The two most common misconceptions about playing baseball professionally overseas is that the baseball is not good and once you go overseas you can forget about playing pro ball in the U.S..
I can understand why people feel that both of these are true, but from a different perspective you can see that that isn’t necessarily the case. Is overseas the best route to advance your pro career? Nope. Is it a dead end for your pro career? Not at all. Are you likely to play at a lower level than you are used to? Yep. Does that mean that you are taking a step backwards? Not necessarily. We explain it all in this article.
To start this off, let’s agree that traditionally the baseball overseas (namely Europe, Australia) are in their baseball infancy compared to the U.S. and therefore has been more than a step behind in terms of development. With that being said, those who have made the trip over the Pacific or the Atlantic to play some ball for a summer or winter in the past may have had their pride dented a little because they found themselves playing at a level lower than they had been playing previously. To those guys I want to point out that the reason clubs overseas import players is to bring in a player who can dominate in their league and is much more experienced in the game so they can a) win more games and b) learn more about baseball and develop further. So unlike signing to play pro ball in the U.S. where generally you are moving up in level, when you sign a contract to play overseas it is the opposite. So when people that have been overseas say that the baseball is not as good, it is because they had to play at a league lower than their presumed level. The truth is, there likely are many leagues overseas that would be a good fit for their current level of play, but those leagues will tend to look for even more experienced players who played at higher levels.
This trend is increasingly stronger as more and more players look to play overseas, making it more competitive and in turn raising the benchmark of what clubs can sign talent-wise. For example, in the Austrian first division 10 years ago, a college player from an average college program from an average college conference was a typical import. Today, the new standard is an NCAA 1 or 2 player from a good conference, a former big four indy player or a former minor leaguer, unless they have already been overseas and proven themselves. This despite the fact that the league level is comparable to a below average college level at best.
The good news is for the college player from the average college, is that there are plenty of second division clubs across Europe and Australia who are importing and many division 1 teams will still prefer a college guy as they tend to be hungrier.
You may find that playing at a lower level discouraging until you hear what many former members of ours have said. Time and time again they have pointed out that playing overseas is an opportunity to:
- Hit the refresh button
- Re-discover your game and put up some big numbers
- To hone your skills
1. It is your opportunity to hit the refresh button
It is no secret that playing pro ball in hopes of making it to The Show is like a job, a job which comes with added pressure, stress and internal politics. In the past this had led to many players who have burnt out and lost that love for the game and often feel that they have not been given a fair shake. When those same players go overseas, frequently they are witness to baseball back at its roots, where players play for the love of the game, where players pay to play but yet take it as serious as a pro and eat, sleep and shit baseball. Some strive to play college or pro ball, while others strive to simply be with the boys and be a good player in their domestic league. They see teams with 16 year olds and 40 year old ex-pro’s, all playing with the same passion and for love of the game, not as a job.
The result often is a rejuvenated approach to the game which then will lead to better personal performance, more enjoyment in the game again and re-entry into pro ball with a new found passion. Jeff McKenzie and Max MacNabb are prime examples of recently released affiliated players who were frustrated with the grind for playing time and advancement who had similar paths which brought them back to their roots after playing a season in France and Australia. Jeff won a championship with both teams his teams while Max, although not winning a championship, rediscovered his game and became an Australian Baseball League All-Star before signing with the Orioles. Jeff is now back in pro ball in the American Association and loving the game again.
2. It is your opportunity to rediscover your game
After being released from the Blue Jays and a year of Indy ball, Arik Sikula took up the 9 to 5 before realizing that baseball was calling him back. With the MLB dream in the rearview mirror, he decided to try overseas. After one season playing in Australia and winning a championship, Arik found himself re-energized and motivated for another run at the MLB dream. He has since been playing his best baseball in the CanAm League and more importantly is having fun again converting from bullpen pitcher to starter.
Mike Hart is a former UMass Amherst outfielder who took his career overseas after a disappointing senior year in 2017. He played in a semi-pro league in Canada and lit it up then did the same in the Western Australian Baseball League before getting called up for some games with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League. In 2018 Mike will be playing in the American Association and is playing some of the best ball of his career.
3. It is your opportunity to hone skills
Indy pro legend Tim Brown played winter baseball in Australia during his career to stay sharp and further develop. You can listen to his story on IBC podcast E69 and his take on why he believes playing overseas during the offseason helped him as a player while also allowing him to experience the game of baseball through the lens of another culture.
Louis Cohen and Jimmy Jensen are probably our two best examples of players who have used overseas to develop their game even further and receive pro offers as a result. Louis dominated a season in the German Bundesliga and then in the Canberra State League in Australia before getting called up to the Australian Baseball League for back to back seasons with the Cavalry. At only 6’1” and 150 lbs, Louis has been overlooked in the past but now has signed on in the Frontier League and is on the cusp of his dream of playing pro ball. Jimmy is somewhat of a baseball vagabonder who got his start in Austria and has since gone on to play two seasons in Australia and one in France, Germany and now Canada. He has found more success on the field overseas then in his native U.S. and has since passed up numerous offers to play indy ball in the U.S. to continue the overseas adventure.
The truth is more and more former minor leaguers and indy pro players are taking their game overseas and not only are satisfied with the level, they have decided to stay overseas.
Here are just a few or many examples of our members with a pro ball background that are playing overseas in 2018 and enjoying it.
Mike Click – Australia, Italy / Germany
Austin Gallagher – Australia, Germany
Tyler Thompson – Australia, Austria
Terrell Joyce – Germany, Czech Republic X 2, Australia
Jay Rivera – Czech Republic
Pete Gehle – France, Czech Republic, Canada