LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are nearing completion of an extensive renovation of their Campo Las Palmas training academy in the Dominican Republic.
The project is, in part, an anticipated response by the club to limitations on signing bonuses for international players and a reallocation of resources into the infrastructure to develop them.
"With the new CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] and everyone limited as to how much you can spend there [on players], we think the competitive edge is in facilities, instruction and training," said Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten. "We are going all-in on the best, state-of-the-art complex."
The renovation essentially triples the housing capacity for players and staff from the original 40-player accommodations that were the foundation of the camp then-owner Peter O'Malley opened in 1987, when the Dodgers were the first club with a permanent academy on the island.
Under the later ownership of Frank and Jamie McCourt, the Dodgers de-emphasized scouting in the Caribbean and cut back resources for maintaining the 75-acre Campo Las Palmas complex.
But current ownership has backed up talk about a renewed commitment to the region by aggressively signing more than a dozen Cubans allowed to leave that nation in recent years; by restoring a second summer-league team that had been retracted; and now by upgrading the Dominican facility with modern materials and technology while retaining the charm of the original complex that was originally overseen by longtime scout Ralph Avila.
"We didn't want to tear it down," said Janet Marie Smith, senior vice president of planning and development. "We chose to renovate the great campus that we had, gutting and rebuilding six buildings and adding three new ones, adding a third field and another half-field. And we are especially proud of our new Jackie Robinson Hall, where players can gather and we'll show English movies with Spanish subtitles as an aid in teaching the conversational language. It's entertainment with a purpose."
Kasten said the weight room has been upgraded to rival that at the club's Arizona Spring Training facility at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, while Smith said she will add an outdoor workout area at the Arizona complex mimicking the one just installed in the Dominican.
The Dodgers once were dominant in the Dominican, but now all 30 teams have a presence there as the competition for talent in the Caribbean and South America ramped up over time. A new complex on the island typically costs between $5 million and $10 million to build.
The renovation included new plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning. It took a year of planning and two years of work, with the club relocating training to a vacant facility nearby. In addition to refurbished dorms, the expanded weight room and the Jackie Robinson Hall, the complex has classrooms, dining and medical facilities.
"The overall goal for the Dodgers is to have a complex that's state of the art for the Dominican, not only to train young men to be fabulous at baseball, but at managing their lives," Smith said.
As part of director of player development Gabe Kapler's emphasis on nutrition, the facility will now have a sustainable garden producing crops for meals provided to players. Smith said experts have shuttled in from Los Angeles to provide input on the project, from the Dodger Stadium arborist to conditioning coaches and clubhouse managers.
"Everyone who has a job to do in the mother ship in Los Angeles has combined for an organizational effort," Smith said. "From [president of operations] Andrew Friedman on down, everyone has put a lot of thought into it."
Smith said construction is almost complete and the team expects to move back in next month, with a dedication ceremony in late January.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.