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Australia's most successful scout found Rhodes
Howie Norsetter has had more Aussie signees reach the big leagues than any other
01/16/2012 7:55 PM ET
Rory Rhodes was signed to the Minnesota Twins by Howie Norsetter
Rory Rhodes was signed to the Minnesota Twins by Howie Norsetter (Theron Kirkman / SMP Images)
As far as baseball influences go, many of the biggest are American-born. After all, it is America's favourite pastime.

It would make sense then that the man who's been one of the most influential people in Australian baseball and has had a huge impact on the Canadian game, was born in Madison, Wisconsin.

Howie Norsetter is in the International Scouting Coordinator for the Minnesota Twins. He currently resides in Australia, but his territory also includes parts of Asia and Europe. Though the 21-year scout no longer covers Canada, Norsetter spent the summers during the first 10 years of his career in the Great White North, and the winters down under.

While New Westminster, British Columbia native Justin Morneau is likely to be considered the most successful signing Norsetter has made out of Canada, he's signed more Australian players than any other scout during the span of his career. He has seen seven of them get to the big leagues, which is an impressive number considering there were only a total of nine Aussies in The Show last season.

"I've had a few [success stories out of Australia]," he said. "Grant Balfour is doing a great job and hopefully Liam Hendriks and Luke Hughes, too. [Balfour] I suppose is the most established major leaguer out of Australia.

"But it would be Michael Nakamura probably. People don't realize what Michael Nakamura's done in professional baseball. He made it to the major leagues and then went over to Japan and won a championship in Japan. He set a record for saves as the closer with the Nippon Ham Fighters. In the playoffs I think he got three saves in the championship series and he didn't give up a run in those games. He was just lights out in Japan. Outside of the major leagues, it would definitely be Michael Nakamura."

Though the weather is better for baseball in Australia than the Great White North, giving the players down under the potential to flourish in the game and providing access to more playing time, the sport is still bigger in Canada. The success rate is seemingly higher and Norsetter believes the biggest difference between the commonwealth countries is the approach to the game.

"Australia always had better amateur teams...but for some reason those guys from Canada just really came out in Canada in the majors, in the professional ranks and up to the major leagues," Norsetter said. "They've had tremendous success. Three MVPs, they have Joey Votto and they have Morneau. Larry Walker was a little bit before but there are three MVPs out of Canada. And then you have Eric Gagne, the Cy Young winner and there are all-stars left and right. They've got a catcher, a couple first basemen, they've got outfielders, and they'd have a whole pitching staff with Rich Harden, Ryan Dempster, Chris Reitsma, Erik Bedard and Jeff Francis. You'd have a whole pitching staff in the major leagues with a bunch of relievers.

"Part of it is that they play a lot more baseball in Canada, even though they don't have the climate. Morneau played 120 games in high school in his summer season. I think one year he had 44 home runs in four months. They play as soon as the ice comes out and they're playing every day, in tournaments, on the weekends, sometimes they're playing three or four games a day.

"Over here, all they do is practice. The kids over here don't have the base that Canadians have. Plus a lot of those Canadians have gone on to college and universities and improved out of universities...they've progressed, whereas these Australian kids haven't. Maybe that will change. Joshua Spence went to college and came out of college and now he's in the big leagues. Maybe that will help more Australians follow that route. I don't think they play enough over here at a very young age."

One young Norsetter signee that did manage to start playing t-ball when he was just five years old, Rory Rhodes, is trying to work his way up the ranks of the Minnesota Twins system as he continues to progress in the Australian Baseball League for the Brisbane Bandits.

With two years of minor league service time under his belt, Rhodes is back in the ABL this summer after playing for the short-season Elizabethton Twins in the Appalachian League during the North American baseball season.

The infielder and designated hitter batted .261/.363/.389 in rookie ball last year, after tearing up the Gulf Coast League in 2010. In his second GCL season, Rhodes hit .319/.410/.407 in 27 games for the Twins, earning him the promotion to Elizabethton. He's looking forward to heading back to Spring Training in February and trying to move further up the Twins ladder, perhaps getting a chance to play for the Class A Beloit Snappers.

"I'm hoping to be in Low A coming out of spring, which would be in Beloit, Wisconsin," Rhodes said. "I'm pretty confident that I'll be going there but anything more would just be a bonus after that."

Norsetter first saw the Brisbane Bandits slugger when he was 14 years old, and Rhodes signed at 17. Though the Twins scout is keeping a close eye on the now 20-year-old, he doesn't pay any mind to his numbers in the ABL, instead focusing on his development.

"The Australian Baseball League is a little different deal because the players are in their off-season and they start off just recovering from the previous season and then they try to get back into it," Norsetter said. "But the ABL we don't pay any attention to stats. When I saw [Rhodes] last year I was really happy with the way he progressed. He ran faster, he was runner better than he had as an amateur, he had a short swing and he hit some balls really far and really hard."

And though Norsetter isn't tracking any of Rhodes' statistics this season, he continues to follow each and every one of his signees.

"Scouts live and die with the players," he said. "They have a bad day, we have a bad day."

This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.