What's the better natural advantage?

The response to my Cito Culver post earlier this week put an interesting question in my head. Here are the comments:

Richard Deegan: It’s about having people on the ground and getting into all corners, especially “home” (well, at least NY) turf. That’s how the Cards got The Man, while the Pirates dozed.

Tripp: I think the Braves are also real good at plucking players out of the Georgia area.

The Yankees certainly seemed to believe that they had a better read on Culver, who was projected as a second roundish pick, than other teams. He is from upstate New York, a cold-weather area without a whole lot of showcases and scouts. Culver’s proximity to Yankee HQ meant that the team could get a lot of good looks at him, while most other teams may only have looked at him once or twice. So, the Yankees were better informed (thanks in part to their large scouting investment) on draft day.

As Tripp points out, this isn’t unique to the Yankees. Lots of teams scout their backyard especially hard, because its cheaper and allows the top brass to get in on the game. Notably, the Braves do a great job of finding talent from Georgia. Look no further than Jason Heyward, whom the Braves drafted ahead of some higher-rated high school hitters in 2007. They also went local (if you count North Florida, southern North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee)  in the top rounds of 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 drafts. They mostly pick from their home court.

The difference between the Yankees and Braves is that the Yankees’ home court is not a baseball talent hotbed. The warm-weather South is loaded with draft talent, while most of the New York area is not.

So, my question for everyone is: who has the advantage, the Yankees or the Braves? I don’t know the right answer. I’m curious to hear the discussion.

The Braves get to see more players up close and personal. They form better relationships with local college and prep programs. Their top brass regularly gets to go out and see potential draftees up close, instead of relying on cross-checkers to report back.

But, I think the Yankees actually have a better home-field advantage. Every team is going to have a concentrated network of scouts making frequent visits to showcases and top schools in the South. The good players are pretty well known to all, and there are few secrets. Getting a better look at a player might provide them a little bit more information, but their marginal advantage over other teams is significantly less, even if their volume is much greater. Up in New York, on the other hand, there are true diamonds to be found in the rough. There’s a good chance that the Braves didn’t even bother to send a scout to watch Cito Culver play, much less follow up with multiple visits, or send a cross checker out. For a highly-touted Northern player like Rick Porcello they would make the trip, but probably not as much for an under-the-radar high schooler like Cito Culver.

But that’s just a theory. What do you guys think?

About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

4 thoughts on “What's the better natural advantage?

  1. Your theory does make sense, though I wonder how much more time the Yankee scouts actually spend scouting local players, given the greater concentration of talent in places like California, Florida, etc.

    As for the Braves and Heyward, I think that was less about the Braves finding a diamond in the rough (Heyward was highly touted prior to the draft) and more about the other teams who passed him up. I think he was ranked higher than his eventual draft slot by BA or whoever it is that we determine to be the authority in these matters. Your overall point is well taken though. I am curious if other organizations seem to be better at identifying and drafting local talent.

  2. The Braves do have some advantages, in that they have built up an excellent brand in the TBS-Braves combo, in their in the last 30 years, giving them dominance in their multi-state area, where they are the first team thought of when a local coach wants to tip off a team about a hidden HS prospect. However, this same area is also a hotbed for strong BB colleges, attracting scouts from all over to see primo candidates, and, “on your way, stop off and see what’s doing in local HS”. This is current economics – the preference is for A-1 college players, while using the same trip to check out high schools along the route. California-TX-LA are also hotbeds for top BB colleges.
    On the other hand, name one hot BB college in NY’s heartland or North, outside of possible Syracuse or Albany. Buffalo? Nothing for BB, but in any year Buffalo may have 3 colleges going to the NCAA’s March Madness. And Buffalo is a long way to send scouts without the draw of a major BB college (as is Rochester, the Mohawk Valley, the Finger Lakes area and upper I-90). Plus, the featured BB channel on many cable systems in the area (West to Utica, upper I-90 and east) is Boston 38.
    Hat’s off to the Yankees for taking the time to check prospects in what to so many organizations must seem like a lost cause, at least in terms of mileage expenses.

  3. While your argument makes sense, the Braves certainly seem to have gotten a lot more out of their advantage. Off the top of my head, the most notable local picks for the Yankees in the past decade were Culver, Dellin Betances, Eric Duncan and Estee Harris. Obviously it’s far too early to make a judgement on Culver, and while Betances has become an excellent prospect, his pick was more due to the Yankees’ financial advantage than their geographic ones. The last two were definite busts, however. Against this we have the Braves picking up a great outfielder and catcher in Heyward and Brian McCann, and a useful, if overrated, player in Jeff Francouer.

    I suppose, though, the question remains as to whether the Braves have the better advantage, or whether they’ve just used it better.

  4. I live in Canada, so to say I’m on the outside looking in on the topic of hotbeds of high school baseball is an understatement. I don’t know much about the whole scouting process so this idea may be all kinds of wrong, but….

    The post suggests that teams have an advantage in discovering local talent because that talent is in their own back yard. Is there any merit to the suggestion that the Yankees look at the map, choose a warm-weather part of the country that doesn’t have a home MLB team (Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky…?), hire six scouts to live in the area, and scout the heck out of it? Yes, Atlanta’s scouting will always cost less because they are already in a baseball hotbed, but the Yankees are known for having a few dollars. If there’s a part of the South where an MLB team doesn’t have a natural advantage, maybe the Yanks could go there and plant the flag.

    I have read that the Blue Jays used this strategy to build their WS teams of the 90’s. Apparently they concentrated their scouting resources in Latin America before other teams figured out there was a gold mine down there, and it led to great things.

    The obvious response to this is that the baseball scouts already know about the hot prospects in Mississppi, Alabama, etc. But if the scouts already know it all, then where is Atlanta’s advantage in Georgia? If it’s an advantage to live in a particular area, pick a warm state, hire some scouts, and go “live there.” Does this make sense?