O's need to continue focus on international scouting

Did anybody read between the lines when Buck Showalter complimented the Blue Jays organization for its scouting efforts in Venezuela on Wednesday night?

"I was impressed with their kid (Henderson Alvarez). It goes without saying, you don't see many pitchers make that many quality fastball pitches. A lot of life. You can see why they're excited about him. Another product of what they've been doing internationally in Venezuela," said Showalter.

The remarks were made in Showalter's postgame press conference after Alvarez, a rookie out of Venezuela, threw eight innings of shutout ball against the Orioles.

To me, Showalter was clearly pointing out the importance of his own organization finding talent internationally. Showalter has intimated it's an area the Orioles could improve upon.

Sometimes, that's easier said than done. International scouting is quite a process.

I have to admit I wasn't familiar at how involved and challenging international scouting is until I caught up with some major league scouts the other day. It was an education to say the least. I was interested in the topic because of Showalter's comments and I was fresh off of covering the Cal Ripken World Series. In Aberdeen, I began to get a glimpse of how the Domincan kids, in particular, are pursued by agents and big league clubs as early as 13.

In places like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, scouts don't just find raw talent playing on local sandlots, sign them and bring them into an organization.

One international scout told me you can't get to the kids because even by 13-years-old they already have an agent, and "agent" is a loose term.

In many Latin American countries kids have buscones. They are unofficial agents of sorts, businessmen who go around countries like Venezuela looking for 13-to -15-year-old talent. Buscones sign a contract with the kid's family, saying he'll take care of their son, feed him and train him all with the understanding that he'll represent the young man when he's 16 and can sign with a major league organization. The buscone gets a percentage of the player's signing bonus.

All dealings must go through the buscone in conjunction with the player's baseball academy. Scouts have to develop relationships with both entities in order to begin the process of signing young talent.

According to major league baseball rules, kids in foreign countries have to be 16 to sign a contract with a club. It's truly the only rule surrounding the signing of foreign players. A birth certificate has to be produced, which can be sketchy. Think back to 1994, when the Dodgers signed a then-15-year-old Adrian Beltre. Major League Baseball fined the organization heavily and forced the club to shut down its Dominican baseball operations for a year.

Another challenge for an international scout is there are no regulations or slot system regarding signing bonuses. In turn, you'll have 30 clubs bidding on one young player. While the Orioles might offer $30,000, another club might offer $500,000, so it's hard to gauge competition and bid accordingly.

Also, my scouting friends were telling me how dangerous the job of an international scout can be. In countries like Venezuela, where kidnapping for ransom is common, scouts have to be on their toes. While scouting in sketchy areas, a major league scout is a target.

One scout within the Orioles international operations told me they don't carry a lot of money while traveling and try to stay in areas in which they are familiar.

Still, these countries need to be looked at. There's just too much talent.

So where is the next big wave of talent originating?

The consensus seems to be Venezuela right now, but also the small island of Curacao near Aruba is proving to be a hotbed.

Jair Jurjens of the Braves, Andruw Jones of the Yankees and Orioles prospect Jonathan Schoop all hail from Curacao.

Curacao's contribution to the major league player pool shows there is talent all over the world. It just stresses Showalter's point even more. The international market can't be ignored, regardless of the roadblocks faced when scouting in foreign countries.