Dodgers int'l signee Galiz fulfills his 'destiny'

After overcoming adversity, 17-year-old set to begin pro career

January 19th, 2021

PHOENIX -- Jesus Galiz’s big league dreams began on the uneven and rock-strewn fields in northwestern Venezuela, and burst to life last week within the walls of a sterile conference room of an extended-stay hotel on the west side of Phoenix, near Camelback Ranch, the Spring Training home of the Dodgers.

Galiz's mother, Minaret, wore her shiniest blue dress for the occasion. She was accompanied by Dodgers international scouting analytics coordinator Matt Doppelt, the team contact for the week, and her brother -- Galiz’s uncle, Francisco Rodriguez -- and his wife, Claudia. They made the 10-hour drive to Phoenix from their new home in Vineyard, Utah. Galiz, MLB Pipeline's No. 8 international prospect, wore a navy suit and loafers.

The family was thousands of miles away from their home in Maracaibo, Venezuela, but no place felt better. With its year-round sunshine, palm trees and countless baseball fields, Arizona, the Spring Training home to 15 teams, feels like baseball paradise, and it’s even better when childhood dreams are fulfilled.

This past Friday, Galiz, the top catcher in the class, was one of 368 international prospects to sign with a big league team on the first day of the 2020-21 international signing period when he made it official with the Dodgers. Each year, approximately 1,200 international prospects, like Galiz, primarily from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries in Latin American and the Caribbean, take the step from baseball adolescence to manhood when they pick up the pen and sign their contracts.

It’s a process that starts in youth leagues and takes a serious turn at age 12 or 13, when players start working with baseball trainers to prepare them for days like these, when they are eligible to sign with big league clubs at age 16. It’s an emotional journey filled with hard work, hardships, sacrifice and joy. The experience varies from country to country, but the goal is the same, and perseverance is the common thread.

It’s why in the moments after Galiz slipped on his new Dodgers cap and No. 14 jersey, he walked over to his mom in the corner of the room and hugged her as tight as he could. He cried through his mask.

“It’s such a unique moment, and it only happens once in your life, so it’s very emotional,” Galiz said in Spanish. “You are happy and proud, but also scared and nervous. You think about Venezuela and all of the sacrifices people make there. I thought about my father and how I wish he was alive to see me make our dream come true.”

Galiz’s father, Edgar Perez, died on Nov. 4, 2020, at the age of 46 from complications caused by COVID-19. He was Galiz's idol, first coach and No. 1 supporter. It was Edgar who first introduced Galiz to baseball when he was 3.

They spent countless hours catching, batting and doing drills. Edgar’s death devastated the family and turned Galiz's world upside down. The teen found comfort in baseball and spent all of his free time at the Go Pro Baseball Academy, the facility owned and operated by his agent, Emiro Barboza, where he had trained since he was 9.

“Galiz has always been a perfectionist, a hard worker, and he just buried himself into baseball,” Barboza said. “He is such a mature person for his age, and I think that’s why he has been able to handle all that’s happened. On the field, he has passion for the game, and he’s really evolved as a player. He’s obviously very talented, but what makes him special is what is on the inside.”

Nine days after Edgar’s death, Galiz was dealt another blow when he found himself without a team to sign him. In general, international prospects and teams make informal agreements months, and sometimes years, in advance before the start of the international signing period. Sometimes, those prearranged deals fall apart. That’s what happened to Galiz. Undaunted, Barboza promised the family that he would find a team for Galiz. He assured them their hard work and the sacrifice would amount to something big.

And that’s when the Dodgers, who had scouted Galiz in Venezuela, stepped into the picture.

“I had big losses close together, and it was one of those moments that I had to mature fast and keep going,” Galiz said. “I knew I could do it and I had faith in God that I was going to be fine. I knew I had to be a professional and work to make my dream come true. I made it this far, and I wasn’t going to give up.”

So far, the Dodgers have signed 22 prospects during the international signing period, including Galiz and No. 3 prospect Wilman Diaz. The club usually signs prospects throughout the international signing period, which ends Dec. 15.

“Our whole scouting group did a tremendous job on this class,” said Roman Barinas, the Dodgers' Latin America scouting supervisor. “Being in a position to bring Galiz in at the end was icing on the cake. We couldn’t be happier to welcome him and his mother to the Dodgers family.”

Galiz and other prospects in Venezuela face a unique set of challenges. Even before the onset of the pandemic, the social and political unrest in the country had forced Venezuelan trainers to show their prospects to team decision-makers in places like Colombia, Aruba, Panama, Dominican Republic and even Arizona. The pandemic only made what seemed like an impossible situation worse. Still, 167 prospects from Venezuela signed on the first day of the international signing period and more are on the way.

“I don’t think people in the USA have any idea what some of these kids have to go through to get signed,” said Fabian Depablos, who owns and operates a baseball academy in Venezuela with his brother, Kander. “There’s a physical and mental toll it takes on teenagers when they compete for a bonus. It’s very different from the USA, where you are a high school kid competing for a scholarship. In Venezuela, you are younger and you are competing to change your future. They deserve a lot of credit.”

As for Galiz, he’s in Arizona for his physical and will travel to the Dominican Republic to start his professional career in the Dominican Summer League. His mother is going back to Venezuela soon. His aunt and uncle have returned to Utah after fleeing Venezuela four years ago.

“You do what you have to do,” Galiz said. “We all just want to live in a better situation. I’ve passed some obstacles, and I’ll keep going. This is my destiny.”