No Major League Baseball team would have been willing to offer Bobby Abreu a hefty sum of money when the native of Maracay, Venezuela, was a skinny youngster just 14 years old. It took more than two years of food and baseball fundamentals for the talents of Abreu’s five tools to begin to show. Then — and only then — Abreu was mentally and physically prepared for his first professional contract with the Astros, a team that opened the doors for him to have a long and fruitful career that led him to appear on the ballot for the Hall of the Fame this year.
Abreu, better known as Bob now, has his own baseball academy in Venezuela and witnesses firsthand how the future of MLB – the young Latinos who dedicate their lives to the game – are not given the opportunity to fully develop in the same way that he was.
“Sometimes [los equipos de MLB] they are concentrated in youngsters of 13, 14 years of age”, indicated Abreu. “I’ve seen a lot of guys here that are 18 or 19 years old without a lot of opportunities. For some reason they are [considerados] too old for the system, too old for the game.
Abreu is one of many Latin American instructors who have become supporters of an International Draft that MLB has proposed during the ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). After reveal the details of a proposal to create an International Draft in recent days – including more guaranteed money in a system that would support the same number of signings – a crowded group of coaches from various academies in countries with a lot of baseball talent like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic came out in defense of this idea due to the degree of frustration they have experienced with the current system.
“Today,” said Carlos Guillén, a three-time All-Star former major league infielder who runs an academy named after him in Maracay, Venezuela, “the youngsters have agreed to a deal with teams at 13, 14 , 15 years old. With an International Draft, more youngsters would have had more opportunities”.
Imagine if youngsters in the United States were forced to deal with major league teams when they were barely in high school – without the possibility of renegotiating years later, when their physiques and skills are already more developed.
That would have been considered a predatory and absurd process, full of unpleasant incentives.
Yet those are precisely the conditions that exist in Latin America. While players eligible for the Major League Baseball Draft in the United States, its territories, and Canada have been selected at ages ranging from 17 to 28, in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries, the age of 16 – the minimum age for a player to sign professionally – is considered more of a ceiling than a gateway.
“We know of teams that have secured deals with youngsters through 2025,” said Eddy Fontana, who runs the J&E Academy in Santiago, DR. We’re talking three years in advance. This is a failed system.”
As Fontana explains, when players feel forced to verbally agree to deals at a very young age, they often do so by committing to signing bonuses that are far less than they would have been if the process were carried out more gradually. .
On Opening Day 2021, 17.8% of Major League Baseball rosters (active and injured list) were made up of players from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. The influence of those two countries, in particular, on the modern game has been extraordinary.
That has motivated MLB to propose an International Draft to replace the current system. Latin American players as young as 12-14 have been known to make verbal agreements with clubs, even though they are not eligible to sign until they are 16.
“In a new structure, players could be kept in a school system [tradicional] for much longer,” said coach Cristian Pimentel, who runs an academy named after him in Santo Domingo, DR “When you’re forced to develop them faster, it’s not good for the player’s long-term benefit. That is one of the reasons why I support a proposal to create an International Draft, because you can target a certain age group to develop your players and they are competing. [para ser seleccionados y firmados mediante un sorteo] at an age when their bodies and minds are more ready.”
The problem, as these coaches put it, is that by committing the international signing fund years in advance, to players who are still far from eligible to sign, teams leave players ages 16-18 with fewer opportunities. , who often accept deals below their value, to seek a commitment to the club.
“Ten years ago, players were able to have a good market when they were 15 or 16 years old,” said Adolfo Burgos, who is in charge of the International Baseball Academy in Santiago, DR. “Now that has changed to the point where that I have to say to 14-year-old players, ‘There’s no market for you anymore.’ Some of the best deals for 15- and 16-year-olds are as low as $10,000.”
During the conversation with Burgos, he also mentioned that two of his students who became major leaguers (Dominicans José Leclerc and Emmanuel Clase, both signed when they were almost 17 years old) would have struggled to sign in the current system.
Added Fontana: “If a player doesn’t get signed by the time he turns 16, if he’s not a pitcher or a catcher, it’s hard to get noticed. In the United States we are signing players who are 21 years old. Who says that a young Dominican cannot develop in the same way?
The pressure to impress, under present conditions, at such a young age has resulted in increased use of performance-enhancing substances.
“How do you think a 12-year-old player is going to be able to hit a home run on a regular baseball field?” asked Pedro Liriano, a former major league pitcher who also runs an academy that bears his name in Fantino, DR. there is a way for that to happen [sin el uso de sustancias prohibidas]. They are forcing youngsters to impress before the legal signing age.”
Under the draft proposal, the top 600 players would receive a total of $172.5 million—an increase of $8.6 million, or 5%. Compared to the periods between 2018-19 and 2019-20, the top five players signed under the proposed Draft system would have received an average of $596,000 more than under the current system. Virtually every player would sign for more money in the Draft than under current conditions, with no under-the-table payment worries or other promises made to coaches recommending prospects to clubs in the current environment.
MLB envisions an event for the International Draft, possibly in the Dominican Republic or Miami, as well as a series of leagues and exhibitions for scouts in the DR, Venezuela and other countries. MLB would commit to hiring more staff to support player identification and development.
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Draft Intl. would allow further development