The New York Times’ Michael Schmidt has written a piece on Major League Baseball’s anticipated move into Cuba if/when the country opens up to US business interests. The piece basically repeats everything we already know about MLB’s plans: nobody in baseball is sure exactly how big a resource Cuba can be, but they know they want to open it up for scouting. We’ve known this for years, long before Steinbrenner sent George Costanza down to Havana to create a
Communist pipeline into the vast reservoir of Cuban baseball talent” back in 1994 (a classic).
The interesting tidbits include the potential opening of Dominican/Venezuelan Summer League-style academies (which I discussed with Cuban baseball scholar Peter Bjarkman last month), and potentially relocating a minor league club to Cuba.
It will be interesting to see whether Cuba will allow its players to be subjected to the same completely open market that governs the majority of the international baseball world. Only Taiwan and Korea make MLB wait until their kids hit 18 years old, offering opportunities for higher bonuses and also providing more polished players (as opposed to the crap-shoot that is the rest of the international scouting world). If Cuba undergoes any sort of transitional period at all post-Castro, you have to think there will be significant opposition to a full-fledged opening up of the country’s baseball talent to the same kind of strip-mining that happens in the rest of Latin America.
The article also includes the following:
“Everybody on our side wonders how much talent is really there,” said Lou Melendez, baseball’s vice president for international baseball operations and administration, who oversees baseball’s academies in other countries. “I don’t think it is as strong as the Dominican Republic, but nobody knows. There is a talent pool there, but we just don’t know how deep it is.”
Honestly, I’m not sure why this is even a question. People tend to judge Cuban baseball players by the few who have come over from Cuba’s top league and gone on to play major league baseball. This seems pretty silly. At any given point, there are fewer than a dozen Cubans in the major leagues. These players serve as representatives of their country’s baseball talent not by virtue of being the best Cuba has to offer, but by virtue of having successfully defected.
To me, it is pretty simple. Cuba has an estimated population of about 11.3 million, compared with the Dominican Republic’s approximately 8 million. In the Dominican Republic, baseball dominates, but attention is divided. A lot of people play basketball, and hand ball is surprisingly popular there as well. In Cuba (so I have been told), all of the athletes play baseball. The two islands have a similar colonial history, so genetic makeup should not give Dominicans an innate advantage for any reason. As we covered in the Bjarkman interview, factor in the superior nutrition and education Cubans receive as children, and there is little reason to believe that Cuba won’t out-pace the Dominican Republic as a source of talent if it opens up to the same scouting process.
Dominican bonus baby Carlos Triunfel lost hold of the bat 3 times in 4 ABs today. One of his slip-ups almost took out a bat boy and a kid in the stands.
Hey Carlos, Moises Alou might just have some advice for you…
Thanks to a tip from friend of Global Baseball Peter Bjarkman, we’re happy to inform you that the Radio COCO website is streaming the Cuban League Championships live over the internet! The games are free to watch (and commercial free, to boot).
Santiago de Cuba is currently leading Havana Industriales 2-0. I’m not too familiar with the Santiago team, but Havana Industriales features righthander Yadel Marti and outfielder Yoandry Urgelles, two of the more exciting players who will almost certainly never make it to the United States.
Game 3 will take place at 8:00 EST tomorrow (Saturday, April 21).
Check it out.
Well, this is kind of weird. Dominican infielder Willy Aybar, who injured his wrist over the winter playing in the Dominican Winter League, apparently took off for 3 days without letting club officials know where he was. Aybar has been suspended for three games.
Back when he was a Dodgers’ prospect, Aybar was the subject of the most highly publicized expose to date on the rampant corruption that pervades the buscon system in the Dominican Republic. Signed for $1.4 million (close to the bonus at the time for a Dominican teenager) in 2000 after years of tutelage from legendary buscon Enrique Soto, Aybar received a great deal of press as a minor leaguer when the Washington Post got wind of suspicious activity regarding the first installment of his bonus check. The first installment, (about $490,000 after taxes) never actually made its way to the Aybar family after being sent to Soto through Aybar’s American agent Rob Plummer. All that came down to the family was 100,000 Dominican Pesos (about $6,000 back then – about $3,000 today).
