International Changes Begin With Registration System

Teams and player representatives are trying to wrap their minds around the new rules for international signings that kick in on July 2.

One of the focal points of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was an overhaul of the way international signings are regulated. For the first time, Major League Baseball has a comprehensive process that teams will have to follow when signing international amateurs, including a signing budget for each team.

One of the less-publicized aspects of the new regulations is a comprehensive registration system. For the first time, 16-year-old players who become eligible to sign on July 2—essentially anyone born between September 1995 and August 1996—must be registered with Major League Baseball by May 1. This is similar to the process teams must follow to get players registered for the June draft.

The registration system is mandatory for players from every country in the world that isn’t subject to the draft (the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico), not just the Dominican Republic and Venezuela as some teams had initially expected. If a player is not registered by tomorrow, he has to wait until July 2, 2013, to sign. Players who are already eligible to sign—mostly players 17 or older—do not have to register.

In speaking with teams, agents and trainers, there has been confusion about what the rules are regarding the registration process, including who has to register and how a player can register. But a senior MLB official clarified the process.

Sign Them Up

There are two main ways a player can register. One is that the player can register himself. MLB has set up registration stations throughout the Dominican Republic, where players can come in at particular dates and times. The league has sent representatives to Latin American countries, Europe and other places around the world to help players register. Players have also registered by going into the league’s Dominican office in Santo Domingo.

The league has e-mailed trainers and notified local amateur baseball authorities, though since essentially anyone can be a trainer and they are scattered across Latin America, some trainers this month were scrambling to make sure they had everything in order. Some have suggested an online registration system, but that is not in place right now.

The requirements for registration vary by country, with more stringent requirements in countries that have a history of age and identity fraud. Players and their parents or legal guardians must provide legal documentation of their age and identity, including a birth certificate and a Cedula (a national identifying document in Latin American countries) as well as other vital information. Players must also consent to an MLB investigation into their age and identity and to a random drug test if selected. Agents and trainers who have registered their players have said the process is fairly simple.

Teams can also register players. Many of the registrations will be club-driven because the teams know the players they want to sign on July 2. In those cases, the team is responsible for collecting a player’s information and registering him in MLB’s internal database. If a team official tries to register a player who has already been registered, he will be able to see that the player is already in the database and won’t have to do anything.

As long as a player is registered, any team will be able to sign him on July 2, regardless of how he was registered. Teams have said the registration process has been straightforward, though at times onerous if they are registering a large volume of players.

MLB is aware of most of the players who are expected to be the top prospects in this year’s July 2 class, so those players should all be registered without any issue. The main group of players affected are in Latin America, because players from places like South Korea and Taiwan typically are signed at 17 or older, so they won’t have to be registered. Registration will affect those countries more in the next couple of years, and a team will have to follow the standard status check protocol before registering a player.

With any new system, particularly one that attempts to be comprehensive in the international market, bugs are bound to pop up. Some in the industry have wondered, for example, what would happen if a player gives his information to a team to register him, only to have the team neglect to do it for some reason. Could that expose a club or the league to potential legal action?

Aside from the belief that the registration system is merely a prelude to an international draft, no one in the industry seems up in arms about the process. Teams have their usual paranoia about certain aspects of the process, however.

For instance, they worry that the registration system could negate a competitive advantage they have in countries or regions that aren’t saturated by scouts. If a team has navigated the countryside of the Dominican Republic to find a player or has been following a kid in Nicaragua for a couple of years, it doesn’t want to tip off the Major League Scouting Bureau to come in and file a report on that player and alert the other 29 teams that there’s a quality prospect they need to evaluate.

“We don’t want information to get out,” said one Latin American director. “We want to compete and we don’t have the money to compete with other clubs. We’re definitely a victim of the new rules.”

Teams also say they are not convinced that MLB can keep the identity of the team that registers a player anonymous. When a team goes to register a player or looks him up in MLB’s computer system, it won’t be able to see which club registered a player, only that he has been registered already. The commissioner’s office will have that information, and MLB employees include former team officials and others who have relationships with clubs, so teams are concerned the information could be leaked.

So teams are already thinking about how to apply gamesmanship in the registration process. Want to make sure nobody knows who you want to sign? Register as many players as you can, regardless of how good they are. So MLB could see a last-minute flood of registrations, as teams wait until the deadline to avoid giving away any information.

“If I put in just the guys I like, I’m basically giving them my follow list,” said an international scouting director. “If I put in 100 names, they’re not going to know who’s on my follow list. I’m putting all the guys I can who are July 2 guys. Every kid I saw I didn’t like, I’m registering him.”

Late Bloomers

Teams also worry about players who haven’t registered and end up developing later in the year. When dealing with 16-year-olds, especially in Latin America, they often lack the physical maturity to stand out. Trainers who have a pitcher throwing 84 mph or a hitter who’s 6-foot-2, 160 pounds often won’t show the player because they want him to be showcased in the best possible light.

Now if a team finds a diamond in the rough who isn’t registered, it has to wait until the following July 2 to get a deal done. While MLB wants to suppress signing bonuses, some fear the registration rules may have the unintended consequence of driving up prices because it will push those players toward a more hectic and expensive July 2 market.

“In the past, we’d see a player who has really good ability, has a lot of projection, and maybe because we were the first team to see the guy, we jump on him and sign him for $40,000 and he ends up being a really good player for us,” said another international director. “We were aggressive, we were the first team to see him and we got him. Well, if a trainer now comes out and introduces that guy in December and we were one of the first teams to see him, we can’t sign him. Now he’s going to get exposed to everyone and he’s going to sign for $700,000.

“That’s the concern I have. We try to structure our scouts to be aggressive, to be at least one of the first teams to see as many players we we can. We have to be aggressive, and if you have good scouts who are experienced and aggressive and can be the first scouts to see a player and get the information, then you just jump in and sign the guy. Be aggressive and that’s how you sign good players. That we’re not going to be able to do as much.”

Teams say those effects could trickle down to player development. In the past, an unrefined player could participate in the team’s winter program at its Dominican academy, report back in the spring, then play in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.

Now, such a player would have to wait until July 2, 2013, to sign, losing development time in a professional setting.

“You might have a kid who hasn’t been showcased properly, hasn’t grown, hasn’t shown his stuff yet,” said a third international scouting director. “It happens every year, tons of it. So now he loses not only his age 17 year, but he’s basically losing his age 18 year, starting age 19 in the DSL. Now you’re starting a high school kid maybe in Low-A or short season in the United States, but our guys are starting in the DSL. You’re killing international a little bit. That’s why it’s not apples to apples when it comes to the draft, so a lot of it’s the contract approval process.”