Australia hasn't really been a hotbed of baseball activity, but things are changing in a major way. From the beginning of baseball through 1985, Joe Quinn was the only representative of the island nation in Major League Baseball. From 1986 through 1991 it was just Craig Shipley, but seven players made their debuts in the 1990's and 19 players have since. Things are definitely growing Down Under, especially considering pitchers as 20 of the 26 players since 1992 have been pitchers. This makes it even more exciting that the Indians had three minor leaguers playing in Australia, all of whom are position players.
The Indians had two catchers currently playing for the Brisbane Bandits, Ryan Battaglia (.206 AVG, .474 SLG, 97 AB) and Mitch Nilsson (0/4 w/2 SO). Battaglia was the starting catcher for the team, but split time with Justin O'Conner (an American who plays for the Rays in Bowling Green), while Nilsson may have made the team just because his father is the pitching coach. Neither really impressed (either did O'Conner), but they aren't exactly the Tribe's top catching prospects either. In fact, the Bandits as a whole didn't fare very well, finishing far in last place in the single division of the Australian Baseball League. Despite playing less than most of the regulars, Battaglia lead the team in home runs (6) and knocked in 14 runs in just 29 games.
The Indians' other Australian league participant, Ben Shorto, didn't fare any better than the others, although he did play on a much better team. The Perth Heat were, by far, the best team in the ABL, finishing with a .696 winning percent, nine games ahead of the second place Sydney Blue Sox. Shorto was a member of their developmental squad and got into just four games, going 0-3. He does have a very interesting story, however. He was signed out of Perth by the Indians at age 16, but discovered he had leukemia after coming to American, but before making it to the minors for the Tribe. He has since been cleared and actually played for his first professional team in the Perth Heat. He is looking to join the Indians in 2014 and start out in rookie ball as a 19 year old. While he may be a little old for that level, being signed at 16 gave him a head start over the drafted players.
The fact that Shorto was able to be drafted at 16 is a big reason Major League Baseball has placed an increased emphasis on Australia. Instead of having to wait until a player turns 18 and hoping he is available when your team's draft pick comes around, Australian players (like all international players), are a free for all starting at 16. While they can't actually play in the minors at this age, they can be committed to a single team. While there are already plenty of places where baseball teams are taking advantage of this (like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela), baseball teams are constantly looking to get a step up on the other teams. Every new market is a new opportunity and Australia is a 7.7 million square mile opportunity. Of course, there is also one extra bonus with Australian players, they speak English. The only thing now is to get them more interested in baseball than cricket or rugby.
This is why Major League Baseball is holding it's opening series in Sydney and why baseball fans should start paying more attention the ABL. Everyone already knows about Japan, Venezuela and the DR, but many questioned having the Dodgers and Diamondbacks play in Australia. This is one thing MLB has gotten right, however. The European countries don't care at all about American sports as a whole. The NFL trying to expand to London is likely to be an even bigger failure than the XFL. South Africa is starting to gain some interest in baseball, but isn't quite ready yet. The populace of Australia is ready for baseball. They already watch cricket, which is a similar, but much slower version of the game, so as the ADD generation continues to get bored, baseball is a perfect substitution.
The prospects are already coming in increased quantities and it looks to be continuing on in that trend. There are large numbers of flame throwing, quick tempered, English speaking relief pitchers in the Outback and the Indians are already there, gaining a foot-hold.