The effort to clean up baseball throughout Latin America has reached Venezuela.
On Wednesday, representatives from Major League Baseball and scouts from all 30 clubs who operate there gathered in Valencia for an annual meeting to talk about the state of baseball and the future of the game. Former Reds shortstop David Concepcion was the featured speaker.
"This meeting is our chance to bring scouts up to date in policy changes, exchange ideas and give scouts on the ground a chance to voice their complaints," said Lou Melendez, MLB's vice president of international baseball operations. "Major League Baseball also checks the facilities and operations."
The number of players from Venezuela has grown, along with the sport's popularity in the South American country. This year, 58 Venezuelans appeared on Major League rosters on Opening Day, the nation's highest total ever to start a season. There were 52 Venezuelan players on big league rosters on Opening Day in each of the previous two years, and 51 in 2007.
The Dominican Republic, which had 86 players among the 750 players on 25-man rosters, once again topped the list of foreign-born players on the first day of the regular season this year.
"What people have to realize is that both countries provide baseball with a lot of good talent and that many, many stars come out of Venezuela, too," Melendez said. "The country is full of talent and good ballplayers. We want that to continue."
As a result of last year's gathering, Major League Baseball hired Jimmy Meakye, who works in Venezuela's Professional Baseball League, as a consultant and liaison between the two countries. This year, the hope is that Concepcion's presence inspires his countrymen to keep the baseball tradition alive while also operating within the guidelines.
Foreign-born players on 2010 Opening Day rosters
No. of players
In a similar meeting with baseball officials in the Dominican Republic last month, Sandy Alderson, who was hired as a consultant to reform Major League Baseball's Dominican Republic office, discussed policies and his plans to address issues such as steroids, age and identity fraud, skimming and the operations of independent scouts/trainers on the island. Players and their trainers picketed outside the meeting, partly because they were concerned about the institution of a worldwide draft.
"It was another example of kids being manipulated and victimized," Alderson said. "These kids didn't know why they were protesting or why they were there. They were bused in by trainers."
At Alderson's behest, the Major League Scouting Bureau is helping prepare reports on amateurs in the Dominican with the idea of giving scouts impartial observations on players. Last week, Major League Baseball launched a workshop to educate Dominican players about performance-enhancing substances and instituted a comprehensive registration and drug-testing program for unsigned prospects who will be eligible to sign professional contracts after July 1.
The initiatives first launched in the Dominican Republic will eventually include Venezuela.
"We are focused on all of Latin America," Alderson said. "Venezuela is obviously a place with a lot of talent, not just the D.R. But the D.R. is the place where the most talent exists and where problems need to be addressed most immediately. All teams have academies there. That's where we are now."
It is unclear how deeply Venezuelan baseball is plagued with the issues faced in the Dominican Republic. However, the country already operates under a unique set of circumstances. Unlike the Dominican Republic -- where every team has an academy -- only Seattle, Cincinnati, Detroit, Tampa, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have academies in Venezuela. Teams without academies in Venezuela send their prospects to their facilities in the Dominican Republic.
"It's not just Major League Baseball, but any American entity that does business in Venezuela has to comply with local laws and strict regulations," Melendez said. "Some of these business laws are burdensome and costly. And as a result, clubs don't want to make the same investment in Venezuela that they make in the D.R. It's much easier to operate in the D.R."
Security is also a concern for some clubs.
"This is a very important time," Melendez said. "It's important that everyone is aware of what is going on and abreast on rules and policies."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.