Youngsters with big league ties among 59 prospects working out in D.R.
By Jesse Sanchez
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Former Major League outfielder George Bell beamed as he perched on the edge of a yellow plastic chair in the stands near the home dugout at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal.
Bell held his head high with his shoulders thrust back, and he patted the sides of his legs in excitement.
The former ballplayer's eyes were fixed on his son, George Bryner Bell, 15, who stood on the first-base line, a few feet from teammate Josue Guerrero, the nephew of former Major Leaguer Vladimir Guerrero. The pair are among the 59 prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Mexico, Curacao, the Bahamas and Nicaragua competing in Major League Baseball's two-day international prospect showcase that started Wednesday.
"I was capable to hit the ball the way he hits the ball right now, but his arm is about 60 percent better than my arm when I was playing [at his age]," Bell said. "The type of arm he has is like my brother Juan. He has a strong arm. I was faster than him. I was 6.4-6.5 [in the 60-yard dash], and he's going to have pop. He will hit some home runs."
The younger Bell, a 6-foot-2, 164-pound shortstop, was clocked at 7.08 seconds in the 60-yard dash. By comparison, the average Major League runner usually runs between 6.7 and 6.9 seconds in the 60. Bell performed much better in front of the 300 scouts and baseball executives in attendance during the fielding drills that followed.
"You have to see him play," the elder Bell said. "I've been watching him play since he was 7 years old, and his abilities are absolutely that of a Major League player. Now, he has the opportunity to go out there and show what kind of player he is, and I think he will show."
After the fielding drills, the prospects took batting practice and later split into two teams and played a game under the lights, marking the first time many of the prospects played a night game. The event continues with a doubleheader Thursday.
"Baseball is part of the culture. It's ingrained in the Dominican Republic, and everyone is connected somehow," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for MLB. "It's great to see the tradition carry on in George Bell's son, in this case, and with Vladi's family with Josue. It goes on and on. We know the baseball blood line is strong here."
A 16-year-old international player can sign during the period that extends from July 2 through June 15 of next year if the prospect turns 17 before Sept. 1 of this year or by the completion of his first Minor League season.
Each team is allotted a base and a bonus pool made up of four slot values based on the team's record from the previous year to spend on these prospects. Clubs are allowed to trade pool money within the period. Bonuses of $10,000 or less are exempt and do not count against the allotment. There are also penalties for teams that exceed their bonus pools.
The Padres, Braves, Nationals, Brewers, Cardinals, Phillies and Rangers have been very aggressive on the international market so far, and each team expects to have a solid class of prospects for the next international signing period, which starts July 2.
As for Bell, where he signs is to be determined, but it could come as early as July 2. Scouts like his short, compact swing and of course, they like his baseball pedigree. He might end up in the outfield one day.
"This is an honor to be here and a great opportunity for players like me to be seen by so many teams," said Bell, who turned 16 in January. "I know my father is really proud. He takes a lot of time working with me, giving me advice and trying to make me a better player. He always says to leave it all on the field, so that's what I try to do."
Bell met Guerrero, 16, at a showcase four months ago, and the pair have been friends ever since. The son of Eleazar Guerrero, Vladimir's oldest brother, Josue is a 6-foot, 185-pound outfielder and the latest in a long line of swinging Guerreros. Eleazer along with uncles Vladimir and Wilton all played professionally.
Josue's brother Gabriel is a prospect with the D-backs and his cousins Gregory and Vladimir Jr. signed with the Mets and Blue Jays, respectively, last summer. Older cousin Jose is also a Minor Leaguer with the Mets.
"I feel very proud to have this name on my back and I know what it means," Josue Guerrero said. "I want to sign with a team and make it to the Major Leagues. That's my dream and I know what I do here helps that."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.