The big league sights are gone, but the sounds -- the cracking of the bats, the bilingual chatter and the claps coming out of the batting cages -- are proof that the big league dreams are alive in extended spring camp. And few dreams are bigger than those belonging to teenage prospects Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara.
The 17-year-old prospects are less than one year removed from signing the deals that set them up for life last July, and they couldn't be happier. They also couldn't be more alike.
Guzman and Mazara are similar in size, 6-foot-5, 215 pounds and 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, respectively, and in position -- both were signed as outfielders. The pair played together for the first time as members of the Dominican Republic's RBI Championship team in 2010, and they have grown so close during the past two years that they consider themselves brothers. The bond is fitting when you consider their future successes and failures will forever be linked.
The Rangers signed Guzman for $3.45 million last July, and Mazara for a record-setting $4.95 million a few hours later. Both will play in their first professional game when they suit up for the Arizona Rangers in the Arizona Rookie League next month.
In the meantime, they work. They practice speaking English and focus on staying the same when the entire world around them has changed.
"I would be lying if I didn't say things are not more comfortable now, because we don't have the financial pressures that we used to have," Mazara said. "But as people, we've stayed the same. I imagine 95 percent of players that get a big bonus buy a car for themselves and jewelry, and then they buy a house for their moms to live [in]. I've only bought a house for mom, a car for my dad and brother, but have not bought myself anything."
The son of a retired general in the Dominican navy, Mazara was taught about the value of discipline and hard work. Mazara's mother spent her career working in education and made sure her children were well-schooled -- inside and outside the classroom.
"To me, it's horrible when a player is done playing and they don't do anything -- or can't do anything -- because he is not educated," Mazara said. "They might have money now, but money is not everything in this life. I've always been taught that when you are through playing in the big leagues and in the Hall of Fame, you will have all the time you want. Right now, it's time to work and take advantage of all the opportunities."
Guzman, who is six months older than Mazara, smiles when he looks back on the events of last July 2, and not just because it's the day he became a millionaire. He also graduated from high school that day.
Not long after the prospect signed with the Rangers, he made his first big purchase for the family: a Toyota RAV4.
"My advice to players that are going to sign in July is not to sign with a team that gives you the most money; you sign with a team that can develop you," Guzman said. "The goal is to make it to the Major Leagues and have a long career, not just to sign."
The Rangers scouted Guzman and Mazara two years before they signed them. The club liked their size and raw talent, specifically Guzman's hitting abilities and Mazara's raw power. They also loved the teenagers' makeup and attitude.
Working in Mazara's favor was the fact that he was trained by Ivan Noboa, the brother of Reds scout Joel Noboa and D-backs executive Junior Noboa. Guzman secured his status as a top prospect while playing in the Dominican Prospect League.
"Our international scouting group has, over the course of the last five or six years, refined the process, and we continue to challenge our scouts to know the players better than anyone else," Daniels said. "It's a tough road to get from 16-year-old signees to the big leagues, and we have to find out if the players have the inner drive and competitiveness it takes. What is their aptitude, their background? Who were their influences? We spend a lot of time around families, and I'm really proud of work our international group has put in."
The Rangers, who spent an estimated $13 million on the international market last year, are already seeing the results of their commitment to Latin America. Pitcher Martin Perez, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2007, is pitching with Triple-A Round Rock, while players like infielder Leury Garcia (2007), pitchers Fabio Castillo ('06), Carlos Pimentel ('06), Miguel Del Los Santos ('06) and Johan Yan ('06) are all making strides at Double-A Frisco.
The Rangers are waiting on a decision from Major League Baseball's Department of Investigations regarding the club's $4.5 million agreement with prospect Jairo Beras.
Beras, who is from the Dominican Republic and ranked No. 3 on MLB.com's list of Top 20 International Prospects, was listed with a birth date of Dec. 25, 1995, in February's MLB prospect showcase in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. That age makes him ineligible to sign until the international signing period begins on July 2. The Rangers, who submitted the Beras contract for approval on Feb. 29, claim the outfielder is 17 and not subject to the new international signing guidelines.
In accordance with the new Basic Agreement, the international system will dictate that each team can spend up to $2.9 million for the 2012-13 signing period, and there are penalties for exceeding that number.
"We made the $4.5 million commitment, and we expect to pay it out. But until it's approved, we are still are in limbo," Daniels said. "The Beras situation is another example of our guys putting the work in. The reason we came across the information is because of our effort to get to know the family. Our guys met his father, and talking it through, it was apparent what his age was.
"It was only through hard work that we realized that he was older than even he thought he was. One of the complications I think everybody in the industry understands is that other players are going off the board while we wait for a decision. That's the reality of it."
Guzman and Mazara know Beras in passing and said they wish the best for every prospect coming out of the Dominican Republic. They also admit they have other things to worry about these days. Guzman is making the shift from outfield to first base, and Mazara is working on harnessing his violent swing.
They also have daily dates with the Rosetta Stone program to work on their English, and they must squeeze in time for video chats with their families back home in the D.R. Arizona Rookie League play begins in a few weeks.
"Remember, they should be seniors or even juniors in high school right now, but they believe they belong here and conduct themselves that way," said Corey Ragsdale, manager of the Arizona Rookie League Rangers. "The other teams don't see them any different than the other kids down here working hard, and to me, that's a good thing."