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Initiatives for Latin American prospects come together

Dominican Republic, Amateur Prospect League host Puerto Rico Baseball Academy @JesseSanchezMLB

For the last two years, Major League Baseball has ramped up its efforts to provide opportunities for teens across Latin America, while also attempting to get more exposure for young prospects in Puerto Rico.

The two initiatives are coming together in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, this weekend.

Starting Sunday, teens from the Major League Baseball Amateur Prospect League will play host to a group of players from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School and MLB's after-school program on the island in a four-day event that will showcase the players in drills and games.

The MLB Amateur Prospect League team will be made up of players eligible to sign when the 2014 international signing period begins next July 2.

"Last year, our big focus was on the Dominican [Republic] and getting the league up and running. This year, we have focused a lot of attention on Puerto Rico, and we are proud of what we have done so far," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for MLB. "To see both of these islands come together for an event like this is pretty exciting."

In May, Major League Baseball and the Department of Recreation and Sports of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico joined forces to create an after-school baseball program designed to help develop high school players on the island. In addition to the after-school program, Major League Baseball, through a partnership with the Puerto Rico Scouts Association, supervised the annual "Torneo de Excelencia," the biggest high school tournament on the island, in June.

Amateur baseball appears to be on the rise in Puerto Rico.

Nineteen players with ties to Puerto Rico, including six players from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School and two from Carlos Beltran's Baseball Academy, were selected in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. Two more signed after participating in the second-annual MLB showcase on the island for players not drafted.

Carlos Correa, who attended the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, made history as the first Puerto Rican player selected with the first overall pick in the 2012 Draft. Correa and Jesmuel Valentin, who was selected by Dodgers with the 51st pick, were among the four players taken in the Draft from the Academy. Overall, 25 players from the island were drafted in 2012, and four more Puerto Rican players were signed after competing in the inaugural showcase that followed the Draft.

"It's exciting on multiple fronts, because on the international, side scouts get a chance to see the July 2 players for next year for the first time, and they begin the process of following them for the next 12 months or so," Araujo said. "From the Puerto Rico side, these kids, many who are sophomores and juniors in high school, will eventually be Draft-eligible, so it's a unique mix and a scouting opportunity that you don't get to see on a regular basis."

It's been quite a year for teenage prospects in Latin America.

Last month, Canada's 18-and-under Junior National team traveled to the Dominican Republic to take on the top prospects in Major League Baseball's Amateur Prospect League a few weeks before the start of the 2013 international signing period.

Last year, MLB held its first international showcase in February, with 25 prospects from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and it later created the Amateur Prospect League. It capped off league play last May with a visit from the Canadian Junior National team.

Other MLB Amateur Prospect League highlights in 2012 included an event in Venezuela and a showcase at Tetelo Vargas Stadium in San Pedro de Macoris. MLB also hosted a four-day tournament that featured amateur teams from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and USA Baseball in Santo Domingo last summer.

In January, MLB held its second-annual international showcase in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, featuring more than 50 prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama.

More than 200 teenage prospects have signed since the start of the international signing period on July 2.

"We will eventually expand the after-school program to four regions in Puerto Rico and build on the momentum there now," Araujo said. "There is a lot of stuff going on in Puerto Rico, and to be able to combine our projects in the Dominican is exciting."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.