"We are looking to the future and beyond just the July 2 players," said Rafael Perez, director of Dominican Republic operations for Major League Baseball. "The reality is that the July 2 players represent only 25 percent of the players that sign, and close to 65 percent that sign are 17 or 18 [years old]. We look to provide and get more exposure for them, too. In the end, it translates to more opportunities for everyone."
The league, which began Thursday with games for eligible players at the Tampa Bay complex, will play games at various Major League Baseball club academies every week, alternating weekly between current eligible players and unsigned players.
Games for players eligible to sign on July 2 are scheduled for March 29 at Toronto's academy and April 19 at Washington's academy. The second round of games for players already eligible to sign are scheduled for April 12 at the Cincinnati complex.
The teams are primarily made up of players from the Dominican Republic, but other players from Latin America can also participate in the league.
Additionally, the newly formed league includes an educational component for its players, as well as an outreach program that will feature instructional clinics for the younger players in the country.
"Historically, and for a bunch of different reasons, everyone has focused on the 16-year-old player, and other groups were passed over, but we want to have an impact across the board with older and young players," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for Major League Baseball. "There is a young group that we reach that may never sign, but it's still a group we can touch and have positive impact on their lives. The young people will hear what it takes to be a professional and not just a professional ball player."
It is clear that tryouts are no longer the only way for scouts to evaluate talent in Latin America. Other leagues, such as the Dominican Prospect League (DPL) and International Prospect League (IPL), have previously organized showcases and provided opportunities for Major League organizations to watch prospects play in games.
"What the DPL started doing marked the beginning of what is happening now," Perez said. "We've created a full schedule, and we want prospects in more systematic programs. We believe this is part of what we were missing. We'll have players anywhere from 16 to 19 [years old], and they'll be in a sound system where they develop with Major League instruction."
Major League Baseball's efforts on the island gained traction last summer with the creation of a tournament, known as El Torneo Supremo (The Supreme Tournament), for prospects on the island.
In February, MLB held the two-day Venezuela-Dominican Republic Showcase at the Mets academy in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. Twenty-five prospects from each country displayed their skills in front of more than 200 big league scouts in a series of drills that included the 60-yard dash, infield, outfield and batting practice. The teams played a six-inning game on the first day of the event and a doubleheader on the second day.
Major League Baseball previously held similar showcases in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic last year, but February's showcase was the first to combine players from the two countries on the same field.
"The goal is for the leagues, agents, buscons and MLB to work together," Perez said. "Everyone benefits. We will have a very prominent league and it will be the league to play in. I am not taking anything away from other leagues, but we have the know-how and the resources. We work for the clubs and the players will benefit."