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Showcase a boon for Latin American prospects

It's already been a landmark year for Major League Baseball in its effort to develop the game in Latin America, and the trend continued this month.

Last week, MLB hosted a showcase that featured some of the top amateur Dominican players at Tetelo Vargas Stadium in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. Last month, MLB hosted a four-day tournament that featured amateur teams from the D.R., Puerto Rico and USA Baseball in Santo Domingo, D.R.

The three-day showcase featured players eligible to sign on July 2, 2013, as well as players already eligible to sign with clubs. Former Major Leaguer Moises Alou was the guest speaker for the event.

"To be able to track the progress of players, when the development can change from month to month, is good for clubs and scouts," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for MLB. "Scouts are now able to see them all the time in different settings throughout the scouting season that ends in July. Last month, it was against Team USA and now in a showcase setting."

The event also features an orientation program that introduced players to the signing process and educated teens on the consequences of using performance-enhancing drugs.

It was a busy week. In fact, it's been a busy year.

In February, MLB held the two-day Venezuela-Dominican Republic Showcase, which featured 25 prospects from each country. The prospects displayed their skills in front of more than 200 big league scouts in a series of drills. The teams played a six-inning game on the first day of the event and a doubleheader on the second day.

MLB held similar showcases in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic last year, but February's showcase was the first to combine players from the two countries on the same field.

In March, the league created the MLB Prospect League for players eligible to sign professional contracts on July 2 and for older players who are already eligible. An All-Star team of MLB Prospect League players squared off against the 18-and-under Canadian National Junior Team at the end of league play.

The MLB Prospect League resumes play begins in October. An international showcase that will feature the best amateur players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Curacao, Nicaragua and other countries is scheduled for January in the Dominican Republic.

"Last year, we were working on getting some trainers to buy in, and I think some people were testing the water and wondering what the program would be," Araujo said. "Fast-forward a year later, and people are excited about it. We see players that we invited to showcases get signed, and we continue to offer clubs and scouts the chance to see prospects over an extended period. The attendance of scouts and the number of clubs at the events continues to grow."