your arguments in this article are seriously misguided.

    1. Population: It is big. A larger population means a greater chance at finding premium talent.

    This is absolutely ridiculous. There are one billion plus Chinese, sure. But males average 5’6 and 150 lbs or so compared to 5’10 for white and black americans. How many big leaguers check in at those numbers? Europe would be a much better place to seriously invest in, Asia simply will never be the talent pool you think (hope?) it will be.

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    • Captain Obvious says:

      Perhaps they average that, but remember China is still a pretty poor country–many impoverished and I’m guessing undernourished people in the provinces, most likely in the cities as well. No doubt that pulls the average down. Of course, if we assume this then we must also assume that the potential “resource pool” for baseball players is smaller than we might assume based on the raw population number.

      I don’t know if the same “John” has made all these post,s so please tell me if I’m wrong, but I do agree with your point that baseball is losing or has lost the African American community somewhat, though MLB does have the RBI program to address that. No idea how successful it is.

      Finally, you made a point that “Asians bodies are not built the same as Americans and Latin Americans-they do not have the same height, weight, power etc. necessary to play professional baseball.” I think that if you looked at any American baseball team from the late 1800s, you’d find yourself saying the same thing–there’s no way these short, scrawny white folk can ever play at a high level. It’s all about nutrition and training.

      I think you’d find the numbers for the average Latin American male–let’s say a Dominican male–are not very inspiring either; the difference is that they grow up in a baseball culture, and the bigger, stronger, faster kids are nurtured in baseball more so than kids in China, where the best and biggest athletes get channeled elsewhere–not unlike the situation in U.S. inner cities.

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    • Mr. wOBAto says:

      They managed to trot out three 7+footers in the Sydney Olympics when you are dealing with 1.5 billion people it isn’t hard to find plenty of 6 footers

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    • You say my “arguments” (plural) are misguided, but only point out one flaw? Either way, my experience and knowledge with China confirms that nutrition more the heredity dictates the key issues of athletic importance.

      Like the good Cap’n said above: “It’s all about nutrition and training.”

      Our own MLB stars aren’t necessarily average anyway, why would we expect an average Chinese person to make an MLB athlete?

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    • A says:

      What’s ridiculous is using the “average” as an indication of potential. Professional athletes, regardless of where they’re from or genetic makeup, are hardly of “average” phenotype. They’re rare breeds.

      Besides, height and weight is hardly an indicator of athletic potential, no matter how much people want to believe it is. It’s much more intangible than that. Some people just respond better to training and instruction than others.

      Can you calculate nerves or self-confidence in feet and inches or pounds? I’ll take the undersized pitcher with nerves of steel over a weak-minded pitcher with prototypical size any day.

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  26. Brandon H says:

    I’ve lived in Korea for essentially the last two years and have watched a lot of games here. It has surprised me that there haven’t been any players making the jump from the KBO to at least triple A. I’d be interested to find out what the contract issues are holding up such transfers.

    There are probably 20 players in the KBO who could come over and be successful in the majors right now, and even a handful of under 25 year olds that could be potential franchise building blocks.

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  27. CircleChange11 says:

    Interesting.

    Like others, I have questions about Chinese phyical stature, without trying to play on stereotypes.

    I also wonder what niche/role the players will fill.

    Latin players have seen an increase that coincides with a decrease of interest in black players with baseball.

    Latina in general seem to fill the void of the stereotypical roily/athletic players. I am not familiar with the Asian style of play, but there probably are not a whole lot of players that can succeed with an Ichiro style. I’m not sure if the structured Chine culture would produce a philosophy of highly disciples hitters or emulate the batting styles of other Asian nations.

    I would have thought that the unorthodox pitching motions of Asian pitchers (awkward pause following a slow rythmic start, followed by explosive motion) would have been murder to batters’ timing. But that really hasn’t played out to be the case.

    In a previous discussion it was pointed out that the average Mariner was 6’3 225, and that’s the trend in the league. I’m curious as to how the Cinese players, in general, fit into that mold/type.

