I have been thinking lately about the old Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy. The wikipedia page lays out the very basic history, with some additional information at the Baseball Reference Bullpen page, some photos at Royals.com, and this local TV report.
The single best item I've found about the old academy is this research article by Richard Peurzer in SABR's National Pastime journal (warning .pdf).
Peurzer reviews the history and development of the academy, but also discusses some earlier attempts at training innovation dating back to the 1920s. Branch Rickey (no surprise there) was instrumental in developing new techniques, but other front office officials did some pioneering work in the fields of sports psychology and application of scientific principles. This often met stiff resistance from traditionalists.
The Royals academy did too. Ewing Kauffman's idea was to find raw athletes who had been overlooked by the traditional scouting process and essentially teach them how to play baseball. New training methods and technologies were also adopted.
The program ran from 1970 through 1974. It was expensive, and many officials within the Royals organization regarded it as a diversion and distraction from traditional development methods. Although Kauffman eventually shut the program down, fourteen graduates of the academy eventually reached the majors, with Frank White and Ron Washington being the two most prominent.
Although it seemed a failure at the time, the academy did have an impact. As Peurzer concludes,
". . .it must be seen as a genuinely innovative endeavor that challenged the hidebound methods of the baseball establishment.There is no question that the science employed at the Academy, the use of technology such as radar guns, video technology,strength and conditioning equipment, and stopwatches quickly made their way into ubiquity. . . However, as was found at the Academy, it is very hard to transform an athlete into a baseball player. The adage that the hardest thing to do in all of sports is to hit a baseball was again proven true at the Academy. All of the Academy graduates who enjoyed time in the major leagues were at best fair hitters."
Today, many teams have similar academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, taking raw athletes and attempting to turn them into players. The academy concept has also been revived in some of the recent discussions about the relative lack of African American players in modern major league baseball.
With all that in mind, here are some questions up for community discussion:
Given sufficient funding, would it be feasible for a major league organization to operate an academy like this in the United States?
Should this be separate from or as a compliment to what goes on in the minor league complexes during extended spring training?
Would it be cost-effective? Would it be worth the financial outlay if all you get is a couple of utility infielders out of the deal?
Would it be better to just make an extra effort to find and sign more raw athletes who went undrafted and stick them into your already existing player development system? Or does having a specific "academy" that differs from the regular process have an extra positive effect, at least for public relations purposes?
Has scouting at the amateur level advanced to the point where this sort of approach is no longer necessary, or are there still enough diamonds in the rough out there for this to be worthwhile?
What do you think?