Among the probability of outcomes for Ramirez, the likelihood of his meeting those expectations at the time would seem to be among the 99th percentile of any 18-year-old's projection. Yet Ramirez's monster performance in 2008 as a 24-year-old is already better than any of Soriano's single-season performances, and arguably just as good if not better as any single season by Garciaparra or Guerrero.
But before 2002, Ramirez was a relatively unknown commodity. After signing for a modest $22,000 bonus on July 2, 2000, Ramirez made his debut the following season in the Dominican Summer League. Playing in the DSL at age 17, Ramirez hit .345/.397/.533, striking out just 22 times in 219 trips to the plate. The Red Sox named him their 2001 DSL player of the year. Though Ramirez signed as a switch-hitter, his bat was so good from the right side that he soon abandoned batting lefthanded altogether. Still, he missed the 2002 Prospect Handbook entirely.
Some of the game's greatest players, including future Hall of Famers, began their careers in the DSL. Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Guillen, David Ortiz, Johan Santana and Aramis Ramirez all made stops in the DSL before coming to the U.S. More recently, younger players like Ramirez, Edinson Volquez, Jhonny Peralta, Fausto Carmona, Pablo Sandoval and Johnny Cueto have rolled through the circuit.
Among minor leaguers, prospects such as Max Ramirez, Gerardo Parra, Gorkys Hernandez, Jhoulys Chacin and Hector Gomez were once in the DSL, while the wave of talent below them in the lowest levels of the minors—players like Wilin Rosario, Abner Abreu and Sebastian Valle—have recently made a splash in their U.S. debuts.
Yet even though some of the game's greatest players have come from Latin America, all of the players cited here were relatively unknown—at least to the public—before they came to the United States. This year BA subscribers have access to scouting information on nearly 100 Latin American players who signed last year, and in a few days we'll roll out scouting reports on some key players to follow from the 2008 DSL.
What Is The DSL?
Active since 1985, the DSL plays—depending on the division—a 70- to 72-game schedule, which last year began on May 31 and ended on Aug. 23; this year the league will play from June 4 to Aug. 24. The DSL is massive, with more than 1,300 players listed on 37 teams' 35-man rosters. The Yankees, White Sox, Blue Jays, Rangers, Athletics and Cubs each have two DSL squads, while the Reds and Diamondbacks each have their own teams and share a second team. The Brewers are the only major league team without a DSL club, though they have talked recently about adding an academy in Latin America.
The league is split into five divisions—the Boca Chica North and South divisions, the San Pedro North and South divisions and one division in Santo Domingo. Most teams have their complexes in Boca Chica, with 22 teams combined in the Boca Chica divisions. Teams do not play opponents from outside their division, which doesn't make a big difference in the Boca Chica divisions. It does however create some problems when looking at performances of players in the Santo Domingo division, which last year had four teams: the Padres, the Tigers and two teams from the Nationals, which used mostly older pitchers who were able to exploit younger batters with more developed offspeed stuff.
Venezuela hosts its own summer league, where eight teams—the Pirates, Astros, Mariners, Phillies, Cardinals, Rays, Mets and Tigers—compete in the Venezuelan Summer League, which has been active since 1997.
Who Plays In The DSL?
Teams use their DSL teams to develop their youngest Latin American players. Players who were procured through the draft are not eligible to play in the DSL, though teams are allowed to send two players from Puerto Rico to the league. No age limits exist for individual players, but players can't have four or more years of minor league service time.
When 16-year-olds sign contracts during the international signing period, they sign contracts for the following calendar season. Michael Ynoa, for example, signed with Oakland for $4.25 million on July 2, 2008, but he signed a 2009 contract, making him eligible to play in a professional league beginning in 2009. Players who were eligible to sign during last year's international signing period but who waited to sign until early this year, such as Rockies righthanders Jose Belen and Ramon Hurtado, are eligible to play this year, since they also signed 2009 contracts.
The more advanced players from Latin America usually make their debuts in a rookie league in the United States, which is what Ynoa will do this year. Shortstop Wilmer Flores, righthanders Arodys Vizcaino (Yankees) and Julio Teheran (Braves), third basemen Michael Almanzar (Red Sox) and Jefry Marte (Mets) and lefty Martin Perez (Rangers) each signed during the 2007 international signing period and debuted in 2008, with all of them skipping over the DSL and jumping straight to a U.S. rookie league. (In Perez's case, he technically skipped rookie ball, too, landing in the short-season Northwest League, where collegians were his main competition.) Signing a player to a large bonus can put pressure on a team to push those players along quickly, but at the same time the facilities at some of the newer academies in the Dominican Republic might give teams a greater level of comfort leaving their most prized Latin American prospects at their academies.
The Yankees did that last year, leaving outfielders Kelvin de Leon and Eduardo Sosa—two of the top 2007 international signings—in the DSL rather than pushing them to the U.S. Sometimes players stay in the Dominican Republic because of a visa issue, while other times teams might think a player is still too raw to be facing older, more advanced competition, even in the GCL or the Arizona League. Those players are often 17—essentially the same age as a high school player the summer after his junior year—so asking them to handle the GCL or the AZL while also assimilating to a new culture can be a high expectation.
Aside from the handful of bonus babies in the circuit, teams aim to have as many new, young players fill out the rest of their DSL rosters as possible. There are players who signed for bonuses in the low-to-mid six-figure range, but also many players who signed for five- and four-figure bonuses, some of whom develop rapidly between ages 16 and 17 to significantly elevate their prospect statuses. Teams fill out their rosters with older players who are organizational or academy types rather than prospects, and in many cases the DSL or one of the Rookie-level complex leagues will be the summit of their careers.
DSL prospects do get mentioned in trade talks, though general managers are often hesitant to pull the trigger to acquire a player who has never been to the U.S. But teams more and more are looking seriously at DSL prospects as potential players to acquire via trade, not as a centerpiece to a deal but as a low-certainty, high-upside option to complement a more advanced prospect in a trade. The Rangers did just that in December when they traded catcher Gerald Laird to Detroit for Double-A righthander Guillermo Moscoso and DSL righthander Carlos Melo, who had a 5.14 ERA with 20 walks and 61 strikeouts in 49 innings as a 17-year-old.
Do DSL Statistics Mean Anything?
We don't have a complete set of year-by-year statistics for the DSL. What we do have, however, are the career performance records of every active player in professional baseball, including their individual DSL stats. That allows us to pore over the DSL records of current major leaguers to see if there might be some predictive value in the numbers. Today we'll look at hitters, then move on to pitchers next time and finish by highlighting the top prospects from the 2008 DSL.
The chart below includes the DSL performance record (minimum 100 plate appearances) of every active major league hitter who has at least one major league season with at least 350 plate appearances and with an OPS+ of at least 100. Any player who makes it from the DSL to the big leagues even as a bench player should be looked at as a success, as only a handful of players from the DSL each year end up reaching the majors. But filtering players this way allows us to look at those who went on to be quality big league regulars.
|DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE HITTERS|