    IMO, there are going to need to be quite a few MLB regulars come from China to make it worth it. They are already competing against American and Latin players, many of which are playing year round on elite teams with individual coaches. Not many teams are going to want to invest big money into programs to find the Asian equivalent of Ryan Theriot, but if there are more Choo’s and Kuo’s out there, then it could be the next untapped market.

    I was really hoping the next market inefficiency was lefties in their mid 30s that throw in the low 80s with a good changeup. I was ready to report on Monday.

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  28. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    There are many countries in the world that already play baseball and have no one represented at any level in our professional. Both Russia and the Czech Republic have professional leagues. South Africa has a professional league (they did send one guy to the minors). I do not think any of these three countries have academies. It strikes me as weird that any country with an already playing professional league would not have real MLB guys coaching and training them. I used to live in CZ and they love everything America there. I have no doubt at least one academy would produce talent there.

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    • reillocity says:

      There are at least 2 active native Russians in the minors (Twins’ LHP Andrei Lobanov and the unrelated Braves’ LHP Nick Lobanov) and at least 2 active native Czechs in the minors (Twins’ OF Matej Hejma and Rays’ LHP Stepan Havlicek). So, yes, organizations are starting to pay attention to what’s going on in those countries.

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      • The problem with attempting to farm talent in Europe, though, is the immense cost in doing so. It would be cheaper to build an inner-city academy than transfer dollars into Euros.

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  29. Jon says:

    Interesting for Jays fans. Wasn’t one of Anthopoulos’ first moves to erase his eastern asian scouting? I’m fairly sure it was. Rob Ducey was in charge I think, and he was quickly fired and never replaced. You’d think the Blue Jays would be at the forefront of this stuff given AA’s history, but he seems to favor the opposite.

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  30. Antonio Bananas says:

    After reading through everything, I’m surprised someone hasn’t pointed out a huge inefficiency in another sport that, by using the same logic, should work.

    White guys in the NBA. There aren’t many. The Mavericks might have helped, but still. In general, there aren’t white guys in the NBA. Now, basketball is huge in the US. White people love basketball. So why, in a country where one race outnumbers another, and that sport is already big in that country, aren’t there more white players?

    See what I’m saying? Baseball isn’t big in China, and it’s a different country they’d be going to. I don’t see this working. The Chinese don’t care and I’m not even sure if the great google wall of china will allow them to follow baseball teams. Any player with the nickname “tank” probably gets blocked.

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    • Liem says:

      Without discussing the problems of body-size and and China, let’s play along with the idea that a country of 1.6 billion human beings can’t produce 6’2” 200lbs men. (Even among Japanese players the body types vary greatly: Hideki Matsui 6’2” 210lbs, Ichiro Suzuki, 5’10” 170lbs.)

      Baseball is not basketball. Body-type is not nearly as big a deterrent in baseball as it is in basketball. In basketball your height and weight often dictate what position you play–can any guess where the 7’3” guy is going to play?. In baseball, could anyone tell me where you’d put a 6’2” 205 player? That same body could be pitcher, right fielder, shortstop, or catcher. The same could be said of a 5’9” body. While size does help a lot with physicality, a baseball player’s potential is dictated by his tool set. Can he hit for average/power, run, play defense, throw? BTW, can he hit???? In order to do any of the above things, all one absolutely needs is balance, body control, speed, and hand-eye coordination. With the exception of speed, which appears to be held most plentifully by people of West African descent, do any of the above tools seem to be lacking from any “race” or ethnicity?

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        My point wasn’t really about size, it was that, by the same logic of “more people=more talent in the pool readily available” it would seem the NBA should have more whites. White kids and black kids are similarly sized and, believe it or not, have similar athletic capabilities.

        The difference in the US is that in the city it’s all concrete, so it’s easy to bounce a basketball everywhere you go. Ball diamonds are expensive and take up space. Plus to actually get practice, you need a lot of people, a bat, a ball, a glove. In the city, just some gym shorts and shoes and a ball is all you need, just walk around and find a hoop. Or just dribble it around to get even a little better. Inner city blacks have an advantage when it comes to basketball. Ever woner why a lot of blacks from the inner city in the NBA aren’t as good of shooters as the white guys from more fortunate backgrounds? Outdoors there is wind. So shooting is pointless because it’s always adjusted so you’re more successful driving in and dunking. Which just so happens to be the style of play you see.

