Major League Baseball's annual International Showcase for teenage prospects returned this week. The two-day event for players who will be eligible to sign with Major League clubs beginning July 2 already features some of the top teens from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Aruba and Colombia. Now, it's looking to expand.
High ranking baseball officials from Panama, Nicaragua, Aruba, St. Maarten, El Salvador, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic joined Argentina, the Bahamas, Chile and El Salvador on the first-base line during a pregame ceremony before the Red and Blue teams took the field.
"They are here in order to show them what an event like this looks like, and hopefully create something they can aspire to and do," said Kim Ng, senior vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball. "We want to engage them and find out how we can help them in different areas, whether that's helping to provide more playing opportunities or helping to provide more infrastructure in terms of instruction. We want to help them connect with baseball evaluators to get their players signed. In terms of growth on our end, we are trying to grow the game."
The prospects began Monday with a series of drills that included a 60-yard dash along with infield, outfield and batting practice in front of almost 375 scouts. They also played in a game. Two more games are scheduled for Tuesday.
Several highly-touted prospects such as outfielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr., his cousin infielder Gregory Guerrero, along with outfielders Starling Heredia, Jhailyn Ortiz, Gilbert Celestino and Seuly Matias are among the 70 players in the event this week.
"It was a lot of fun to be out there playing with top players," Heredia said in Spanish. "It's a big honor to be one of the ones selected to play, but at the same time, I have worked hard to get to this point. I just have to stay positive and make my dream to play in the Major Leagues come true."
Here's a look at the players from the 2014 Top 30 International Prospects list who attended the 2014 International Showcase, the MLB teams signed them and for how much:
||Juan De Leon
||Miguel Angel Sierra
Last year's International Showcase was held in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. Eighteen of the players from MLB.com's list of 2014's Top 30 International Prospects -- including seven of the top 10 -- participated in the event.
In 2013, the showcase was held in front of 200 scouts in the Dominican Republic city of San Cristobal, with 19 of the prospects from that year's Top 30 list on hand.
The inaugural event took place in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic in 2012. MLB also organizes a showcase in the Dominican Republic for the top players on the island at the end of each summer followed by a showcase in Venezuela during the winter.
As usual, the amount clubs are allowed to spend on July 2 prospects during the next signing period will be based largely on their records in the previous season. The Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, D-backs and Angels will not be able to spend more than $300,000 on one player after exceeding their allotment by more than 15 percent during the current signing period. Those clubs also face a 100 percent tax on the overage.
It's a busy week in the Dominican Republic. Following MLB's showcase, the independent International Prospect League has a showcase for Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera and Cuban pitching prospect Yadier Alvarez on Wednesday. The Dominican Prospect League also has a series of scouting days and games for its prospects scheduled for this week.
Here are the guidelines for signing a prospect: A 16-year-old international player can sign during the signing period that extends from July 2 through June 15 of next year if the prospect turns 17 before Sept. 1 or by the completion of his first Minor League season. Additionally, any prospect that is already 17 or older and has not previously signed a Major or Minor League contract, resides outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and has not been enrolled in a high school or college in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico within the previous year is eligible to sign during the period.
The international signing guidelines do not apply to players who are least 23 years old and have played as a professional in a league recognized by the Commissioner's Office for a minimum of five seasons. Cuban players who are at least 23 and have played in a Cuban professional league for five or more seasons are also exempt.
"I didn't think it could grow more in terms of baseball personnel out there evaluating and watching, but our numbers say we have over 350 scouts in attendance for the next couple of days," Ng said. "To think this has grown that much in a year says a lot for the caliber of the talent out there. There's an understanding that so much money is being thrown at these players that the more opinions you get, whether it comes from international scouts or domestic scouts, means quite a bit."