SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Major League Baseball wrapped up its fifth annual International Prospect Showcase on Thursday with a celebration of the present and a look toward the future of the event.
The two-day showcase at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal featured 59 teenage prospects who will be eligible to sign when the international signing period begins on July 2. The eight countries represented -- the Bahamas, Colombia, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela -- was a record number for the event. What started as a matchup between the top 25 players from Venezuela versus the top 25 players from the Dominican Republic in 2012 could eventually feature prospects from such places as Europe, South Africa and Brazil.
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"To have this many countries represented was exciting, and I think it shows growth," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game operations for MLB. "We hope for more growth, and hopefully the market continues to grow and these players get into the big leagues at a rapid rate. There are still markets that we haven't touched on and haven't emerged to the extent that these countries have, but hopefully, in the next coming years, we'll see those markets evolve and have players from those countries participate as well."
This year's showcase began Wednesday with a 60-yard dash, followed by infield and outfield practice, and batting practice. The prospects later split into two teams -- one made up primarily of prospects from the Dominican Republic and the other comprised of prospects from the other countries -- for a night game, the first time many of the prospects had played under the lights.
They took several rounds of batting practice Thursday morning followed by a doubleheader. The players celebrated on the field when the event was over and were treated to a special dinner Thursday night.
"We are definitely pleased with the outcome, and we added a wrinkle this year by playing a night game," Araujo said. "I think it gave it a big-time feel and the players were able to feel like they were in the Major Leagues for one night. We were pleased with the play and how they performed."
Ultimately, how the prospects performed during the games was as important, if not more important, than how they fared during the tryout portion of the event. While scouting remains paramount on the international market, tryouts are no longer the only way for clubs to evaluate talent. Showcases that feature games and leagues have been commonplace since the Dominican Prospect League (DPL) introduced the format in 2009 and the International Prospect League (IPL) followed a year later.
"It's a huge difference," said A's general manager David Forst. "I've been coming here, this is my 17th year with the A's, and to say the difference between the process now and then is huge would be an understatement. To see these kids play in games against their peers and similar competition, I think we have come a long way over the last couple of decades."
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The guidelines for signing a prospect are these: A 16-year-old international player can sign during the period that extends from July 2, 2016, through June 15, 2017, if the prospect turns 17 before Sept. 1 of this year or by the completion of his first Minor League season.
Each team is allotted a base and a bonus pool made up of four slot values based on the team's record for the previous year to spend on these prospects. Clubs are allowed to trade pool money. Bonuses of $10,000 or less are exempt and do not count against the allotment. There are also penalties for teams that exceed their bonus pools.
The Padres, Braves and Nationals have been very aggressive on the international market, and each team expects to have a solid class of top prospects for the next international signing period. Add Milwaukee, Oakland, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Texas to the growing list of teams that also have been very busy scouting high-profile prospects since last summer.
The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Royals will not be able to sign any pool-eligible prospects for more than $300,000 for the next two international periods after exceeding their bonus pools during the current international signing period that ends June 15. The Angels, D-backs, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees are already in the maximum penalty after exceeding their bonus pools and can't sign prospects for more than $300,000 until 2017. The Blue Jays will not be able to sign any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 during the 2016 signing period due to exceeding their bonus pools during the current period.
Performers to watch
Gabriel Arias, SS, Venezuela: The 6-foot-1, 187-pound infielder showed off a strong arm along with natural defensive actions and range. Scouts also like Arias' long body frame. His overall tools package makes him versatile enough to move to the outfield in the future if needed.
Willy De Leon, RHP, Dominican Republic: De Leon struck out four of the nine batters he faced and did not allow a hit in two innings Wednesday. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander did walk three batters. His fastball was clocked in the 89-91 mph range, with a curveball in the 79-80 mph range. De Leon also threw an 81-mph changeup consistently.
Yefri Del Rosario, RHP, Dominican Republic: The 5-foot-11, 175-pound right-hander struck out five batters in three innings Wednesday. Del Rosario showed decent command and a fastball in the 90-93 mph range, with a curveball in the 73-77 mph range. His changeup was clocked consistently around 81-82 mph.
David Garcia, C, Venezuela: The 5-foot-11 Garcia showed his athleticism and an arm scouts consider extremely accurate. At the plate, the 160-pounder showed a quick and loose swing. Garcia will be one of the catchers to watch.
Luis Garcia, SS, Dominican Republic: At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Garcia showed good bat speed and a good stroke. He was clocked at 6.5 during the 60-yard dash and showed off his quickness during the week. Garcia was also praised for his makeup and how he handled himself throughout the event.
Victor Garcia, OF, Venezuela: The 6-foot-1, 202-pound teen showed his athletic body and enormous strength. Garcia might have the most raw power in the entire class and projects to hit for average when he fully develops. He showed decent range and an average arm on defense.
Victor Heredia, C, Venezuela: The 6-foot-2, 195-pound backstop grabbed everybody's attention on the first day of the workout. Heredia showed off his prowess at the plate during batting practice and was able to carry it over into game action. He had three hits, including a monstrous home run to left field Wednesday.
Tirso Ornelas, OF, Mexico: Ornelas was one of the biggest surprises of the event, in large part because not many scouts had seen him many times. The tall left-handed hitter showed a smooth stroke and good actions at the plate. From the baseball-rich city of Tijuana, Mexico, it's no surprise Ornelas is the top player in the country.
Kevin Richards, OF, Dominican Republic: The 6-foot, 170-pound Richards has quickly gained a reputation for his tools and his lean projectable frame. He was one of the fastest runners in the event, with many scouts clocking him in the 6.4-6.5 range in the 60-yard dash. Richards is showed emerging power.
Jeisson Rosario, OF, Dominican Republic: Arguably the best outfielder in the Dominican Republic, Rosario showed a good arm and great defensive actions in the outfield. A natural center fielder, he also showed a strong gap-to-gap approach at the plate.