        In China, there is a limited inhabitable space that is very crowded. Making baseball fields would take up a ton of space. You can say “well basketball courts take up space too.” However, those can be made multi-purpose much easier. Graduations, plays, really any kind of ceremony, dance, whatever can be done in a high school gym or community center. A baseball field is something very particular and not really compatible to other things. So, much like inner city blacks have an advantage in basketball, the chinese have a built in disadvantage when it comes to baseball. It’s the infastructure.

        Why do you think a lot of baseball players are from the south? The weather is good for baseball most of the year and there is a ton of space and dirt and grass. It’s perfect.

        Yes, if everybody in the world lived in the same conditions then China would be a great spot. however, they just don’t have the natural surroundings that promotes growth in baseball. Great baseball players don’t typically come from big cities unless they went to a good high school. China’s population that would be able to afford baseball lives in the city. That’s a disadvantage. The rest are impoverished, and really need to be workin to help feel their families instead of playing baseball.

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    • A says:

      Because not many white guys travel to the hoods and inner-city parks where the top amateur competition in the world lies, and play for 5-8 hours everyday. Black guys live there, and play there for hours on end every single day.

      There’s MUCH greater sociological forces at hand in determining racial makeup of professional sports than genetics.

      Hockey’s a sport that requires size and explosiveness. Why isn’t it dominated by black guys if you want to use stereotypes here? Maybe it has something to do with the economical fact that inner-city black kids can’t afford $500 worth of hockey gear (not to mention the crazy registration costs).

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  31. David Carter says:

    I love your writing style – “high schoolally” and “goal” — spelled with 18 o’s.”

    Well played, Woodrum.

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  32. Jeff Pie says:

    Interesting article. Having now lived in East Asia for more than 15 years, I can say with some confidence that quality players will begin to emerge from mainland China (where the ‘long tail’ effect is creating growth in niche sports). That said, the impact of European players will be more immediate.

    In the Mariners organization alone, the past 48 hours has seen a Dutchman (Halman) homer at the Major League level and an Italian (Liddi) win a ballgame at the AAA level with 3 extra-base hits (including his 12th homer).

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  33. Captain_Oblivious says:

    Body type may not be as much of a deterrent in baseball as it is in basketball, but the scouting community isn’t fond of smallish right-handed arms and that’s the easy majority of what you’ll find here. So where will they play? Most likely destination at the highest level, as of today, up the middle skill positions. There’s certainly a market for that, but it’ll be a niche market since the bats will probably be far behind the defensive skills.

    On an unrelated note, I was planning on bringing a few gloves and balls back with me for next semester, so we’ll see what kind of response it generates. For what it’s worth, another teacher brought a football that was used a grand total of one time. It’s been collecting dust ever since.

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    • Liem says:

      You’re right that smaller body types are typically frowned upon (especially as pitchers), but smaller body types that can run well and hit can still find plenty of opportunities in pro-ball. There were three position players taken in the first 30 picks who were under 6ft. Removing pitchers from the pool, that makes 3 out of the first 11 positions players. Of course, they were all middle infielders as you might guess, but the opportunities are there for smaller players.

      Interestingly enough, one 5’11′ RHP was selected 18th overall, Sonny Gray from Vanderbilt. Not surprisingly, the unconventional pick was made by the Oakland A’s who largely downplay “body-type” scouting.

