To those new to the international baseball scene as a professional opportunity to play, there is a misconception that clubs overseas are importing all or most of their players, however that is not the case. In fact, due to importing limits, most clubs bring in one or two imports with some bringing in three or four, depending on the league and club. Therefore, clubs typically tend to fill certain positions/roles with imported professionals. The following is a popularity ranking of the various roles that most clubs in most leagues seek to fill.
#1) Starting pitchers are in the highest demand as the success of all clubs across Europe and Australia heavily rely on bringing in a quality import pitcher. Clubs seek starting pitchers who have a history of going deep into games as most clubs do not have much of a bullpen and therefore expect the import to go the distance or close to it every game.
#2) Two-way players are requested more and more by clubs. Two-way players are players who can pitch and hit and for that reason, it is like a 2 for 1 deal which is ideal for clubs overseas since they all operate on a tight budget and want to maximize the value of their investment. Most are college or pro pitchers who used to hit well in either high school or college and were converted to a pitcher at some point. Others are good hitters and position players who have experience pitching growing up and then focused only on hitting at some point in their career. Within the two-way player category the ones who can pitch and catch or play shortstop are in the highest demand as those positions (as outlined below) are also in high demand to fill.
Most leagues in Europe and Australia seek these players other than perhaps the Italian Baseball League (IBL), Dutch Major League (DML), and Australian Baseball League (ABL) as well as some of the top clubs in Germany, Czech and in the Australian state leagues. These clubs just want a stud at whatever position they need to fill.
Former University of San Diego graduate and former pitcher for the San Diego Padres Max MacNabb has travelled the world playing baseball and is one of the top two-way players on the international market at the moment. In fact Max is used more for his bat than his pitching these days.
#3) Utility players who can play middle infield and catch at a high level are very popular. Of course that all means nothing if they do not have strong hitting stats to back it up. If they can also pitch a little or have a lot of experience coaching, this just adds to their appeal.
Scotty Mulhearn in an Australian native who has been on the international baseball scene for a decade and this is largely due to the fact that he can play any position on the field at a high level and he also brings a good stick with him. He is not necessarily seen at the top of the leaderboard for hitting or pitching, but what he brings to a team in the form of either a catcher, shortstop or pitcher when called upon is invaluable. In fact, Scotty just finished up his second season with the Temp Titans of the Czech Extraliga where he was used mostly as a catcher, which he considers one of his secondary positions. This is not to mention he is very knowledgeable in all aspects of the game and can teach others how to play any position.
#4) Shortstops are also in high demand and are the next position that clubs will often fill with an import. The skill level of local baseball players overseas has risen dramatically over the years, however, when compared to a quality import shortstop there is a noticeable difference (with the odd exception such as Michael Schneider of Draci Brno, a local Czech player who could easily play in the minors at the position). Within some of lower level leagues, clubs will often even fill the shortstop position with imports that have little to no experience playing the position if that import brings a big bat with them and/or pitching ability. This is because even though it is not their natural position, they are still better at it than any other option they have.
If shortstop is your main position, to stand out from the competition it helps if you can eat up a couple of innings on the mound or can catch a little. In fact, many of the clubs seeking to fill the position will first seek a shortstop who has pitched in the past.
#5) Catchers are in as high demand as shortstops and is typically one of the least developed positions and a weak spot for many clubs. The position would be in even more demand if there were no regulations holding them back from catching import pitchers, which is often the case in many leagues across Europe. Therefore catchers are expected to play a second position for those games when the rules prohibit them from catching. Defensive stats hold a lot more credibility overseas than most other positions and will be looked at carefully. Therefore talented defensive catchers who bring an average to above average bat with them will often find a club to sign with.
#6) Player-coaches are also quite popular as local, knowledgeable coaches who are available are hard to come by. Clubs will often bring in a player-coach in order to maximize their budget by getting a coach and a player for the price of one.
They will seek someone who has experience as a head coach at the high school or college level however sometimes this is not even required as long as the player is a little older and brings a lot of playing experience.
The other form of player-coach that is also quite popular is that of a player-youth coach. Clubs will seek a player who is experienced and passionate about working with kids and would often be willing to sacrifice on position or stats a little in order to bring in someone who can really help them develop for the future.
Former San Diego State University player Clayton Carson broke onto the international scene as a player-coach with one year experience as a head coach at the college level. He got his foot in the door with a second division Austrian team and has since worked his way up to head coach of Novara in the Italian Baseball League in 2016. Up until his signing with Novara it was his ability to both play and coach that helped him to travel the world.
#7) Experienced coaches/managers are in demand as well, but most clubs cannot afford them and look to fill the position locally. Therefore usually only the clubs with a larger budget will bring in an import who is strictly a coach. There is also the fact that clubs only seek a head coaches who are willing to commit longer term, which is not possible for applicants who are not residents of the club’s home country due to visa restraints. However, plenty of clubs do bring in head coaches for 6 months at a time every year.
To break onto the international circuit as a head coach it requires an understanding that in most markets the game is still in it’s infancy and the level of professionalism is not the same as in the U.S. in most cases. It requires someone who understands that there is not much money in it and it is not glamorous by any means. It requires someone who has a passion for teaching the game and a desire to make a difference.
To sign a contract as a coach in the IBL, DML, ABL or a big club in Germany or Czech, it most likely would require someone to first get their foot in the door at a lower level and build a reputation overseas. Even then, it is a difficult achievement. There are opportunities at a variety of levels for head coaches with experience at the high school, college and pro levels. However the majority of clubs are seeking someone with at least college coaching experience who is looking to make a difference.
Former NCAA III coach Ron Frazier started his international coaching in Croatia and has since coached in the Czech Republic and Germany.
#8) Corner infielders are rarely sought out as an import option unless a club is looking for a big power bat, regardless of position. This is usually within the better leagues or the clubs who are at the top of the league and have some depth in local talent. Corner infielders who have played other positions or are open to player-coaching should indicate that when communicating with clubs. The other options is to start learning to play shortstop and make a short demo video in hopes of getting your foot in the door in a lower league to start and then work your way up from there using your bat.
#9) Outfielders are the least in demand therefore it helps if they have numbers that separate them from others and/or have the ability to play other positions or have coaching experience. Outfielders who have played other positions or are open to player-coaching should indicate that when communicating with clubs. At the higher levels overseas is where you will see more imports who are outfielders as positions like catcher and shortstop are often filled within homegrown talent.
Terrell Joyce is a former minor league outfielder within the Houston Astros organization who first took his career overseas in 2016 to play with the defending German Bundesliga champions, Heidenheim Heideköpfe. He had some experience playing 3rd base in the past so soon found himself as their starting shortstop.
10) Relief pitchers are only in slight demand within the IBL, DML, and ABL. Even then, these clubs will bring in starting pitchers before a reliever. Relief pitchers who have not started any games in recent years are unlikely to get signed unless they are from a top college or have had success in the minors. If you are a relief pitcher who knows he has the ability to go deep into games make sure to mention it and if possible, position yourself as a player-coach or two-way player.
In summary, the more positions you can play at a high level the better, and the more coaching experience you have, the more opportunities you will have to get signed. If all else fails, offer to pay your flight.
If you want feedback on what your chances are to get signed overseas feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visited our “Recent Signings” list to see who has signed and where to see how you measure up.