BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic -- A large group of eager teenagers took their first step toward their big league dreams and Major League Baseball took another step forward in Latin America on the first day of the Venezuela-Dominican Republic Showcase on Friday at the Mets complex.
"The goal was to get all of the best talent in the Dominican Republic competing against all of the best talent in Venezuela and to try to create a compact and convenient format for all of the clubs and all of the scouts to come evaluate these players," said Kim Ng, senior vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball. "To get all of this in two days is big for everybody."
Twenty-five prospects from each country displayed their skills in front of more than 200 big league scouts in a series of drills that included the 60-yard dash, infield, outfield and batting practice before wrapping up with a six-inning game. A doubleheader is scheduled for Saturday.
"For us, it's a great advantage because it reduces the time investment on finding these guys," said Carlos Gomez, director of international scouting for the D-backs. "It's really convenient and everybody is here. I wish this was more than a two-day event. I wish it was three or four days. Here you get to see the best of the best."
Major League Baseball previously held similar showcases in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic last year, but Friday's showcase was the first to combine players from the two countries on the same field. Representatives from all 30 teams were at the event, including Omar Minaya, senior vice president of baseball operations for the Padres, and Paul DePodesta, vice president of player development and amateur scouting for the Mets.
"I think it's terrific," DePodesta said. "I think that it's great that so many people are interested in it, not only internationally but from the domestic side. I think it's a great sign for the game and I think it shows how much talent there is internationally. In the United States, we have showcases like the Area Code Games, where we bring in kids from all over, and it's really not any different than a situation like this."
That said, times are changing in the Dominican Republic.
Tryouts are no longer the only way for scouts to evaluate talent and more showcases that feature games with the top prospects could become commonplace in the future. Last year, Major League Baseball created the tournament, known as El Torneo Supremo (The Supreme Tournament), for prospects on the island. Other leagues for prospects have also emerged on the island.
"Guys are not going to make decision based on today's showcase, but it does add to the evaluation," said Rafael Perez, director of Dominican operations for Major League Baseball.
"Money is at stake and it's a fierce competition. This is exciting and it's more exciting for the Venezuelans. Some people are still intimidated about the country and don't feel completely comfortable going to Venezuela, so they can see them here."
The rules of the game are also changing for the Dominican Republic, making showcases like Friday important for all clubs who sign amateur players from Latin America.
In accordance with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the international system will operate with a pool and penalties for exceeding that pool. For the 2012-13 signing period, every team will have the same pool of $2.9 million. Starting in 2013-14, the pools will be based on the prior season's winning percentage, with a range of approximately $1.7 million to $4.8 million.
Major League Baseball is also trying to maintain some equity in the system, mandating that all international players must be registered with the MLB Scouting Bureau in order to be eligible to sign. It's a direct parallel to how the Draft system works in North America, and directly affects players born in the Dominican Republic.
Also created in the new CBA was the International Talent Committee, a group that includes Ng, that could recommend changes to the ages at which international amateur players are eligible to be signed, regulations for international amateurs' agents and how Cuban players should be treated due to their political realities. Chief among the subjects will be the potential creation of an International Draft.
Last month, the committee agreed to broaden its resources by identifying and seeking partnerships with a wide variety of outside sources with direct knowledge of international baseball operations and cultures during its first official meeting.
In 2000, Major League Baseball opened an office in Santo Domingo to oversee its Dominican operation and hired Perez to serve as the senior manager of Latin American Baseball Operations. He joined the Mets in 2005 but returned to the Dominican office last year.
"It's about bringing some more structure. It's about the process," Ng said. "We hired Raffy back in the fall and I think he can tell you all about all of the office's functions now compared to when it started. The issues are greater, wider and there is more at stake. We want to take a leadership role in helping the clubs provide good services to the players at their academies. It's about communicating with each other in a little more structured way."
Events like the Venezuela-Dominican Showcase provide the perfect setting.
"This event was about bringing together the top talent for the clubs to see," Ng said. "It's about seeing them on field at one time and competing against each other. It's baseball in its simplest and purest form. For me and the staff it's been a lot of fun to watch, and I think for a lot of people here it's been a lot of fun to watch."