You can read about the whole sordid business here.
Some choice quotes that give a sense of the character of the people involved:
A copy of the canceled check, obtained by The Post, shows two signatures: Willy Aybar’s and Enrique Soto’s. Guerra, who has examined a microfiche copy held by the Dodgers, said Aybar’s signature did not appear to match the one on his contract. Guerra said Aybar’s signature on the check “appears to be the same handwriting as the person who signed for Soto.”
“I never signed that check,” said Aybar, who had been unaware that a check needed to be endorsed before it could be cashed. “He must have signed it for me.”
Asked about Francia Aybar’s claim that Soto paid her 100,000 pesos, roughly $6,250, then put her on a monthly stipend of 30,000 pesos, about $1,875, Soto responded: “And how much should I have given her?”
And we can’t leave this one out:
Soto said he was unconcerned about the allegations. “I’m like Jesus Christ,” he said. “I’ve got the truth in the palm of my hand.”
American agents take between 3-5% of clients’ signing bonuses. Admittedly, stateside agents do not provide anything close to the services the buscones have to provide for their almost always impoverished, often illiterate clients. Nutrition, weight training, and instruction is undoubtedly worth a substantial cut of what these kids bring in, but there is a long way to go towards establishing standards to protect these kids. Aybar’s one of the fortunate ones – he actually made it to the major leagues and got another substantial pay day out of his talent that Enrique Soto can not touch.
The buscon system is the single biggest reason baseball needs to institute an international draft.
Now that Felix Hernandez has delivered arguably the two best pitching performances of the young 2007 season in his first two starts, I think we can safely say that Venezuela boasts the two greatest pitchers in the world.
David Ortiz, on Felix Hernandez’s 1-hit shutout of the Red Sox, courtesy of mlb.com:
“He had the best stuff I have seen in the last five or six years” Sox slugger David Ortiz said of Hernandez. “He could have a career like you couldn’t even imagine. Nolan Ryan. Pedro Martinez. Curt Schilling. He could have a career like that if he takes care of himself.”
Felix’s current line: 2-0, 17.0 IP, 0ER, 4BB/18K, and perhaps most impressive, 29 groundouts to 4 flyouts.
His game scores for his two performances were 86 and 87, easily the two best performances of the year by that crude measure. His opponents? A team that made it to the ALCS last year (albeit one with an injured lineup) and arguably the most potent offense in the American League.
Oh, and he just turned 21 four days ago.
Felix Hernandez is here to stay.
Shortstop Carlos Triunfel will debut today when the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Low Class-A Midwest League take on the Peoria Chiefs at 7:35 Eastern Time. Tune into Mariner Minors and Rattler Radio after the game for reactions. Triunfel was one of the latest of last year’s top international guys to sign, eventually landing with the Seattle Mariners for a $1.3 million bonus. Triunfel and Mets catching prospect Francisco Pena are the only two of last year’s wave of big-money Latin American talent who will start the year in full-season ball.
I expected to see Angel Villalona on the Augusta Greenjackets’ roster to start the season, but it appears the Giants are being more conservative with their top Dominican signing, who was more highly regarded than Triunfel as an amateur.
The Mariners are well known for rushing their prospects faster than any other organization in baseball, so it’s no surprise that their top-dollar signing will get his first professional at-bats in full season ball.
If you’re a fan of baseball players from weird countries you’ve never been to and where you didn’t even know they played baseball, the Timber Rattlers are the team for you. In addition to Triunfel, the team will feature Greg Halman (Netherlands), Kalian Sams (Netherlands), Alex Liddi (Italy), Kuo Hui Lo (Taiwan), and Jair Fernandez (Columbia) to go along with 6 Dominicans and 1 Venezuelan.
