The Toronto Blue Jays drew a significant amount of heat during the last off season for cutting out the Appalacian League Pulaski Blue Jays and becoming the only team in baseball with only five minor league affiliates. While the Jays reneged and ended up setting up a complex team in the Gulf Coast League, they had a backup plan all along. When this year’s Dominican Summer League began play last week, the Blue Jays came into the league with two affiliated teams for the first time. Also adding a second DSL squad was the Chicago White Sox, bringing the total number of MLB clubs with two teams to 5.
There are several reasons to add an extra affiliate in the Dominican. Some teams consider Latin American scouting the ultimate crap shoot, and use their second DSL squad as a way of doubling their odds without spending big money. Others scout a much broader area than just the Dominican, but are unwilling to invest significant amounts of money in establishing a full-fledged academy in the Venezuelan league. And finally, some teams just have boatloads of money and want to sign as many players as possible to give them the best possible chance at loading up with star international players.
The 5 teams with two DSL squads run the gamut of scouting strategies in Latin America. This post will look at the teams who have chosen this particular method of aggressively pursuing international talent.
Chicago White Sox MO: The White Sox have no set cap, but if they have made any significant six-figure international signings in recent years, they certainly have not bothered to tell anyone about it.
Scouting Niche: Mexico. The White Sox have not produced a major international talent in the past 4-5 years. Time will tell whether their decision to expand the team’s Dominican operation will improve things or not.
Toronto Blue Jays
MO: Mid-level spenders. The Blue Jays have spent big on two guys in recent years that I’m aware of. 3B Balbino Fuenmayor, signed in 2006 for $750,000, and RHP Francisco Rosario, signed in 1999 for the same price.
Scouting Niche: Venezuela/Oceania. One of the few teams with a New Zealander in their system, the Blue Jays have definitely expanded their operation outside of the island. They operated a split-squad in the Venezuelan Summer team in 2006, but have abandoned it in favor of opening the second DSL squad. Currently, the Blue Jays have about as many Venezuelans as Dominicans playing for the system’s stateside affiliates, and while that might change with the extra Dominican affiliate, expect the Blue Jays to continue spending a significant amount of money casting a wide net for international talent.
MO: Sign a boatload of players as cheaply as possible. While a few other teams have rigid caps, none of them are quite as frugal on the international stage as the Athletics. With the international market becoming more expensive in recent years, the A’s cap has probably increased a little bit since their policy of not exceeding a $40,000 bonus as reported a couple of years ago.
Scouting Niche: Standard. Oakland scored a major coup in signing Javier Herrera out of Venezuela a few years back, but aside from age-gated Santiago Casilla, their Latin American scouting department has not produced much in the way of major leaguers or prospects since Miguel Tejada came through the system in the mid-late 90’s.
MO: Desperate to become big spenders, as evidenced by giving top 2006 international recruit Esmailyn Gonzalez significantly more than the next highest bidder offered for the 5’9″ shortstop.
Scouting Niche: Perhaps the most Dominican-heavy system in baseball. The Nats maintain a token presence in Venezuela and have a few Mexicans in their system. The Nationals are one of three teams that pay former Major League pitcher Jose Rijo a fortune to lease academy space in the Loma del Suenos complex in San Cristobal, and the team will be spending big money in the next couple of years to justify the expense. Last December, Jim Bowden told the Fredricksburg-based Free Lance Star: “The Cowboys were America’s team. We would like to be the world’s team. We want to dominate the Dominican Republic.”
Until they come up with a solid core of Dominican players, the Nationals will almost certainly have to keep overpaying for top talent to compete with the Mets, heavy spenders who have also emphasized dominating the DR, and the final organization with 2 DSL affliates…
New York Yankees
MO: Spend heavily whenever they see someone they like.
Scouting Niche: Panama. The Yankees are everywhere in Latin America, but they seem more focused than any other Major League team on mining Panama for talent. After finding Mariano Rivera there 15 years ago, who can blame them?
