A quick look at every minor league prospect list be it from Baseball America, scouts.com, or any specialized team web site or blog or a quick look to the potential draft picks, high school or college age, seems to ignore a very important fact:
About as many first draft picks in the amateur draft (that includes players from the US and its protectorates, mainly Puerto Rico, and Canada) made the all star game as players who were signed as free agents in a young age from Latin American countries.
Let’s follow the path of an American high school phenom for a year who is drafted by a professional baseball team: He will most likely end up playing for the Gulf Coast League (GCL) in Florida or the Arizona league, depending on where the team that signed him plays its spring training games. Then depending on performance he will repeat another year at that level or move to the full season rookie leagues (Appalachian or Pioneer) or short season A league (New York/Penn league, Northwest league) depending on the affiliation of the team that singed him. Highly ranked prospects get major league contracts paying them about a million dollars a year for 5-6 years and a hefty sign on bonus, regardless the level a player is starting his professional career.
What is the path of a phenom from the Latin American countries? Usually signed at 15-16 years old, by a scout who scouts neighborhood street games and sees a kid who in his mind has some potential. The kid gets a $5-6,000 check at the best case (which almost always goes back to the family to take care of family bills and siblings and whatnot) and then is enrolled into a team’s “Academy”. There he receives education in English as well as in baseball. Depending on the time of year he signed the contract and his skills, the next year he might play in the Dominical Summer League. The DSL is the league that offers the highest level of competition for newly crowned Latin American professionals (btw, I still have a hard time trying to get figures on their salaries these days or their per diems, if some reader knows more about that, please contact me or comment on this post.)
Next step? If some satisfies the scouts there and/or plays a position that fits his team’s needs, during the offseason applications for passports, visas and other requirements are made so next year that player would enter the US (supposed armed with all the English and the cultural knowledge he learned in the ‘academy’) and join the GCL or the Arizona league and meet and play with his newly drafted professional colleagues…
(to be continued)
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