Sixth annual event taking place this week in Dominican Republic
By Jesse Sanchez
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Former Major League infielder Orlando Cabrera bounced around the infield during the 60-yard dash at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal just like he did during his playing days.
He jogged his way to several groups of scouts seated in the stands during the batting-practice portion of the tryout. He moved around, chatting with top baseball officials when the international prospects took the field for the first game of the day.
Cabrera, who played parts of 15 seasons in the Major Leagues with Expos, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, A's, Twins, Reds, Indians and Giants, operates a baseball academy back home in Cartagena, Colombia, called Prospect Sports. He's in the Dominican Republic this week with teenage infield prospect Fabian Pertuz, who is participating in the sixth annual Major League Baseball International Prospect Showcase, and he's looking for the right fit for the young player.
"We've always been supportive of MLB and its events," Cabrera, 42, said. "Our hope is events like this continue to be a success, and the international market for players, especially back home in Colombia, keeps growing. I wouldn't miss this."
Major League Baseball started the MLB Amateur Prospect League in 2011 with showcases in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. In early 2012, MLB combined the two showcases to create the first international prospect event. Now, there are tryouts in Brazil, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Curacao and Colombia that feed into the annual event.
This year, a total of 54 players representing Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Venezuela are participating in the event. Among the many prospects to watch are shortstops Wander Franco, Ronny Mauricio and right-hander Luis Garcia of the Dominican Republic, shortstop Leonardo Jimenez from Panama, and catcher Daniel Flores of Venezuela.
Dominican shortstop Wander Samuel Franco is considered the top international prospect from the island. His two brothers are minor leaguers. pic.twitter.com/20OEVuO2T9
So far, an estimated 900 international prospects have signed with Major League clubs since the international signing period began July 2. There has been an estimated increase of 100 prospect signings since MLB began focusing on showcases and leagues in the Dominican Republic.
"There are a lot of factors, but I do think the entire industry and the market has changed to a point where a lot more clubs are comfortable doing business internationally than in the past," said Joel Araujo, MLB's senior manager of international baseball operations. "There's more structure. All of the players have to be registered and you get to see them in these types of competitive environments. There are strides that still have to be made, but we have seen progress and the number of signings are evidence of that."
The showcase portion of the event began Wednesday with a 60-yard dash, infield and outfield practice, along with batting practice and one game. A doubleheader is scheduled for Thursday. More than 300 scouts and front-office executives were in attendance.
"Look at all of the scouts here. That's why we are here," Cabrera said. "We want our players to perform under these eyes and this is the best opportunity for exposure. There's a great future for baseball in Colombia and being here is part of the process."
The leagues and showcases in the Dominican Republic are only a part of MLB's effort to grow the game internationally. Under the leadership of MLB's senior VP of baseball operations Kim Ng, the central office began a "country-specific" strategy to growing the game globally. Using that approach, MLB focused on showcases in countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. In 2013, it launched the Elite Development Program in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to create another avenue for player development. The program in Puerto Rico is now available in seven regions on the island and includes a youth program, in addition to the program for high school players.
An Elite Development Program was created in Nicaragua in 2015. Programs at MLB-run resident academies in Brazil and Mexico launched in January. The coaches in the programs are certified by Major League Baseball after completing a 120-hour program.
MLB has trained coaches in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Spain, Germany, South Africa and Curacao.
"We work in conjunction with different baseball federations in each country and we have already trained over 500 coaches since the program started in 2013," Araujo said. "It's a growing program and we are very proud of it. It all revolves around growing the game globally. That's our focus."
Top Performers from Day 1:
Luabert Arias, RHP, Venezuela
Antoni Flores, shortstop, Venezuela
Daniel Flores, catcher, Venezuela
Franco, shortstop, Dominican Republic
Garcia, shortstop, Dominican Republic
Sergio Gutierrez, catcher, Venezuela
Mauricio, shortstop, Dominican Republic
Alejandro Melean, RHP, Venezuela
Victor Munoz, RHP, Dominican Republic
Carlos Rodriguez, outfielder, Venezuela
Keybar Rodriguez, shortstop, Venezuela
Heitor Tokar, RHP, Brazil
George Valera, outfield, Dominican Republic
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.