Additionally, The Yankees have a huge recruiting advantage everywhere in the world, as no other team in baseball can match their global appeal. ESPNDeportes and other Latin American networks that televise sports show more Yankees games than any other, creating an international culture of fandom that tends to view Major League baseball as the Yankees vs. everyone else. Not even the Red Sox, with their historically Dominican-dominated 2004 World Series team and quite possibly the most popular player on the planet in David Ortiz, can match the Yankees’ recruiting advantage in Latin America. Buscones in the DR complain of being unable to negotiate fair contracts because their players want to sign with the Yankees at any price. Throw in the fact that the Bronx Bombers are equipped to spend as heavily as any other team in baseball (though surprisingly, they do not consistently spend the most money on top tier talents) and are able to staff two teams with 70 international players in their summer complex in Boca Chica, and only the crap shoot nature of international scouting keeps the Yankees from boasting the best crop of international prospects in baseball every single year.
This Thursday I will be interviewing Jose Serra, the Chicago Cubs´Latin-American Supervisor and head scout. If anyone has any burning questions they´d like to ask, either about the Cubs´farm system, the academy structure, or about Latin-American baseball in general, post ´em here and I´ll try to work them into the interview.
On Monday, I took in a game between the DSL Cubs and the DSL Giants at “Baseball City,” a compound outside the beachfront town of Boca Chica that houses the academies of the Cubs, Twins, Reds, and Diamondbacks.
While I spent a lot of time touring the Cubs’ academy, watching a few amateur tryouts, and interviewing the Cubs’ head scout, I was able to check out a fair amount of the game.
The players don’t have names on the backs of their jerseys, and short of walking into the team’s dugouts, getting a lineup card wasn’t looking too feasible. However, a Cubs’ representative was able to give me a copy of his team’s roster, so I was at least able to attach names to the bodies in blue out on the field.
By far the most impressive player in the game I saw, both offensively and defensively, was 2B Elvis Lara. He didn’t come up with any big hits (an infield single and an RBI chopper were the extent of his contributions), but he covers the plate incredibly well and his 2 outs were scorching line drives. Made 3 incredible plays up the middle, too. He’s already 19, but this is his first year with the organization. I looked up the Cubs’ stats, and they confirmed what I saw with my eyes: he’s easily been the best hitter on the team all year.
A 17-year-old outfielder by the name of Kelvin Soto displayed some solid gap power and the ability to take a walk, but looking at the stats, it looks like I caught him on a good day as he hasn’t performed well consistently.
The defense, as with the other DSL game I’ve seen (Ms vs. Cardinals) was predictably raw, and only Lara even closely resembled a major-league defender. Any time you see a player who has racked up a lot of triples (or even doubles) in the Dominican Summer League, it’s a good bet that half of them were balls that should have been caught by a center fielder who’s still working on learning how to play a ball hit over his head.
As far as local media goes, I’ve been scouring newspapers looking at the way the DSL is covered down here, and with the exception of one daily…it’s not. In general, the Dominican press is more concerned with reporting on the successes of Dominican players in the big leagues than with covering what’s happening locally.
The one exception (so far) was a feature on Washington Nationals’ reliever Atahualpa Severino. Severino’s a 21-year-old working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and has been dominant on a level considered incredible even for the pitching-friendly DSL. It’s rare to see a 21-year-old still hanging around the DSL, but when an organization decides to keep a player around that long, chances are he’s either suffered a setback due to injury, or he’s a lefthanded pitcher. Severino is both. The report, featured in yesterday’s Listin Diario, was concerned primarily with detailing Severino’s success (44 and walked 3 in 18 innings, good for a 0.50 ERA), and repertoire (fastball sitting in the 90-92 range, and a quality curve and slider). While we get precious little in the way of a backstory here, it does say that Severino signed for a $6,000 bonus a few years ago. This is his second season in the DSL, and his first since his surgery last year. Players are only allowed a maximum of 3 years before they’re either released or sent up to their teams’ US system.
Also from the Listin Diario (though not available online for some reason), one of the larger youth leagues down here in the DR released annual honors today.
In the age 13-14 category, a kid named Joel Jimenez was named player of the year, and Amado Pena took home the honor of pitcher of the year.
The other age levels make a distinction between “player of the year” and “most valuable player” (probably to honor more kids, though I hope to get confirmation in the form of an interview with the league’s officials before too long).
The players of the year:
Age 11-12: Erick Peralta
9-10: Joel Gonzalez
7-8: Deiker Beriguete
Most Valuable Players:
11-12: Yeison Pujols
9-10: Joán Martinez
7-8: Victor Estevez
I wonder if I’m alone in being surprised that a national newspaper is publicizing the names of “prospects” as young as 8 years old. Crazy.
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