The Citizen, a Johannesburg newspaper, has a brief article up about the South African Baseball Union’s interregional youth baseball tournament, which I will be leaving today to take an 18-hour bus ride to Cape Town, where I will be visiting developing baseball clubs in the city’s townships.
The article, which states that this is the first time SABU has ever been able to bring all the youth of the nation together in one place, is a little bit misleading. South African Baseball, about which I will have much more to write in the future, is split into the club system and the school system. Every December, SABU hosts a national schools tournament, which is where major league scouts first spotted last year’s only South African signee, Anthony Phillips (INF, Mariners). This tournament is held specifically for clubs, though as every single SABU official I interviewed over the last 2 days gleefully pointed out, 58% of the tournament’s 840 players came out of the nation’s school program. The excitement is with good reason, as the schools program is helping the nation develop the game of baseball faster than perhaps anywhere else in the world (with the possible exception of China).
I’ve recently gotten some information on the workings of the Israel Baseball League, set to kick off this June. The league will feature 6 teams, with a set salary cap of $40,000 for each team. Investors are buying in with the intent of making the league profitable. Other attempts to run independently financed, non-MLB affiliated professional leagues in non-traditional baseball countries have failed miserably (e.g. the short-lived Australian Professional League). Hopefully, the league will turn a profit, that paltry salary cap will increase, and there will be another viable professional baseball league that can help spread the game around the world.
The league’s 6 teams have signed a total of 120 players, about 100 of whom are imports. Most of the players are from the United States and the Dominican Republic, where the league held tryouts last month.
As the IBL’s press release about the league’s Dominican tryouts notes, the link between Israeli and the Dominican Republic goes back a long way. Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo is remembered both as an effective leader responsible for building up the country’s infrastructure and middle class, and as a fascist bastard who ran 1-party elections for 31 years, killed dissenters (most notably the Mirabal Sisters), and ordered the massacre of 50,000 Haitian sugar cane workers in 1937. Trujillo was also one of the only world leaders in the Western Hemisphere to offer asylum to Jews fleeing Europe during World War 2. Accordingly, there is a relatively large Jewish community in the Dominican Republic, centered both in Santo Domingo and Sosua, a town founded by Jewish refugees on the northern coast. There’s also a kickass falafel and shawarma restaurant called El Rey de Falafel on Calle Padre Billini in Santo Domingo run by Israelis. Seriously. That place is awesome.
This one’s at least a month old, but nobody publicizes Dutch signings, and I just heard about it yesterday. Surprise, surprise, the most recent signing out of the Netherlands belongs to the Seattle Mariners, who cast the widest net by far of any major league team.
The newest European addition to the Mariners system is 16 year old pitcher Ramon Romeijn. I don’t have much information about the kid’s size or repertoire, but I do know he was one of only two fifteen year olds invited to participate in the 2006 MLB European Academy. I am unclear on whether Romeijn signed an ’06 or an ’07 contract, but my guess is he signed this year and will not appear in affiliated ball until the ’08 season.
Romeijn, who (unofficially) signed for $92,000, is the Mariners’ third Dutch signing in the past 4 years. The team spent $100,000 on outfielder Greg Halman back in 2004, a year after Halman was named MVP of the Dutch Professional League at the age of fifteen. While “best baseball player in Holland” might not sound like much, the Netherlands has by far the strongest baseball league in either Europe or Africa, and dozens of ex-minor leaguers occupy spots on Holland’s Honkball rosters. For more information on Halman, check out Prospect Insider‘s scouting report.
During the ’06 signing period, the Mariners signed 20 year old Dutch outfielder Kalian Sams for $75,000. Sams, who will apparently start the year in low-A Wisconsin, has not played professional ball yet, but scouting reports say he runs extremely well for an athlete his size (he’s listed at 6’3, 220) and has a major league quality RF arm.
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