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Ocampo ramping up Astros' international efforts

HOUSTON -- The job, by definition, requires plenty of travel. As the Astros' director of international, Oz Ocampo spends the majority of his time in places like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama and Colombia, looking for the next big thing in a sea of raw talent.

Considering the Astros only recently reworked their entire front office and scouting department, Ocampo's passport is busier than usual as the club tries to catch up for time lost in the transition of leadership. None of baseball's other 29 teams are going to cut the Astros any slack, so there's plenty of work to be done.

"We're trying to catch up and see as many guys as we possibly can," said Ocampo, who was hired on Aug. 31.

He recently spent a few days at the Astros academy in the Dominican Republic before going back out this week on a trip that will take him to Panama, Curacao, Colombia and Nicaragua. The Astros, by way of having the worst record in the Majors last season, will have the most money to spend in the highly competitive international market and no stone will be left unturned.

Ocampo has been helped in being brought up to speed by Marc Russo, hired away from the Angels by Houston as an international cross checker. Ocampo said about 20-25 percent of big league rosters come from the international ranks, a number which could rise.

"Some of those players are impact players at the big league level," Ocampo said. "If you look at the World Series and the playoffs and the teams who have build championship teams, they've done so on the strength of their domestic amateur scouting and the Draft, but also international, as well. It's a big focus for us. I'm putting all my efforts into this, and we're just focusing on really improving our operations in Latin America, Asia, etc."

Ocampo, 29, joined the Astros after working for Major League Baseball as a specialist in international baseball operations. He began his career in 2005 with the Cardinals, where he worked with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, as their Dominican academy administrator and coordinator of Latin American scouting.

In 2007, Ocampo assumed the position of manager of amateur scouting and Midwest area scout, during which he was responsible for managing North American scouting operations while scouting and evaluating top Midwest amateur players.

The Cardinals named Ocampo coordinator of international player development in 2009, during which he managed finances and logistics for extended spring training, the Gulf Coast League Cardinals club and medical/rehab operations.

"Oz brings a unique blend of skills and experience to a critical area for the Astros," Luhnow said.

There has been no shortage of talented players to come through Latin America, specifically the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, through the years. Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is from Venezuela, along with Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and dozens of other star players.

"The talent is at a very high level," Ocampo said. "The trainers have done a better job preparing the players so that when they sign a professional contract, they're also competitive and exceeding expectations when they move to the States and they're competing against players from the Draft."

When he's not traveling, Ocampo lives with his Dominican wife, Adri, in Washington Heights, N.Y. He grew up in the New York City area (Bergen County, N.J.), earned a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and an MBA from Columbia Business School.

These days, he doesn't get to spend much time at home on the East Coast. The travel is difficult, but the job is his passion.

"There's so much depth in the [Dominican] and [Venezuela] that you really have to do your homework and do your job to evaluate players to make the best decision," he said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
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