View Full Version : Reds sign 18-year-old catcher from Czech Republic

07-19-2006, 10:48 PM
Lee Smith, Lefebvre to instruct international prospects
Posted: Wednesday Jul 19, 2006 8:40 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -Jim Lefebvre saw plenty of strange things during his days as a major league player, manager and coach. What he witnessed in the fledgling Chinese Baseball League was beyond odd.

Because when the starting pitcher took the mound, the reliever went to the bullpen and began warming up, matching him pitch for pitch. For the whole game.

"By the time you brought the guy in, he had a sore arm,'' Lefebvre said. "When I asked why they did it that way, they said, 'We want him to get ready.'

"I think I should've told them how our relievers do it - they chew up a bunch of sunflower seeds, spit 'em out, sit around and wait to be called,'' he said.

Chances are, the 60 international players that Lefebvre, career saves leader Lee Smith, Hall of Famer Rod Carew and former Boston ace Bruce Hurst instruct later this month will be a bit more advanced.

The second European Baseball Academy will be held at the Italian Olympic training center in Tirrenia from July 27 to Aug. 18. The prospects are between 15 and 19 years old, come from 13 nations in Europe and Africa and play for their national or junior national teams.

"When I first started playing, you didn't get players from everywhere,'' Smith said. "Puerto Rico was about it.''

Said Lefebvre: "Educating the world is our goal. You hope these players take the skills and go back to their countries and help spread the game.''

Finding a future major leaguer might be a bonus.

Petr Chech, an 18-year-old catcher from the Czech Republic, has already signed with Cincinnati. He'll attend the academy and later join the Reds' fall instructional program.

At last year's camp, four players signed pro contracts - the Chicago Cubs took a pitcher from Italy, Minnesota got a pitcher from the Czech Republic and Seattle left with an outfielder from the Netherlands and an infielder from Italy.

Several of the players from last summer wound up in the World Baseball Classic. Lefebvre managed the Chinese team and Hurst was its pitching coach.

Smith, a roving minor league pitching coach with San Francisco, helped the South African squad. He's looking forward to his first trip to Italy.

"I hope to see some improvement in the guys I worked with,'' Smith said. "I know we changed some things when I went down to South Africa.''

"The first couple of games, we'd be losing and I'd see the relief pitchers and the bullpen coach and the bullpen catcher packing up early and walking across the field in the middle of the game,'' he said. "I played for the Cubs, and we got beat down a lot. But we never left while the game was still going.''

Lefebvre played in Japan in the mid-1970s after finishing his big league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, He later managed the Mariners, Cubs and Milwaukee. In the last three decades, the former NL Rookie of the Year and All-Star has seen interest in baseball grow overseas.

"The Internet has had a big effect,'' he said. "When I was outside of Shanghai and talking about the major leagues, these kids knew who Manny Ramirez and Randy Johnson were.

"These kids say they want to play the major league style. And you know what the major league style is? It's the way Americans and Koreans and Dominicans and players from Puerto Rico and Australia and all over play the game,'' he said.

Prospects from Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uganda will attend the academy, run by Major League Baseball International.

The camp starts the same month that Italy won soccer's World Cup. Some of the skills that young athletes learn in that sport translate to baseball, others do not.

"Players need to be able to run, and they can do that. Throwing overhand, that doesn't come naturally. So it's something they need to work on,'' Lefebvre said. "But that doesn't mean the relievers have to throw every pitch that the starter does.''


07-20-2006, 01:35 AM
Quite an impressive find (the article). Very interesting.

07-20-2006, 02:39 AM
The pitcher in question the Cubs found was RHP Alessandro Maestri, a 21 year old currently relieving down in the Northwest League (short season A). His numbers on the season:

8 G, 15.2 IP, 2-1, 2.87 ERA, 10 H, 5 ER, 1 HR, 12/5 K/BB.

His upside is that of a decent reliever, to my understanding.

After giving some thought to the subject of international scouting, I've recently come to something of a subject to get up on a pulpit about. As things stand right now in baseball, there are only a small handful of nations that regularly produce quality baseball players and that also foster a positive atmosphere for children who would be interested in playing baseball. Off the top of my head, those nations are the US, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Korea. Granted, there are players that hail from a number of other nations throughout baseball, but the majority of the Japanese and American professional leagues are made up of players from those countries.

Yet, clearly, this is not because of a lack of athletes capable of playing baseball professionally, given proper instruction. However, scouting in those areas is becoming increasingly competitive and expensive. The recent sagas involving this year's crop of players from the DR and Venezuela showcased this quite well. It's becoming much harder for smaller budget teams in those areas to snatch up these guys. Heck, it's near-impossible for MLB teams to sign kids out of Japanese high schools as it is.

So...why not expand beyond those areas? Look at what's happened to the NBA and college basketball over the past decade. Guys hailing from every continent save for Antarctica have been selected in the NBA draft in recent years and the game has benefited from that influx of talent. Some of these guys have been incredibly raw, but enough guys have been turning out well enough to justify continuing internatiobnal scouting, academies, camps, and so on.

I think baseball is on the right track with this particular academy. However, continuing to explore these avenues could be quite beneficial in the long run for a number of teams and baseball as a whole. Bud Selig wants to give the game more international appeal, so what better way than having teams set up more academies and baseball camps in places such as Ghana, Brazil, China, and so on? The competition and cost to sign these guys would probably be much easier on smaller budget teams looking to add some talent on the cheap.

Perhaps these efforts have been ongoing and I haven't heard about them. I'm willing to accept that possibility. Still, it would be rather interesting for a team to experiment with that.

07-20-2006, 07:23 AM
Petr Chech, an 18-year-old catcher from the Czech Republic, has already signed with Cincinnati. He'll attend the academy and later join the Reds' fall instructional program.

Petr Cech is THE WALL

07-20-2006, 07:29 AM
We know a couple from Germany who lived in Cincinnati while the husband did research on lasers at UC. They lived here a couple of years, brought one son while the other was born here in Cincinnati. Some years ago they came back to visit with the boys now being in their teen years, plus with a daughter too.

We took them down to Salway Park near our house and taught them baseball. The boys loved it and they went to All About Sports (name?) and bought a bunch of baseball equipment to take back (some balls, a few gloves, some bats, etc.). The boys went home and taught their friends for a bit!.

Our little part in spreading the gospel of baseball.

07-20-2006, 07:33 AM
Petr Chech, an 18-year-old catcher from the Czech Republic, has already signed with Cincinnati. He'll attend the academy and later join the Reds' fall instructional program.

Petr Cech is THE WALL

Only ironic that a Czech could play catcher. Wonder if he'll use his goalie mask?

07-20-2006, 07:41 AM
Only ironic that a Czech could play catcher. Wonder if he'll use his goalie mask?

wrong sport, sport

maybe a "football" helmet ;)