PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Once again ahead of the curve, the Pirates shuttered their baseball training facility in Venezuela four years ago in anticipation of the new travel restrictions to that country that went into effect a week ago.
On March 3, the website of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., announced that travelers to the country will need a tourist visa, with a typical wait time of three months. That would be a serious hindrance to scouting and evaluation forays, normally arranged with little lead time.
Following the 2011 season, the Bucs abandoned their academy in Venezuela and moved their Latin American operations to the new academy built in the Dominican Republic.
"Part of the reason we got out of there was, we anticipated things changing," said Pirates assistant general manager Kyle Stark. "We built the Dominican academy to house two [Summer League] teams, then stayed another year or two in Venezuela before closing it down and keeping everything in the Dominican."
Interestingly, that is exactly the operational adjustment announced on Monday by the Mariners, who are channeling their Latin American base to the Dominican and a new 24-acre academy they've built in Boca Chica.
"If we still had the academy [in Venezuela], going down there to see our players would be a challenge," Stark said. "We will still scout down there but will not operate from a development standpoint. Obviously this will impact any of our American guys going there to evaluate and scout, and we'll have to talk through that to see how it happens."
The Pirates have two Venezuelan natives in camp, neither originally scouted and signed by the organization. Catcher Francisco Cervelli and outfielder Jose Tabata were both acquired from the Yankees in a trade.
"Being in the Dominican just makes everything easier," Stark said. "Guys going down there can hit two teams at one time, and it is a brand new, awesome facility. We felt the move made sense since it doesn't impact our signing efforts."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.