MLB Makes Significant Rule Changes For International Players

See also: 2014 International Signing Tracker

See also: Trainer Says Yankees Promised Torres Deal

In what appears to be an attempt to crack down on an industry trend of early agreements well before July 2, Major League Baseball has changed its rules with regards to how teams can evaluate international amateur players.

MLB sent teams a memo Tuesday stating that, effective today, international players are not allowed to be at a team facility until they are 16 years old or until six months before they become eligible to sign, whichever comes first. That means most players who become eligible to sign on July 2, 2015 won't be able to enter a team's Dominican academy—a vital component for teams to be able to evaluate players—until Jan. 2, 2015. For players who turn 16 between September and December, they will be allowed to go to a team facility once they turn 16. The only exceptions to that rule will be if a player participates in an event sponsored by MLB, such as an MLB-sanctioned league or showcase, or is part of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program.

That rule change will have a major effect on how teams evaluate talent in Latin America. Most teams consider bringing players into their academies in the Dominican Republic the most important and efficient means of player evaluation. The academy allows teams to bring in players from all over Latin America and put them through whatever evaluation process they feel is optimal—simulated games, bullpen, situational drills—to get the best gauge of the player's talent and personality.

Christopher Torres (Bill Mitchell).

Christopher Torres stayed at the home of a Yankees-employed, Dominican area scout during the week. (Bill Mitchell)

The rule change could also be an attempt by MLB to grab power away from trainer-organized leagues like the Dominican Prospect League and the International Prospect League. Those leagues play weekly games that are open to all 30 teams and typically are played on the field of a team's Dominican complex. While MLB’s memo didn't explicitly reference the DPL or the IPL, it would appear that those leagues will no longer be able to hold games or other events at MLB complexes until Jan. 2, since many of the players in those leagues will still be 15 before then. It appears those leagues will have to play their games at other fields that aren't MLB team facilities, which is certainly feasible, although the leagues often run simultaneous games on adjacent fields, which may be trickier to pull off outside of a team academy.

Both the DPL and IPL have events scheduled soon at MLB team facilities that now will likely have to be changed. On Aug. 28, the IPL is bringing players to Tropicana Field for a showcase at the Rays' stadium, while the DPL has a tournament in September and is planning to play at MLB fields in Jupiter, Fla., in October. The MLB memo states that club facilities include both domestic and international properties.

The rules would also appear to cut into teams' ability to evaluate players in the Tricky League, an informal, unofficial summer league some teams participate in to put the players they signed on July 2 into game situations, since those players can't play in the Dominican Summer League yet. Players who have already signed should still be able to play in the Tricky League, but since those games are played at team academies, clubs wouldn't be able to supplement their rosters by putting July 2 players for the following year into those games, which some teams like to use as an evaluation tool.

Additionally, both overnight stays and one-day visits to a team's academy will now count toward the total days that a player is allowed to stay at a team's facility. Under the previous rules, a player who is 16 years old or within six months of being eligible to sign was allowed to stay overnight at a team academy for up to 30 days (not necessarily consecutive days) within a six-month time period, then was not allowed to stay overnight at the team's academy for the next 60 days. Now even visiting a team's academy for one day will count against those 30 days, regardless of whether the player stays overnight.

A less-controversial rule change is that unsigned players are not allowed to live with a team employee, which previously was not explicitly against major league rules. If a team wants to provide overnight housing for a player, it has to be at an official team facility, so teams aren't allowed to host a player at a hotel or a property that's owned or rented by a team employee. While several teams have engaged in this practice, the most notable recent example was the Yankees having Dominican shortstop Christopher Torres stay during the week at the home of Edgar Mateo, an assistant Dominican area scout, then return home on weekends.