Running anything is difficult. Running a global talent acquisition and development organization sounds impossible.
I am wondering if that’s simply because it is, and so the only effective strategy is to let chaos happen and focus on a few key things that you actually understand. Cleveland appears to be doing this when it comes to the scouting, acquisition, and development of young baseball players.
Brian Hemminger and I made it this far on the Around the Corner podcast. Yes, the organization focuses on specific player archetypes. But why?
Things began to fall into place when I returned to this excellent piece by Pat Ellington. It deserves the full read, honestly. I will summarize by saying, “Cleveland has been targeting switch-hitting middle-infielders this whole time and we haven’t given it enough scrutiny. They clearly think that these players have an intangible advantage.”
All of this coincides with the promotion of Owen Miller to Cleveland. He is the exception to the rule in that he does not switch hit, but returns from Triple-A suggest that it may not matter for him. He otherwise fills the mold.
I will start from what is obvious and work our way up from there. We know that Cleveland covets two types of players, specifically:
- Switch-hitting middle-infielders
- College pitchers with excellent command
If you are wondering whether or not Cleveland understands how to identify, develop, and then eventually profit off of these types of players, I will simply identify them for you:
Corey Kluber, Shane Bieber, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Omar Vizquel, Cliff Lee, Charlie Nagy —
When I start thinking of it this way, it feels fairly obvious that Cleveland has just been doing this quietly all along. The details change but the formula hasn’t since 1989.
For example, Cleveland now targets international and amateur switch-hitting infielders and develops them internally. They also acquire many of their pitchers via the draft. First basemen and outfielders just come and go as they please. None of them but Luplow have quite figured it out yet but Josh Naylor might be close. We’ll see!
When acquiring infielders and pitchers it appears that the team is focused on one thing — the innate ability to coordinate. You can teach many things to many people. I am not sure that one of them is organically feeling at ease swinging from either side of the plate. I doubt that another is how to repeat an effortful motion without extensive coaching.
Which is to say, “some guys just get it.” If you still don’t believe me, then I am wondering how you explain Ty Cobb, or how the death of the .300 hitter coincides with the rise of coaching, conditioning, and technical knowledge to aid hitters and pitchers of all talent levels.
Go to any local ballfields or courts. Talk to the parents, and I guarantee you that there is an understanding that some kids are preternaturally gifted athletes. It even runs in bloodlines. Where I grew up, they were named Calathes, Parsons, and Kohn. I don’t think it is crazy to say that some people are inherently better at controlling what their body does and making it do what they want it to do. It does not feel like a stretch from there to say that those people are predisposed to do things like “hit from both sides of the plate” or “command a changeup” much more easily than others.
I’m willing to bet they do those things better than anybody else, too. Through a friend, I am anecdotally aware of the fact that Jason Kipnis got picked first growing up. It didn’t matter which sport, and all the kids knew. The kids from the other neighborhoods did not know yet. They subsequently learned.
That is one scenario, and notably, Kipnis did not switch-hit. I bet he could have. Some of these kids might even show up to camp doing it without a day of coaching in their life. I am willing to bet this is why Jose Ramirez quietly signed a small contract, and quickly. If I recall correctly, they were (allegedly) there to see someone else that day. This is also true of Shane Bieber.
I am willing to guess that players who are preternaturally gifted at coordinating their bodies are The Thing that Cleveland scouts look for. Not only does this mean they will be easier to coach, but they are more likely to integrate that coaching and less likely to get hurt.
And no, this isn’t see-something-say-something. I think it’s, “Shut up, find out, and sign the kid. Just let me know who else we have to sign to hide it.”
And hey, a lot of those guys have been really good, too.