Saturday, October 3, 2009

New Dominican League starts this month

Arangure over at Esquina has an article up about a new DR prospect league. He talks a little about the DR academy system that I have speculated about in previous posts. Note however that he frequently slips between "latin american" and "Dominican" when discussing problems with the eviscerating effect that the academy system has had on baseball and society. My claim is that baseball and society (education/infrastructure) and the academy system in Venezuela exist in greater harmony than in the DR. There is a reason that the new league is in the DR after all and that Venezuelan prospects are generally more advanced.

Here is the article in full:

A new league forms in the Dominican
Friday, October 2, 2009 | Print Entry
Posted by Jorge Arangure Jr.

In explaining the discrepancy between bonus amounts given to American prospects and Latin American prospects, team executives often cite the lack of an infrastructure in Latin America that would allow teams to properly evaluate players.
While Latin American players may stand out in workouts, teams don't know how they would perform in actual games. There are no reliable stats to scrutinize, no real sense of a player's baseball IQ and no read of a player's ability to be coached.

Ulises Cabrera, Brian Mejia and Roberto Morales -- three Latin American based agents from the Pa'lante Management and Consulting Firm -- aim to change perceptions of Latin American prospects by forming the Dominican Prospect League. The concept seems ingenious: gather top Dominican amateur prospects in a once-a-week, four-team league where scouts can watch them play and for which stats will be kept.

"It's one component of what we think are some of the problems in Latin America concerning prospects," Cabrera says. "The first part of implementation is to improve the ability for baseball teams to evaluate the talent."

The league began preliminary games this week and the season opener is slated for Nov. 4. Already the league has received support from several major league teams. This week's practice games, which were attended by scouts from at least 15 teams, were played at the Seattle Mariners' complex in Villa Mella. Next week's practice games will be played at the Cubs' facility in Boca Chica. The league is negotiating with several teams for the right to host the season opener. All games will be played at an MLB facility and the umpires and statisticians will come from the Dominican Summer League.

This week, the league's founders spoke with Lou Melendez, MLB's vice president of international operations, about receiving funding from MLB. Cabrera estimates that operating the league will take about $50,000-$75,000, most of which he hopes will come through sponsorships. Louisville Slugger has agreed to provide some equipment.

"It's an interesting concept," Melendez wrote in an e-mail. "We have to see how it evolves. An immediate benefit is that our scouts will be able to see prospects playing in actual game conditions as opposed to a simple tryout. I told Ulises I wanted to know more about the league and to send me something in writing. Only time will tell if the league succeeds."

The league plans to hire an investigator by opening day to do background and age checks on all players. Ultimately, Cabrera said, the league hopes to have a system in place to drug test players as well. Also, the league will conduct psychological evaluations, just like those done on American prospects. As a preventive measure, the league will hold seminars on drug prevention, money management and cultural assimilation. Baseball clinics run by staff from MLB team academies will ensure that trainers are providing the proper instruction to their players.

"The true purpose is to resolve some issues that have cast a black cloud over baseball over here," Cabrera said. "We're trying to address some concerns that have kept teams from investing money on players here."

Cabrera said that he, Mejia and Morales first considered starting the league several years ago. The most difficult task was to convince trainers to have their players participate. Through Pa'lante's success -- this year the firm represented catcher Gary Sanchez, who signed a $3 million bonus with the Yankees -- the founders gradually found support.

To alleviate concerns of prospect poaching, the league does not require the players to be represented by Pa'lante. Cabrera said he represents only a handful of players currently committed to playing. Players who participate must pledge to surrender 1 percent of their signing bonuses to help fund the league, which is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization. To avoid injuries, pitchers will adhere to strict pitch counts. To ensure all players get exposure, rosters will be kept to 20 players. There will be no age limit.

To secure the best players, the founders hired four of the top trainers in the Dominican: Amaury Nina from San Cristobal, Astin Jacobo from San Pedro de Macoris, Josue Herrera from Santo Domingo and Enrique Soto from Bani. The four trainers will manage the four teams and also will help find players to participate. Of the four, Soto -- who has previously been accused of stealing bonuses -- certainly is the most controversial. But Cabrera said everyone in the league has pledged to follow the rules.

"We're telling people that we can all pull on the same rope and work on a concept for the greater good," Cabrera said. "People are starting to realize that if things continue as they are, then there won't be a marketplace."

Cabrera also sought the advice of several big names, which has helped legitimize the league. Former Washington Nationals and Tigres del Licey manager Manny Acta, and Mark Newman -- the Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations -- are on the league's advisory board.

"Anything that brings competition to the young players in the DR is a big deal," Newman wrote in an e-mail. "Kids need to learn the game. Currently, they train for tryout camps and they need to train for games. This will be a step in the right direction."

Want to be part of the conversation? Write Jorge at in English or Spanish.


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