MLB Insider: Many glad to see plans for international draft put on shelf

Posted Saturday, Jun. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Top five Cardinals: Young Texans Shelby Miller, Matt Carpenter key pieces. Braves: Thriving on mound, at home, in own division. Red Sox: Team to beat in AL East if rotation keeps performing. Rangers: Just short of miraculous how team has held together. A’s: Beating up on lousy teams, doing enough against contenders. Bottom five Marlins: Spectacularly bad. Just like their owner. Brewers: At least they have Ryan Braun. For a little longer, at least. Royals: Lost 11 straight at home, including four to Anaheim. Tsk-tsk. Angels: Remember that eight-game winning streak? Me neither. Astros: The hottest team around for a week. Reality will set back in.

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

Word that an international draft won’t be implemented for 2014, and likely won’t be on the table again until the new collective bargaining agreement is hammered out in 2017, didn’t exactly make front-page news.

But Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels heard all about it May 31. So did major league hopefuls from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and every other territory, in Latin America or elsewhere, but mostly Latin America, that would have been affected.

Even the players who have realized their big league dreams knew that the draft idea was put into hibernation.

All of the above came away pleased, though for different reasons.

Daniels and his front-office staff welcomed the news because they are against anything that would take away from what they feel is an area of strength in the organization.

But the big league players from Latin America were relieved. They believe the draft would eliminate international free agency and the big bonuses that players strive for as a way to get out of poverty and help give their families a better life.

“Some kids can’t go to school every day,” Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz said. “Some kids have to work, and they have to find a way to get out of the situation by playing baseball.”

Cruz knows first-hand how tough life can be for a kid in a Latin American country. He worked in a mechanic’s shop in the Dominican Republic to help support his family and didn’t have much time to play baseball.

But he started to make time once he learned that he could make money doing that. He eventually signed with the New York Mets as a 16-year-old. Though the bonuses were far less in 1998 than the record $5 million the Rangers gave outfielder Nomar Mazara in 2011, the money was a big help.

An international draft would limit those opportunities, Cruz and others believe.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a benefit,” he said. “You can see what happened in Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico was sucked into the First-Year Player Draft in 1990, and the number of Puerto Ricans in the majors has dropped steeply. Many of the game’s greatest players are from Puerto Rico, and the Rangers made a living scouting there in the 1980s and 1990s, but fewer than 30 were on major league rosters to start the season.

One is Geovany Soto, an 11th-round pick in 2001. He said that players in the U.S. territory are scouted, but the baseball infrastructure there is lacking relative to in the States.

As such, players don’t play or practice as often and have considerably poorer facilities, and scouts aren’t as likely to commit to a Puerto Rican prospect the way they would an American — with 2012 No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa a recent exception.

No one doubts that baseball there is on the decline, and some point to the draft as a main culprit.

“Before there was a draft in Puerto Rico, there were a lot more opportunities for players out there,” Soto said. “Now, there’s not so much, and I feel it’s because of the draft.”

Cruz has seen organized baseball in the Dominican take off as bonuses started to climb. He said there are three or four programs in his small hometown as trainers, or buscones, round up kids to play in the hopes of getting a piece of a prospect’s bonus money.

With all the money that’s available, even with spending caps now in place, there’s bound to be corruption. A late-blooming 19-year-old prospect suddenly becomes 16. It has worked the other way, too.

See Beras, Jairo.

So, MLB has good intentions when it says a draft would clean up a largely unregulated area. But when MLB says it is trying to create parity and keep costs down for clubs with an international draft, then it’s getting too involved.

The Rangers, who uncovered evidence that Beras was 16 and not 17 and thus eligible to sign before the spending limits went into place last year, are among the leaders in Latin America.

They have poured resources into their scouting department there and, like all other clubs, have an academy in the Dominican to lure prospects into signing and then develop them until they are ready to play in the United States.

The thought within the organization is that a draft would unfairly nullify their hard work. If teams aren’t putting in the same level of work or financial commitment as the leaders in Latin America, that’s their fault and they shouldn’t get a get-out-of-jail-free card from MLB.

“I’m for anything that provides clubs with flexibility and allows for individual strategy,” Daniels said. “Rebuilding teams or teams that believe in scouting and development should be able to allocate their resources that way.”

No blueprint has been laid out on how an international draft would work, so maybe all of Daniels’ and Cruz’s concerns would be for naught. But they, along with many others across the game, were glad to see plans for such a draft put on hold.

“I don’t think it’s fair enough for us,” said Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, from Venezuela. “We don’t have colleges and high schools like in the U.S., and we play only once a week. It’s just a different system.

“Ninety percent of the kids are humble. As a free agent you’re going to have the opportunity to get more money for you and your family. There is too much stuff going on for them to do a draft and treat everyone the same.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse, images, internet links or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?