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  34. Eric says:

    Nice job on the analysis of population sizes. I do think we’re a long way
    off from being able to take advantage until a true grass roots interest in baseball emerges in these countries. As you can see even countries like Taiwan and Australia have yielded relatively few ML players. The foreign countries that have produced many are generally baseball crazy I.e. Cuba, DR and Japan.,

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  35. Sid says:

    Might be the only Indian reading this website.
    Pitchers/bowlers do pitch 90mph in India and other cricket playing nations(to begin with at least), it’s not hard to imagine that some of them would be good major league players. Fairly huge cricket infrastructure exists in India at this point as has been pointed out by others. A simple deal with the cricketing authorities could utilize more of this
    I am surprised that the MLB does not do more to spread the game here. The games shown for instance are at the oddest hours (4:30 AM) .Among the urban affluent NBA is quite popular (way more so in China like you said) but I haven’t met anyone who has ever followed baseball.
    Apart from getting talented players which admittedly is what this article is about ,sports broadcasting rights make a lot of money for other sports( English football/soccer in Asia). MLB would be missing a trick if they don’t consider this.

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    • Farming talent and just farming money are two different things, for sure. Getting MLB on regular hours in India (or finding a way to spread its popularity) seems like a must for the big-wigs in the Commish’s office. It is indeed odd they are not doing more to encourage that.

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  36. designated quitter says:

    Nice article. But I would expect foreigners to be made subject to the draft if they become as pervasive as you suggest.

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    • Good point. Though it might be a organizational nightmare to try to orchestrate a draft with millions of potential draftees, it does seem to likely the MLB will start to include more nations (first the Latin American nations, then the world!) as they become more prominent.

      Of course, the first teams in will be able to catch the inefficiency while it’s fresh — thus my exhortation.

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  37. gdc says:

    I saw someone beat me to posting the dearth of open space in large cities for ballfields. Not sure how Korea does it though.
    Re: power and cricket, that’s an old topic also. Think that Babe Ruth said he was challenged to hit a cricketer and claimed he smoked one farther than anyone said they had ever seen one hit. Then he got jammed and broke the bat. Anyone else also heard this story?
    Not being a cricketer, I would expect that the consequences of missing is part of the reason not to swing hard, but also swinging hard like a HR derby is just hard work, like the difference between starting and relieving except with a 2 lb bat instead of a ball. The same coach that hits fungos for an hour would be gassed in 10 minutes if he had to swing full force to reach the fielders.

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  38. DanK says:

    One thing not mentioned is the prevalence of steroids in Latin America versus everywhere else. I doubt many people in Asia are juicing. I also doubt they are juicing that much in the US at least until they get into A ball or the Majors.

    In Latin America on the other hand you have teenagers who have access to steroids at much earlier ages.

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  39. Jason says:

    I respect your point of view and it’s plainfully obvious that the math works. However Chinese people are not inclined to just pick up anything American. Having worked and lived in Asia for 2.5 yrs, I can tell you a few things:

    1) Chinese is not homogenous. The differences between provinces right next to each other is extremely high. I would argue that China shares the same differences in thought that India has.

    2) Indians are used to sports with a ball and bat. Chinese are not. This is a subtle difference, but Indians are used to sports that are long drawn out, involve a 1:1 battle and have trained their bodies to throw. The throwing motion in Cricket is different but it’s not as big of a change to go from Cricket to Baseball as it would be to go from nothing to Baseball.

    3) Indians median age is 27.3 yrs. China has a declining population. China has cold winters, while India is mild to hot for most of the year. To grow a game you need a population that is young and agile enough to learn the game while also being able to play the game year round.

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  40. Antonio Bananas says:

    Here are some reasons this is a good thought but ultimately, won’t work.

    1. China is still mostly impoverished.
    Baseball is an expensive sport. It costs a lot for decent equipment.
    2. The part of China that can afford baseball lives in cities. These cities are densly populated and a ball field could be a “waste of space” because baseball diamonds aren’t really multi-purpose. A basketball gym can be converted into almost anything. A soccer field can be a football field, a cricket field, pretty much any other field sports. Baseball fields are too unique.
    3. The rest of China that’s not a city is either unfit for baseball fields or the people are poor and should be working to feed their families.
    4. You should really only consider men 15-30 when scouting. Of those, only men who don’t have to work to provide for their families, of those, men who are athletic, of those, men who are actually interested in baseball. So, how big is that number now?
    5. Asian culture is about the furthest thing from North American culture. Latin Americans, Europeans, and Australians are fairly similar to us. I can relate to the Mexicans I work with, we like similar music sometimes (I don’t like the stuff that’s high pitched, but the more romantic sounding stuff I like), I can relate to the Europeans I’ve talked to because, well, they’re basically me, same with Aussies. White people are generally white people. Asians are much different. The way they write is totally different, the way they talk is totally different. Don’t say “well every language is different”, the languages themselves are very different. Most modern Euro languages are from germanic origin. Chinese is totally different. What I’m saying is that even if we do find some 6’4″ 210 pound chinese flame thrower, the chances of him having a mental breakdown in a country as foreign as the US will be to him are much greater.

