As we are fond of noting here at DoU, baseball’s latest collective bargaining agreement makes it tougher for small-market teams to stockpile and overpay draft picks. As a result, teams are starting to explore other avenues to collect young, controllable talent. It’s a good thing, then, that if you’re the GM of a smaller-market team in Out of the Park Baseball 14, you have plenty of new options to build your minor league system.
OOTP Developments boasts a “completely recorded player origin system,” with more than one new way to add talent to your organization. One of the biggest and most noticeable changes is your “International Complex” — think of it as the OOTP version of the various academies teams have scattered across Latin America. In previous versions of OOTP, when your head scout would discover foreign talent, you would have the option of signing the player or ignoring the finding.
In OOTP14, when your scout finds someone, they are automatically assigned to your team’s International Complex, where they can continue to develop before you bring them stateside. The players your scout will find now will be closer to 16 and 17 years old and very raw, so some development will likely be needed. Players can stay at the complex for multiple seasons, but they must either be promoted to one of your minor league affiliates or released once they turn 20 years old. In my experience, most of the players my scout found for the Complex initially had lower potential ratings (in my experience, the guys Bruce Seid found for the Brewers were anywhere between 0.5-1.5 stars in potential, on a 5-star scale), but like with any prospect, you can get a lucky break and have one of these players develop into a top prospect.
The young international players with high potential ratings are more likely to be found in the free agent pool that’s released at the start of July. Emulating the real-life July signing period, you can make a run at some of the bigger names — the Miguel Sano or Jorge Soler types who project to be stars, but still need a little work. The more established international players — think Japanese or Korean stars looking to come over — will be available even later, during your typical free agency period.
In terms of highest ceiling, the July-period guys are typically going to lead the pack, followed by the established international veterans, the teenagers your scout finds that “live” in your Complex, and then Independent league free agents you can sign (another new feature) that will most likely be bench fodder if everything breaks right. Typically, the blue-chip prospects and Complex guys are from Latin America while the established guys are from Asia, but these are all settings you can change when you set up your league. One thing I would like to see is a more realistic pool system — the money available to sign these guys all comes from your team’s available cash, as opposed to the international cap teams have to deal with in real life.
The regular amateur draft is mostly unchanged — you still have to negotiate signing bonuses with your top picks, and if you’re unable to sign them, you’ll get a compensation pick in next year’s draft. By default, draft-eligible players are from the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, but if you’re like Bud Selig and want to institute a worldwide draft, you can do that, too.
One area that does affect the draft is the recoded scouting system. While scouting assessments — both by your team and the “OOTP Scouting Agency” — are more accurate than they’ve been in years past, there’s still the chance for busts or diamonds in the rough that everyone seems to miss. You know how some years there’s a draft prospect that every scout and prospect expert seems to love, but ends up never panning out? That tends to happen more often in OOTP14. Basically, there’s more agreement between scouts and OSA than in years past, but the possibility is there that everyone is getting a guy wrong (either by overrating or underrating him).
It’s also easier to keep track of the development of those draft picks and international signings than in years past. Instead of having to spend time clicking through every minor league affiliate to note changes, your scouting director will now send you a monthly e-mail with major things happen like “Jed Bradley learned a new pitch this month” or “Hunter Morris’s power potential has improved.” Also, when you go to an individual player’s profile page, the new “Player Development” tab will show you a history of all rating changes. It’s a nice way to see how that 30th round pick gradually developed into a future Hall of Famer. Other player development report screens look to be mostly unchanged from previous versions of the game, so if you’re fond of those, they’re still there. The e-mails from the scout do add a bit more ease to the game, though, especially if you’re the kind of player mostly focused on running the MLB team.
If you’re the type of player that enjoys managing individual games, one new feature you may notice is the (experimental) text-to-voice play-by-play. It’s a nice idea in theory, trying to spice up a game that’s mostly text-based, but the feature is exactly what it sounds like — a robot pronunciation of everything you see in the PbP box. Some people may end up liking it, but I felt like Stephen Hawking was calling the game. Add in the fact that it doesn’t handle unique pronunciations well (“Fiers” was pronounced as “Fears” instead of “Fires”), and it’s easy to see why it’s still experimental. Luckily, it’s not a default option.
There are a slew of other new features, though, that should appeal to a variety of styles of playing. The real-time sim feature that was new last year (allowing you to sim computer-controlled games in the background while you conduct day-to-day business for your organization) is expanded, and you can now follow a real-time game like you would on MLB GameDay, with things like current batter/pitcher matchup and win probability for that game. Leagues can institute a “free agent draft” if they so desire. Trade AI is tweaked once again, and now there is a page that keeps track of every trade made in a league’s history. Also, if you were ever bothered by bad CPU trade offers and you felt like screaming “NO I DON’T WANT YOUR OVERPAID 38 YEAR OLD RELIEVER,” now you can use the “Not interested in this player” option and they’ll stop cluttering your inbox.
There are now also performance-based “achievements” for things like having a guy win Player of the Month, lengthy win streaks, etc. These seem like the achievements you’d unlock playing a PlayStation game — it gives you an objective to shoot for, but you don’t seem to actually get a benefit from it, other than an item added to your GM history.
Other small tweaks in OOTP include better player evaluation AI (something touched on earlier), better roster AI (so you can trust the computer to manage your minor league system a bit more), much-improved roster screens to designate a top pinch-hitter option/LOOGY/preferred reliever/starter pitch count, more storylines and PbP lines, and a playoff series analysis screen.
Like with any OOTP product, most of the value in OOTP14 comes with how deep the game goes, and how highly customizable it is. Want international free agents to only come from Canada and Australia? You can do that. Want to create a rival Japanese league and sign away their best players while hoping your stars don’t sign over there when they hit free agency? You can do that, too. League rules can still evolve over time, or you can turn that off, too and play with the same rules for 200 years.
With the new international flavor in OOTP14, about the worst thing I can say about it is that I spent way too much time playing and not enough time writing. Somehow it’s more addictive than last year, and the international stuff is an organizational lifesaver for a guy like me, who always seems to have terrible luck in the draft. Sure, OOTP will never have slick in-game graphics like your console MLB games, but it will always make up for it in pure customization, from game options to logos and uniforms (the game can’t ship with real MLB logos, but there are a slew of free downloadable mods). If you’re more interested in playing GM than anything else, you’re not going to find a better game.