The Rangers reportedly have agreed to a deal with one of the top prospects in the Dominican Republic, but the deal has set off confusion and outrage through the industry because most organizations—including Major League Baseball—believed the player was not eligible to sign until July.
According to a report on Twitter from Dionisio Soldevila of the Associated Press, the Rangers agreed to terms with Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras for a $4.5 million bonus.
The report generated huge buzz across the industry because people were under the impression that Beras would not be eligible to sign until July 2, 2012. Beras had been presenting himself with a birthdate of Dec. 25, 1995, as recently as an MLB showcase earlier this month, which would make him 16. According to the report that broke today, however, Beras is now listed as 17, which would make him eligible to sign right away.
A Rangers official declined to comment on the signing. Beras' trainer, Carlos Guzman, did not respond to a message seeking comment. Baseball America could not independently confirm the report of Beras' signing or his new birthdate, and while there was confusion this morning in the international scouting community, some sources outside the organization said they believed the report that the Rangers had signed him was accurate. An MLB official said the commissioner's office is currently reviewing the case.
If he is using a new date of birth, Beras could be in trouble beyond MLB. In April 2011, Beras represented the Dominican Republic in an international tournament in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. At the tournament, Beras was also listed with a Dec. 25, 1995 date of birth, with one roster listing his name as Jairo Veras (scouts from other organizations confirmed that they are the same person).
Beras, a 6-foot-5, 178-pound righthanded hitter, has been on teams' radar for a long time and was expected to be one of the top prospects in Latin America from this year's July 2 class. Beras excelled at a Feb. 3-4 showcase coordinated by MLB at the Mets' Dominican academy—the showcase was designed to feature exclusively July 2, 2012-eligible players—with games between a team of top Dominican prospects and a team of top Venezuelan prospects. Beras went 4-for-5 with four singles, two walks and two stolen bases at the showcase to lead the Dominican team.
"The two walks, he swung at curveballs and was out front, but then he took a walk after that both times," said one international scouting director after the showcase. "He's a pretty easygoing guy; everything he does is easy. In BP he can put on a show, and he doesn't really swing that hard. He's a wiry guy who just has the ability to center the ball, and the ball goes places. He has a good arm . . . If he's hitting balls like he is right now, he should be the No. 1 guy this year."
Beras has drawn physical comparisons to a young Juan Gonzalez from several scouts, though some of them still see him as raw in some of the fundamentals of the game.
"He has a skinny frame and a good arm," said another international director. "He drops his hands a little but, but he's got power and will hit for a high enough average for a big guy."
For any Latin American prospect, there is an enormous financial advantage to being eligible to sign now instead of having to wait until July 2. Under the rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams will be limited to a $2.9 million budget for signing bonuses for international amateurs. If teams go over the limit, they will be subject to a harsh tax and restrictions on international signings in future years. However, those rules don't go into effect until July 2, so players who sign before then are operating under the old system with no restrictions.
"If he was 16 trying to be 17 to manipulate a loophole, he should be suspended," said another international scouting director. "There's no way this contract should be approved."
Guzman, Beras' trainer, has had several expensive Dominican players in the past, including Astros outfielder Ariel Ovando ($2.6 million in 2010), Cardinals third baseman Roberto De La Cruz ($1.1 million in 2008) and Red Sox shortstop Raymel Flores ($900,000 in 2011).
Back in 2008, the Reds also surprised teams when they signed Dominican outfielder Juan Duran for $2 million when other teams were under the impression that he would not be eligible to sign that year until July 2. However, Duran's case was not like Beras' because Duran's birthdate never changed. In Duran's situation, most teams were simply mistaken in thinking that his date of birth—Sept. 2, 1991—meant that he had just missed the cutoff to sign in 2007 and would have to wait until July 2, 2008, to sign.
But Reds assistant general manager Bob Miller was aware of a little-known rule that would allow the Reds to sign him immediately, a rule that was created in the 1980s when Miller worked in the office of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (or NAPBL, now known as Minor League Baseball).
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