    Basically I think it’s something we can think about for like, 2030, but right now I think teams would be wasting their money. Maybe invest a little bit. Cultivate some interest, but don’t put a lot of your eggs in the Asia basket.

    I will end with this, someone sign Yu Darvish.

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    • A says:

      This is full of so much generalization and erroneous analysis that I’m just gonna point out how dumb #1 is to you.

      Equipment is expensive? Last I checked, Latin America wasn’t exactly full of kids working with $300 Rawling’s gloves and $150 Nike cleets.

      Kids will use sticks, rocks, milk cartons, and etc as long as the love and the desire for the game is there.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Ahh, how smart you are. Comparing the latin kids who love baseball enough to play with milk cartons and rocks to the asian kids who don’t give a shit about baseball. That makes sense.

        So, you stroll up to an asian kid and say “okay, you’re going to be the best shortstop we have, practice with this milk carton and a rock”.

        You realize how dumb YOUR point is? For Asia to work, they’ll need at least decent equipment.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        and what about the rest of my points? Generalizations? How the hell is “the population that can afford baseball lives in the cities” a generalization? How is “densly populated” a generalization? May as well say that “the average black person’s skin is darker than the average white person’s skin” is a generalization then. Those aren’t generalizations, those are truths.

        They DO have limited space, and baseball fields aren’t the most adaptable, so it could be a waste of space. Chinese kids don’t love baseball. Asian culture is more different than our culture than pretty much any other culture. You SHOULD only consider the people I asked to consider, the age, gender, ability, etc.

        I really don’t see how anything I said was generalizing at all. I didn’t say it was a bad idea because they’re too short or too dumb or anything else that would have been a generalization. I said things that are based on fact.

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    • Conor in China says:

      China is no longer a poor country. Income in cities have been growing at a remarkable rate. Urban Chinese now pay 50% more for luxury goods than Americans do. I see more new cars in China than I do when I’m visiting America. And as much as the urban areas are dense and highly populated, they are also expanding into former farmland in the outlaying areas. Local governments often give away what Americans might call suburban land away to companies willing to invest a lot of money.

      A more important barrier is the lack of time that children spend doing sports in a serious manner. Primary school children go to school until 5pm so there are few opportunities for after sports programs. You’d really have to start getting PE teachers interested in baseball to expand interest over here. I think that’s a tough sell as baseball’s not a great game for a crowded playground and nor is it a game full of healthy athletes. I think it will be at least a generation before the Chinese public starts paying attention to baseball at all.

      Most athletes that competed so well in the Olympics were actually chosen at a very young age and train for that sport. This might be how to develop the first generation of Chinese players. Recruit 6-year-olds by offering an English language education and free US university education to the top 10% of players. You’d be swamped with applicants.

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  41. Phantom Stranger says:

    I am not sure there is a huge amount of hidden Chinese talent for baseball. As others have said, the sport is just not that popular there and there is little incentive for the government to promote the sport to its populace.

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  42. adam smith says:

    a couple of points.

