This is the type of week that baseball dreams are made of.
The next six days in the Dominican Republic could change the lives of several talented ballplayers from Latin America and dramatically impact the big league clubs looking to sign them.
Starting Wednesday, Major League Baseball will kick off a busy week for amateurs on the island with the second annual MLB Prospect League international showcase for players eligible to sign on July 2 in an event at Temistocles Metz Stadium in San Cristobal. On Friday, the International Prospect League (IPL) will bring together its league's best players for an All-Star game and showcase for two days at the Tampa Bay Rays' complex in Boca Chica. Also on Friday, the Dominican Prospect League (DPL) -- the first league of its kind on the island -- will open a four-day event called the Louisville Slugger Tournament Series for its top players at the New York Yankees' complex in Boca Chica.
Close to 150 top prospects are expected to participate in the three showcases. More than 200 scouts are expected to attend Wednesday's event alone, which will feature prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua and Curacao along with a visit from Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. The IPL will also feature players from Venezuela.
"The amateur international world is descending upon the island for the week, and all of the activity means there is a lot going on in the Dominican," said manager of Latin American game development for MLB Joel Araujo. "Baseball is flourishing and it's continuing to grow, which is to everyone's benefit. There are huge investments being made in these players, and we believe the more games, the better. The evolution of baseball games, in addition to traditional scouting, in the Dominican Republic has allowed clubs to view these types of events as tools to their scouting."
The baseball landscape has changed in part because of the change in the rules regarding the signing of international prospects.
In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team was allotted $2.9 million to spend on the international market starting July 2, 2012, without penalty. Exceptions -- such as a team's six highest signing bonuses of $50,000 or less and players signed for $7,500 or less -- do not count against the spending cap.
More than 400 players have signed since the international signing period began on July 2.
This July's international signing period works in a similar way and the amount clubs are allowed to spend will be based largely on its record in the 2012 season. The pools for each team will range from an estimated $4.9 million (for the lowest winning percentage) to $1.8 million (for the highest winning percentage). Clubs will also be allowed to trade pool money.
"I think we were able to help change the industry by starting the first league several years ago and give scouts and clubs more evaluation time in game situations," said Brian Mejia, co-founder of the DPL. "That's very important in this climate where clubs are really paying attention and following the new guidelines."
Last year was a banner year for Major League Baseball in its efforts in Latin America. Its first international showcase, held last February, featured 25 prospects from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and more than 200 big league scouts in attendance at an event that included a 60-yard dash, infield and outfield drills and batting practice. The prospects also played two games.
In November, MLB held a showcase in Venezuela in front of 175 scouts to find prospects for next month's event. Two months earlier, MLB put on a showcase that featured some of the top amateur Dominican players at Tetelo Vargas Stadium in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. MLB also hosted a four-day tournament that featured amateur teams from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and USA Baseball in Santo Domingo in August.
The league created MLB Prospect League for players eligible to sign professional contracts on July 2, and for older players, last spring. The league made special scouting trips to Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia and Curacao to find players for its event this week.
"The expectations for this week are very high, and I think if we allow ourselves to think about where we were two years ago, it was definitely different and we've made progress," Araujo said. "We didn't know what type of reception we would get from the critical parties here in the Dominican, but the reception was not bad. At this point, we are at the point where all we do is field calls from trainers that want to be invited to participate. We hope it continues to evolve."