The focus of the international baseball world is on the Dominican Republic this week as Major League Baseball opened its third annual Amateur Prospect League International Showcase on Wednesday in San Pedro de Macoris.
The two-day event features some of the top teens from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, and Nicaragua -- players who will be eligible to sign with Major League clubs beginning July 2 -- participating in pro-style workouts and scrimmage games.
Last year's showcase was held in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, and it attracted more than 200 scouts and front-office members. The inaugural event took place in Boca Chica in 2012. Last year, MLB also held showcases in the Dominican Republic for the top players on the island and another showcase in Venezuela for that country's top teenage players.
"This is our third year; we continue to improve, and there is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm leading into the showcase once again," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for MLB. "Everyone in the baseball community looks forward to this showcase, and we are pleased that it's been beneficial to the clubs in their evaluations of players."
Like last year, the amount of money clubs will be allowed to spend on international prospects this year will be based largely on their records last season. Last summer, the pools for each team ranged from an estimated $4.9 million (for the lowest winning percentage) to $1.8 million (for the highest winning percentage). Like last year, clubs will be allowed to trade pool money.
Here are the guidelines for signing a prospect: A 16-year-old international player can sign during the period that extends from July 2 through June 15 of next year if the prospect turns 17 before Sept. 1 of this year or by the completion of his first Minor League season. Additionally, any prospect that is already 17 or older and has not previously signed a Major or Minor League contract, resides outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and has not been enrolled in a high school or college in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico within the previous year is eligible to sign during the period.
The international signing guidelines do not apply to players who are 23 or older and have played as a professional for a minimum of five seasons in a league recognized by the Commissioner's Office. Cuban players who are at least 23 and have played in a Cuban professional league for three or more seasons are also exempt.
"Our showcases have become a staple for clubs in the signing and evaluating process," Araujo said. "We are giving teams the opportunity to see guys, watch them in games and workouts, and get a real feel for where the players are and how they compare to other prospects. The feedback we have received has been positive all around."
What's more, MLB will host the first-ever three-day showcase for Draft-eligible Puerto Rican players starting Friday at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.
"As a central office, we are addressing needs and servicing clubs," Araujo said. "It's part of the evaluation process and providing as much information to the clubs that we can as they go forward in their decision-making processes."