A son of Enrique Soto, one of the most powerful trainers in the Dominican Republic over the last two decades, used a false age when he signed with the Mariners in 2007, according to multiple sources familiar with the case.
George Soto signed with Seattle for $700,000 in February 2007, presenting himself as a 17-year-old shortstop with a birthdate of Nov. 19, 1989. According to George Soto’s new paperwork, he was born Nov. 17, 1985, which would have made him 21 when he signed.
After Major League Baseball initially determined that Soto’s age and identity were valid in its original investigation, a subsequent investigation revealed inconsistencies in his documentation. A DNA test also helped MLB catch the deception.
At this point, in fact, MLB does not have an official position on what Soto’s age is. Dan Mullin, MLB’s senior vice president of investigations, said MLB is satisfied that Soto’s identity is accurate but is not confident of his age, based on the documentation available.
“It’s just not enough to conclusively say he was born on that date,” Mullin said. “We’re not saying he wasn’t born on that date; we’re just not prepared, as MLB, to say that he was.”
Soto hit .219/.306/.308 in 261 games over five professional seasons, four of which were spent in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. The Mariners released him at the end of spring training this year. He never appeared in a Mariners Top 30 Prospects list.
BA reached Enrique Soto by phone on Tuesday, and he declined to comment. The Mariners also declined comment.
Initial Investigation Discredited By DNA Test
MLB’s initial investigation was done by Arlina Espaillat Matos, a contract investigator. At the time Soto signed, MLB used contract employees who were paid directly by the team to investigate a player, a system that was scrapped when MLB’s department of investigations took over in 2009. In the process of reinvestigating several cases—some at the request of the U.S. Consulate—MLB discovered issues with Soto’s documentation.
Mullin said the league finished its investigation in June 2011 after finding several warning signs. Sonia Gardenia Lara, who had been presenting herself as Soto’s mother, declared her parentage of Soto when he was 11. In the Dominican Republic, in addition to hospital records of birth that may be available, parents also declare their children with the government, which may not happen until the children are several years old. If parentage is declared at an unusually late age, however, MLB sees that as a cause for suspicion. Hospital records for Soto were inaccurate and school records did not exist.
Sources said the smoking gun came when a DNA test was requested, and Soto’s real mother, Melba Antonia Gonzalez, showed up to present a DNA sample, apparently with the hope that nobody would realize she was not the same woman who had originally presented herself as Soto’s mother. Instead, a representative from MLB’s department of investigations realized what was happening. Lara, it turned out, was Soto’s stepmother.
“You’d be surprised how often people agree to take DNA tests and fail them,” Mullin said.
Mullin said that MLB believes George Soto knew at the time he signed that he was using a false age and that Lara was not his real mother. Another source with knowledge of the situation said that Enrique Soto played a part in the deception. Mullin declined comment on whether any team employees knew what George Soto’s real age was.
George Soto has since gone through the Dominican courts to obtain a new birth certificate with a new age that is four years older, meaning he would now be 26. He used that new age to obtain a visa and travel to Arizona for spring training this year, before the Mariners released him on March 23.
One of George Soto’s brothers is Leance Soto, a third baseman who signed with the Blue Jays for $675,000 in April 2005 when he was 19. He spent four years in short-season ball, finishing a career .201/.248/.293 hitter in 149 games before his release after the 2008 season. He later signed with the Rangers on Jan. 19, 2010—the same day the Rangers signed Colombian catcher Jorge Alfaro for $1.3 million out of Enrique Soto’s program—before getting released on July 19, 2010, having never played a game for the organization.
Leance Soto’s listed date of birth is June 13, 1985, five months apart from George Soto’s new date of birth. Sources said that George and Leance are half-brothers who do not have the same mother, though Baseball America could not confirm that. Mullin said the league does not currently have an investigation into Leance Soto.
Enrique Soto has been one of the most powerful people in Dominican baseball. A former scout for the Athletics in the early 1990s, Soto has worked in Bani as a trainer for Miguel Tejada (who used a false age to sign), Erick Aybar and Willy Aybar, among others.
The Mariners have signed several of Soto’s most expensive players in recent years, including Jharmidy DeJesus, who signed for $1 million shortly before his 18th birthday in 2007 and is now a first baseman/third baseman with low Class A Clinton. Shortstop Esteilon Peguero, who also trained with Soto, agreed to sign with the Mariners in December 2010 for $2.9 million, which would have been the biggest bonus of the year, until the Mariners reduced his bonus to $1.1 million for unconfirmed reasons.
Soto was arrested in January 2011 when two unnamed brothers he had coached told Dominican authorities that Soto had sexually assaulted them over the course of six months in 2003 when they were 16 and 17. Soto was released on bond in late June 2011. Last July, an investigative report by Alicia Ortega aired on Noticias Sin in the Dominican Republic in which three former players accused Soto of sexually assaulting them. In the report, Soto denied every allegation against him. BA could not verify the current legal status of the charges against Soto in the Dominican Republic.