SANTIAGO, D.R.–The first workout I went to in the Dominican Republic last week, there were at least 50 scouts present, most of which were there to see 15-year-old outfielder Ezdra Abreu. On Wednesday that number multiplied significantly since 15-year-old righthander Michael Inoa is currently considered the top arm available when the July 2 signing period begins.
Wednesday, however, was a little different. There were no catered meals. There were no large groups of scouts. The only thing this workout, which took place in the Tirena Alta section of Santiago, had in common with the others was the sound of roosters crowing and goats babbling at one another off in the distance.
This workout had just one international scouting director and his scouting staff present to see somewhere between 50 and 70 players. It took a while to get on the field, as each player came forward to the scout, who gathered information on his position, name and birthdate. The scout judged weights roughly by sight, and did the same thing with heights, standing up and looking them in the eye, pausing and then saying simply, ‘OK.’
This alone took nearly two hours to get through, before the scout said, "Anybody off the street want to come out here and try out?"
The most interesting thing about this process was being able to get an early read on makeup. The brief interaction allowed the scout to feel out details of each player’s personality that he might not otherwise see. The was especially evident during the date of birth question, as several players fumbled their answers, prompting the scout to pull them aside and frame out expectations, "You are what you are. I don’t care if you’re 15 or you’re 25. But whatever you say you are better be what you are. Regardless of anything you tell me right now, we’re going to find out how old you really are. So if you’re not telling me the truth, that’s going to say a lot about who you are."
Double-digits of players lined up in right field, shortstop and at pitcher, and there were also a handful of third basemen. Because of the secrecy that surrounds scouting in general, I’m not going to divulge names of players. This was not a workout for high profile July 2 players, but it was one where the next superstar in the big leagues could come out of for signing for less than $100,000. And the track record in Latin America shows that those high bonus players are typically the ones to fizzle out somewhere in the minors anyway.
There were two shortstops of interest, one of which is a 15-year-old follow for 2009. The last third baseman to work out had plus arm strength, but not great actions or hands. So rather than have him hit with the rest of the group after infield, the scout put him on the mound where he threw 86-88 mph out of the stretch and showed a decent breaking ball at times.
"He could throw the hell out of it, so I told him to go out there and see what he could do," the scout said. "That guy’s not going to play third base anywhere, but the arm strength is interesting."
For the players, having this chance to work out is always seen as a great opportunity. Third baseman Edwin Pena wasn’t getting much buzz in the States and actually came to the Dominican from his home in New York City six months ago, hoping he’d have the opporunity to perform in front of more scouts more often.
Pena just turned 20 and didn’t make it through the first round of cuts. And if you don’t make it through the cuts, all the scouts have seen is your ability to run the 60-yard dash and what kind of defender you are–after just five ground balls.
"I just want to talk to someone to find out what they’re looking for," Pena said. "It’s tough because we travel around to all these workouts trying to stand out somehow. But the 15- and 16-year-old kids out here are bigger and stronger here than they are in the States. In some ways, it’s a lot more difficult coming here and trying to get signed."
As the workout was winding down, all of the sudden there was a commotion. A man dressed all in black went running across the outfield and people in the stands started yelling at him. Suddenly, two plainclothes police officers–with 9mm handguns in the pockets of their jeans–went running after him.
Apparently he’d stolen a woman’s purse from a nearby plaza and was trying to make his getaway. Police ultimately apprehended him, and as he walked down the steep–some might call it treacherous–hill that leads up to the field, the back of his shirt read, "Prepare To Meet Thy Maker."
Things eventually calmed down and the workout ended 30 minutes later. Out of 70 players, the club had interest in two, but signed none.
The rest of the players gathered up their gear and headed to other destinations across the country for another opportunity while the two players and their buscones chatted with club personnel.
"It’s your dream, but you’re got to keep trying," Pena said. "I didn’t think it’d be this hard when I turned 20, but I was wrong. Every scout looks at me like I’m a grandfather now when I tell them how old I am. It’s frustrating and in two years if I haven’t made it, I’m basically done."