D-backs take pride in their Dominican academy

D-backs take pride in their Dominican academy

BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic -- Latin Americans make up more than a quarter of MLB players. Almost all of them start their professional careers at an academy in the Dominican Republic like the D-backs' facility in Boca Chica.

Dozens of young Latin-born players attend the academy after signing at 16 or 17. They live, train, play and learn here under the supervision of D-backs coaches and staff members.

"At least nine months of the year, the kids are on the field," said Chuy Mendoza, coordinator of Latin operations for the D-backs. "We start in January with a program so they can get ready to go to the States. At the same time, we invite some prospects that had signed the previous year that need to get up to speed."

Then in April, the academy hosts its own version of Spring Training to get players ready for the Dominican Summer League, which allows players to compete against other top young Latin talent.

Following an opportunity to visit home and recharge, the youngest Latin prospects in the D-backs' system return to participate in the Instructional League, which is currently in full speed. They receive training from coaches throughout the organization and visits from current players like Rubby De La Rosa and Welington Castillo, who were in similar positions at their age and grew up nearby.

While the players are here, they are taken care of in all aspects of their life. They live in dorm-style housing above the main building, and the rooms overlook the two fields at the complex. There's a weight room and a lounge next door, and all of their meals are provided at the cafeteria. On their days off, the team will provide field trips to the mall or a Winter League game for players who aren't able to visit home.

But the crown jewel of the D-backs' academy is its one-of-a-kind education program.

"It is unique because we are the only team that it doesn't matter where they go," Mendoza explained. "If they are in California playing for Visalia, or if they are in Arizona, they are able to complete their high school education online."

The D-backs also allow all of the players to finish their degree even if they are released. Their education is free and stems from a promise D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall made to Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina during a previous visit.

While many of the players never make it to Chase Field, or even to a Minor League affiliate in the United States, the D-backs' academy provides these prospects more resources and skills than they would have otherwise been afforded.

"They come over here and they are able to eat better, they are able to educate themselves, able to sleep better," Mendoza said. "When they are here, they are in the better place."

Kyle Payne is a social media coordinator for the D-backs and contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.