Dominican Prospect League displays promise
Scouts take in talented young players at Spring Training facilities
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The big league club wasn't home, replaced by teenagers who one day hope to call a place like JetBlue Park their Spring Training digs.
That's one of the big reasons why the Dominican Prospect League has arranged a second annual tour of Florida and Arizona this spring, giving some of the best amateur prospects from the Dominican Republic an opportunity to play in big-time facilities and be seen by big-time scouts as they approach their eligibility to sign professional contracts.
"This league is run by a foundation we created in the Dominican Republic," DPL vice president Ulises Cabrera said. "One of the goals of the foundation, on top of helping teams have access to evaluating the top talent on a consistent basis, is to help these players be better prepared for life in the United States as professionals.
"[Most] of these kids haven't even been on a plane before. These kids, once they get signed, when they have the opportunity to sign, they'll have already been through this process. The better prepared these kids are for life here in the U.S., the better they'll perform on the field. That's one of the goals that we have."
While a few on the tour, which will make two more stops in Florida before heading to Arizona for four games, are eligible to sign now, most won't be until the start of the 2012 signing period in July. In addition to the tour, the DPL also holds events in the Dominican. It's a win-win situation, not only for the players but for the Major League teams.
"At the end of the day, we're trying to help the organizations get a good look and evaluation so they can make the right decision," DPL president Brian Mejia said, pointing out that of the 13 players on last year's tour, 11 have signed pro contracts.
"With the new rules internationally, we decided it was a good opportunity to not only bring the top guys, but to bring the guys who were going to be eligible to sign so they can get exposure. The reality is we have more prospects this year to get evaluated. We brought two teams to play against each other on the tour."
There are two full teams, but only eight pitchers in total, so the Red Sox helped out by allowing some of their Minor Leaguers to throw some innings. It was a terrific test for the youngsters, facing some pitchers as much as five years their elder, and some held their own. It was a challenge many will never forget.
"I never thought I'd be here in the States at a stadium like this," said outfielder Luis Barrera, who's only other time on a plane was to go to Venezuela for a showcase. "I feel really good, really satisfied. I like the thought of me being here."
Barrera is one of many who could see their lives change dramatically come July, though perhaps not as dramatically as in the past. Mejia alluded to the new international rules and it does alter the landscape. According to new rules dictated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, every team will be on a level playing field in 2012, with a $2.9 million pool to use in signing international talent.
That makes these events and tours all the more important. With resources limited, the ability to see all of these players together, repeatedly, makes it easier for teams to make decisions with the money they do have.
"Some teams used to get in on a whole bunch of players," Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said. "That's just not going to happen with the limited resources. You can't be in on every guy. The more people we have to see guys, that helps the decision-making process. We're going to have about six different guys see these players while they're over here in the States over the next 10 days.
"The obvious benefit of efficiency, finances -- they're all here in one place. It makes it easy to take care of business without traveling down to the Dominican. A lot of times, we have a hard time getting all of these guys in one spot down there. It's a beautiful thing."
The brain trust of the DPL likes what it sees as well. Cabrera and Mejia felt the day in the Red Sox's new Spring Training home was a huge success, just another part of fulfilling the league's mission and another sign of the DPL's bright future.
"We want to help improve the success rate of signed players from Latin America, specifically from the Dominican," Cabrera said. "Scouts can only evaluate talent if they see it. There has never been a group that is this talented, that is this deep, that has so much variety in terms of skill sets that has ever been seen from the international marketplace. We're trying to provide a service to the industry, an industry that in the past struggled to see guys play in baseball games. It's important. Some of these players will be significant signs for organizations."
"We're headed where we want to be as far as the showcasing part, the evaluation part, and getting the right players into the league," Mejia added. "Where it's headed is where we're at right now, gathering the best players and showing them how to play the game."