    1. There are more 7 footers in China than any other country–and a lot more of them.
    2. There are more rich people in China than any other country, about 300 million of them–and there are 900 million poor.
    3. There is no market inefficiency in Asia. Korean amateur prospects are the most expensive in the world, Japanese professional prospects are more expensive than any other country in the world, and Taiwanese prospects are the third most expensive in the world–behind Korea and Cuba. (Japan has had a few cheap amateur signs, but it has also had Tazawa and Maeda and a couple others who were very expensive–a first rounder coming out of Japan to go to the MLB is probably going to cost the MLB team more than a first rounder in the US draft.)
    4. MLB currently has a ban on signing any amateurs from China.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I don’t get the height argument. The size of people has nothing to do with it. It was a bad argument from whoever brought it up.

      It has nothing to do with their athleticism and everything to do with the infastructure and culture just not being there to make baseball players. Just like inner city blacks.

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  43. Jason B says:

    Wait, it’s not midgets now? Urr…LP’s.

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  44. DanK says:

    How many athletes has India produced in any sport? How gold medals?

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  45. CircleChange11 says:

    This series seems to be more of an “untapped markets” nature, rather than “market inefficencies”.

    A MI would be something that already exists in the markets but is undervalued.

    Guys with high OBPs via walks were a good one because batting average was so over-valued, and the value of a walk is almost as valuable as a hit and it’s not BABIP dependent.

    I was expecting something along the lines of:

    (1) Utility players that provide good defense at multpile positions and all for roster flexibility.

    (2) 2-seam/sinker pitchers that have success by limiting walks and supressing homers, where they are undervalued because they don’t rack up lots of K’s.

    (3) Left-handed batters that play right-handed positions.

    Things like that.

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  46. JC Giants says:

    It’s a nice thought, but most of this article is little more than pie in the sky thinking that ignores the status of baseball in China. There is no market inefficiency in scouting China for talent because there is no baseball talent in China, and it is unlikely that any significant talent will emerge in the near future.

    To set up China as a producer of baseball talent, there would need to be grassroots interest and participation in baseball as a sport, and/or heavy amounts of government sponsorship. As other posters have already mentioned, there is essentially zero interest in baseball among the Chinese public. Youth participation in baseball is negligible. Efforts by MLB to introduce baseball as a participation sport in schools were met with indifference. Foreign leagues and the tiny Chinese domestic baseball league are completely ignored. The baseball stadia built in Beijing for the Olympics were torn down to make room for a shopping mall. The Chinese national team managed to beat Taiwan – twice! – in international competition from 2008-2009 and even that news didn’t make a blip in the public consciousness. That team was built by the Chinese government for the Beijing Olympics. With the elimination of baseball as an Olympic sport, government support has dropped even further. There is essentially no internal impetus to produce baseball talent. Any drive to develop baseball talent is going to have to come externally, which is far less certain and requires great patience and sustained investment over a long time frame.

    Besides, for a variety of reasons, China is terrible at producing team-sport athletes. Look at basketball and soccer, the two most popular team sports in China, with long histories of significant public interest, youth participation and government sponsorship. In the 30 or so years that China has had a presence in the global sports scene, it has produced one basketball star and zero soccer stars (on the men’s side, I’m ignoring women’s sports). Baseball as a sport has arguably a more difficult scouting and developmental path for athletes than either basketball or soccer. If baseball suddenly became popular and well-supported tomorrow, how long do you think it would take China to produce even marginal talents?

    MLB has already invested a significant amount of resources in trying to develop baseball in China with very little return thus far (although it’s an understandable investment considering the potential long-term payoff). Setting up a baseball academy is probably the right track, but considering the tiny number of players in the program and the low level of competition, it’s quite unlikely there’ll be any players worth noticing anytime soon. I hope baseball will take root and grow in China, but even under the best case scenario I doubt there’ll be any major league players that emerge from there for another 25-30 years.

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    Does anyone know how expensive natural swimming ponds cost to convert?

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  52. designated quitter says:

    Trolling China for talent will just be a pipe dream unless and until the Chinese government decides that they want to be big in baseball. They decided they wanted Olympic medals and ramped up their facilties and talent searches in those areas (gymnastics, swimming and diving, for example). There’s too many baseball- specific skills to make baseball a likely candidate to be the next sport they decide to rule.

    Starting a baseball academy there on spec without the support of the government driving 6 year olds to take up the game would be useless.

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