In researching Rays prospects from Latin America this off season, it dawned on me how few international players there are on the current 40-man roster.
Over the last four years there has been a significant change in the organization's international focus and much of that talent is closer to making an MLB impact for the Rays.
While it's possible that the recent direction reflects the team's desire for a more diverse player roster, more likely, given this outcomes-focused team, they found cost-effective ways to tap into international talent pools.
The Rays 40-Man Roster by State or Country
- All abbreviations refer to US states, except D.R. (the Dominican Republic), P.R. (Puerto Rico), and Nic (Nicaragua)
- Roster includes players from 20 different US states; California and Florida lead the way with a total of 12
- Within the current 40-man Rays roster, there are 35 from the fifty U.S.states (87.5%), 2 from Puerto Rico (5%); 2 from the D.R. (5%), and 1 from Nicaragua (2.5%)
- Within the MLB, in 2015, there were 1077 players from the U.S. states (72.5%), 158 from the D.R. (10.6%), 27 from P.R. (1.8%), and 5 from Nicaragua (0.3%)
- Overall, the Rays have a higher percentage of U.S. born players than is typical across MLB
The Rays and the International Player Market
Looking at the team's activity in the international market, there's no evidence that the front office has tried to make the Rays a primarily American team. Sometimes, things just happen to come out that way and rosters take their shape based on evaluations and team needs, not nationality.
In 2012 the Rays spent over $4 million to acquire players like C David Rodriguez ($600K) and OF Angel Moreno ($188K), both of which should be in full season ball this year. They followed that up in 2013 with a less aggressive $1.75 million in spending which included C Rene Pinto ($100K) and OF Manny Sanchez ($132.5K).
Those investments were notable, but in truth, it's the 2014 effort that saw the Rays spend $5.2M that marks a true turning point. Adrian Rondon ($2.95M) has the tools to be a star someday and was noted to be the best international talent available (until the later free agency of Yoan Moncada). It was the first time in Rays history that "the best" international talent was brought into the organization, a marked and welcomed shift in investment.
And the Rays didn't stop there. They added highly touted LHP Francisco Sanchez ($675K), OF Jesus Sanchez ($400K), and LHP Resly Linares ($275K). In fact, the Rays were so aggressive in the international market of late that they are blocked from signing new international prospects for more than $300K.
That led to the investment in three notable players in 2015, all of which cost the Rays $300K, in OF Raider Brito, SS Juan Garcia, and OF Pedro Diaz. Clearly the Rays still see the importance of bringing in international talent, even within the constraints imposed by MLB for the team's "overspending."
2016 and Beyond
Across MLB there has been increased support for an international draft, something which wouldn't allow the kind of investment the team decided to make in 2014 unless they held one of the top three draft picks.
Commissioner Rob Manfred:
"With the relaxation that's taken place with respect of Cuban players, it has put a stress test on that international system," Manfred said, per Cleveland.com. "Frankly, it's proved wanting. I am of the view that at some point, for the good of the game, for the good of competitive balance, we are going to have an international draft. I mean this in the broadest possible sense. Whether it's one draft, two drafts. … I won't comment on those details. Conceptually a single modality of entry in the draft system has always been very appealing to me."
This may have given the Rays, and other organizations, an increased sense of urgency to be active internationally while they can. It's possible that under a "one draft" or even with the addition of an international draft, that the Rays would never pick within the top three due to their skill in competing year-to-year.
Nobody knows if and when an international draft, or one draft, would be put in place. What we do know is that the Rays currently have more highly-rated international talent within the organization than ever before.
Sure, it cost the team a lot of money and incurred them two years of penalties, but when you consider the years of control the team should hold if/when some of these players will make it to MLB, the investment should pay for itself.