Dominican showcase benefits players and scouts

Dominican showcase benefits players and scouts

Dominican showcase benefits players and scouts
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- For almost two hours, the Dominican teens waited out the rain while in the home clubhouse of Estadio Quisqueya on Sunday, offering them their first real chance to soak in the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Their matchup against USA Baseball's 15-and-under national team in their first game of the MLB Amateur Prospect League tournament was delayed, so they passed the time watching Olympic highlights on television, chatting about Dominicans in the big leagues and marveling at the fact that Pedro Martinez was in their clubhouse and was going to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

The word around the clubhouse was that a healthy dose of butterflies had kept most of the players from sleeping for more than a few hours the night before the game, and they laughed about that, too.

Play eventually resumed, and by the third inning, the MLB Amateur Prospect League (red) was trailing, 3-0. By the fourth inning, a passed ball, an errant throw to first base, two walks and an attempt by Dominican second baseman Miguel Almonte to throw Nick Anderson out at the plate after the Texas-native had already crossed home for the fourth run was a sign of things to come.

The game would eventually be called with USA Baseball on top after eight innings.

Perhaps the best thing to happened to the two MLB Amateur Prospect League teams this week during the eight-game tournament -- an event that also featured Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School -- was the 14-1 drubbing by USA in the first night game of the tournament.

"We talked about it with the trainers here," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for MLB. "I think this week showed that Dominican players can benefit from being together a little more often and working on fundamentals, and it's something we can explore, not only to put on a better performance in this type of format, but they would also benefit from learning the game."

The amateur baseball system in the D.R., once heavily reliant on the tryout format, is evolving into one that features showcases with games, and it's changing the landscape in the international market. New spending restrictions have many scouts on the hunt for baseball players -- not just a baseball player tool-set -- and it doesn't matter if the prospects come from Santo Domingo, La Romana or Santiago as long as they can play the game the right way now or show the capacity to do so in the future.

While scouting methods like projecting a body-type, charting 60-yard dash times and watching a prospect take batting practice will always play a role in signing an international prospect, scouts now need to know how a prospect will respond after going 0-for-10 at the plate, what type of teammate he will be, and fundamentals such as if a player can throw to the correct base with two outs and a runner on third base in a close ballgame.

More than ever, the teams that spend millions on the international market are asking if a prospect is worth the investment. One of the main goals of Major League Baseball's Amateur Prospect League is to provide a neutral forum to help scouts gather information to help determine that value .

"Obviously, the U.S. is the leader in amateur baseball and formalized structure, and it gives the kids from other countries a taste of what that looks like, and that can only drive the competition to get better," said senior vice president for baseball operations for Major League Baseball Kim Ng. "The young amateur players in the U.S. that are drafted from high school typically play 400-600 games, and these kids in the D.R. don't come close to that. Are we ever going to get to that point? I don't know, but to get 30 games a year is helpful. To expose them to a different program is helpful. It's about trying to help the young players as much as it is about trying to help the scouts."

Give the teenagers credit.

The environment is changing around them and the Dominican teens are adjusting once again. They are adapting the same way island icons like Ozzie Virgil and Felipe Alou, who signed and were immediately shipped to United States, once did in the 1950s. They are adjusting the same way their fathers and uncles and family friends did when baseball academies started to spring up on the island 25 years ago, when the entrance fee was having a large body and a scout's confidence.

The next three games for both MLB Amateur Prospect League teams were crisp and more fundamentally sound.

Make no mistake, there are youth leagues on the island that show players the fundamentals of the game, and those leagues start for players as young as 5 years old. But many of the top players drop out of the leagues as early as 12 years old to begin working with trainers on the tools that will make them appealing to Major League clubs when they become eligible to sign at age 16.

Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) has succeeded in providing a league for players to develop and learn how to play the game on the island, but the temptation to leave those types of programs for private trainers in tools-specific programs is great.

"In this dynamic international market, what is necessary changes a lot," Araujo said. "We'll sit down and talk about the tournament, what it needs and figure what we can do to address some of the issues. In a perfect world, we would be able to address the needs that the market has and find ways to keep serving our clubs and the players.

"The trainers here have already developed these players, and we know that the D.R. has a rich history of baseball," he continued. "We want to highlight the good job they have done and see where that takes us."

The immediate future for the MLB Amateur Prospect League includes another showcase next month, more games each week for players eligible to sign next July 2 and for players already eligible to sign, and possibly another tournament that will include teams from other countries.

One of the league's goals is to provide a neutral setting where leagues like the Dominican Prospect League (DPL), International Prospect League (IPL) and National Prospect League (NPL) can also showcase their players in front of scouts. Unlike the other leagues, the MLB Amateur Prospect League does not require any form of payment, such as percentage of a signing bonus, from its participants.

"The market is changing and scouts are trying to be wise with their spending," Araujo said. "It's evolving [and] we want to be able to provide a forum that is necessary."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.