The Rays Tank: Talent Development Efficiency

J. Meric - Getty Images

A few thoughts on the current state of talent development in baseball.

The Rays have been blessed with talent that has stayed with the franchise for many years. Names like Evan Longoria, James Shields, B.J. Upton, and Carl Crawford come to mind, and the idea of developing star athletes caught my attention over the weekend.

Malcom Gladwell of the New Yorker recently made his first podcast appearance on Bill Simmons' The BS Report on Friday, and the two discussed an interesting question: Assume that you are a 5-tool athlete that could succeed in any sport you pursued, and that you have narrowed your choices down to professional Basketball, Football or Baseball. Which would you choose?

Both argued that baseball provides the most longevity and - if you can swing a heavy bat - the best endorsement opportunities. There are many encumbrances to finding success in baseball, though. We may love the Mike Trouts and the Bryce Harpers, but normally baseball requires toiling in the minors for years. Additionally, baseball is losing its grasp on youth culture. It requires a lot of equipment and an open field and often parents driving their kids everywhere. The money has not stopped flowing into the sport (re: TV deals), but baseball may need to do more to continue to find the best talent. And maybe something could be done to speed up the process of player development.

The question sprung from a discussion of the Olympic running talent coming out of Jamaica, and how their whole island is obsessed with the sport of running. No potential stars could ever be looked over, because everyone runs and the sport is the island's greatest treasure. The market for talent is perfect. This was not the first time Simmons and Gladwell had discussed talent efficiency:

Gladwell: And then there is my favorite moment in Michael Lewis's The Blind Side, when Michael Oher says that if everyone from his old neighborhood in inner-city Memphis who could play football got the chance to play professional football, they'd need two NFLs. What he was saying is that the efficiency rate of the football talent-search system in Memphis was less than 50 percent. This is the most popular and most lucrative sport in the United States - and Oher is saying that based on his experience we leave half of the available talent on the table. That's unbelievable!

If this is true, maybe American sports like baseball should take a page out of the Premier League's book and start forming youth academies? European soccer teams begin player development around age 9 and often discover high profile stars, like Wayne Rooney. The clubs handle formal training in the sport and in education, providing extreme efficiency for identifying talent early and to develop athletes properly. You can read more about the experience of a youth academy from the NY Times. Could baseball begin eliminating years in the minors through youth academies? Would an academy system help smaller franchises identify future stars?


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