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New tech on display at international showcase

September 18, 2018

BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic -- Keyshawn Rombley stepped in the batter's box on Field 2 at the Chicago Cubs' academy Tuesday morning, with more than 200 scouts taking notes in the seats behind him. A high-tech mini camera shaded by a low-tech mini umbrella was propped up a few feet

BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic -- Keyshawn Rombley stepped in the batter's box on Field 2 at the Chicago Cubs' academy Tuesday morning, with more than 200 scouts taking notes in the seats behind him. A high-tech mini camera shaded by a low-tech mini umbrella was propped up a few feet in front of him, about a quarter of the way to the pitcher's mound.
Rombley smacked the next pitch into the gap in left field.
The outfielder had just run in front of the same inquisitive group armed with stopped watches in the outfield. He sprinted past the evaluators, which was common, and also past the laser sensors stationed at the 10-yard, 30-yard and 60-yard marks, which was something he had never done before.
The device attached to the bottom of Rombley's bat measured his bat speed and confirmed he was a player to watch.
"I feel like the best of the best are here playing and I'm getting to meet some MLB bosses who can make my dream come true," Rombley, 15, said. "My first goal is to sign. That's it."
Rombley was among the 150 prospects participating in Major League Baseball's first showcase under the new Trainer Partnership Program. The teen showed off his skills Tuesday, and for the first time, MLB -- with the assistance of USA Baseball -- is using advanced technology in an international showcase setting to measure those tools.
"We thought it was important that top Latin American prospects be given the same type of developmental environment as elite players from the USA," said Morgan Sword, MLB's senior vice president, league economics & operations. "These are state-of-the-art evaluation tools that will help our clubs make decision and help players showcase their abilities. It's also good, training-wise, because this technology has a lot of benefits for players looking to improve their skills and development."
Tuesday's program featured traditional scouting methods like the 60-yard run, infield and outfield drills along with batting practice. It concluded with an eight-inning game. The event continues Wednesday with two games for prospects eligible to sign during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 periods, and it wraps up Thursday with a workout for players eligible to sign during 2020-21.

What is new this week is the camera located 14 feet from home plate during batting practice that measures exit velocity, launch angle, ball spin and projected distance. There's also the sensor on the bottom of the bats to measure bat speed, barrel speed, time in the zone with the barrel and other swing analysis metrics. The camera used for the pitchers this week tracks information like types of pitches, velocity and spin rate. There's another camera designated for video only.
It's all a new experience for Rombley. He moved to the Dominican Republic almost two years ago from Aruba and he trains with Raul "Banana" Valera, who discovered him four years ago when the Rombley family visited the Dominican Republic on vacation.
"My life is little bit harder, because my family is back in Aruba, but I'm trying hard to make it," Rombley said. "But life in the Dominican is perfect for me. I'm really happy about it, and this is such a big honor to be here."
The Trainer Partnership Program is a multifaceted initiative designed to combat the use of performance-enhancing substances by amateur players and to help improve compliance with league rules by trainers. Participants in the program are required to enroll their players in MLB's drug-testing program, submit to background checks and keep updated records of amateur players in their program. They must also comply with MLB rules regarding international player signings.
The showcase was originally scheduled for Temistocles Metz Stadium in San Cristobal, but it was moved to the Cubs' complex because of rain. A similar event is scheduled for Venezuelan prospects in the fall, possibly in Colombia or Aruba.
"By all accounts, Day 1 of the showcase was an incredibly positive experience for club personnel as well as players and the trainers," Sword said. "We hope that this is the first step in a new relationship between MLB, the clubs and the D.R. baseball community. These players and trainers are doing it the right way, and our clubs really value that."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.