David Ortiz said he is against an international draft. Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez, Carlos Santana, Willson Contreras, Carlos Carrasco and Miguel Sano are among the prominent Latin American players who have appeared in videos on social media saying they are opposed to an international draft.
At the annual Major League Baseball Players Association meetings in Dallas on Tuesday, three of the top Dominican prospects in baseball—Cardinals righthander Alex Reyes, Mets shortstop Amed Rosario and Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzman—also voiced their opposition to an international draft.
“I wouldn’t be in favor of a draft,” Rosario said in Spanish. “I personally am not for it because I think it would hurt the next generation of young players coming from Latin America.”
Rosario is the Mets’ top prospect and one of the elite shortstops in the minors. Reyes is the Cardinals’ top prospect and might be the best pitching prospect in baseball. Guzman played in the 2016 Futures Game and is one of the Rangers’ Top 10 Prospects.
All three were prominent amateur signings out of the Dominican Republic who are members of the union for the first time this year. Reyes went on the 40-man roster in August for his major league debut, while Rosario and Guzman joined the 40-man for their teams this month so their organizations could protect them from the Rule 5 draft.
While Reyes’ path to pro ball was atypical—he went to high school in New Jersey but moved to the Dominican Republic to be with family before signing for $950,000 in December 2012 as an international free agent—Rosario and Guzman are unusual cases themselves. Both Rosario and Guzman are Dominican players who signed at 16 and were already high school graduates before they played their first professional game.
“In the Dominican Republic, we don’t have high school baseball, we don’t have the same organization (as the United States),” Guzman said. “I feel like it would hurt young kids in the Dominican Republic. They drop out of school to play baseball. They do everything they can to make it to the big leagues and to be a professional. I’m here because I want to support the young kids. I put myself in their places and I feel like it wouldn’t be good for me if there was a draft in the Dominican.”
A draft would allow owners to curtail signing bonuses in part by taking away a player’s freedom to negotiate with any team and instead forcing him to negotiate with only the club that drafts him. For Dominican players in particular, that would be a leverage killer.
“I’m against it,” Reyes said. “The kids in the Dominican Republic and throughout Latin America, they don’t have much of a chance for education. So with a draft, if they say no to their offer, what else do they have left? They don’t have a college degree ahead of them. Those kids really don’t have much of a choice. For a lot of them, it’s really baseball or nothing. To work so hard and have to be subject to an international draft, it would be terrible. They would have to settle for whatever’s on the table.”
Guzman, now a fluent English speaker at 22, said that raising the signing age to 18—something MLB has proposed—would also have an impact on players.
“It’s important to have kids sign at 16,” Guzman said. “Baseball in the United States is different than it is in the Dominican Republic. You have to adjust, learn the language and see how baseball works here. If you sign a kid at 18 in the Dominican Republic and then he plays in the Dominican Summer League, then he comes to the U.S. at 19 or 20. He doesn’t know the language, he’s trying to learn the culture—it’s going to affect him. It’s going to be a lot harder. When you’re 16, it’s a lot easier to learn a language than when you’re 18 or 19.”
Why, though, do these players oppose a draft that wouldn’t affect them? All three have signed, received their bonuses and are now union members on 40-man rosters, while the Latin American amateur players who would be drafted are not.
“It doesn’t matter that I’m on the 40-man,” Guzman said. “I can see myself in that position in the past. I feel like they work hard and they deserve for us to be there for them.”
Accepting MLB’s proposal for an international draft could result in a tradeoff to get greater benefit for union members. But they each said that wouldn’t justify accepting an international draft.
“For me, it’s important just for them to have a fair chance at life,” Reyes said. “Some of these signings these kids do are life changing, not only for them and their families but for generations. It’s about kids having a fair chance to become a baseball player without having to go through a draft.”
It wasn’t long ago that the three of them signed out of the Dominican Republic. Guzman signed for $3.45 million, the second-highest international amateur bonus of 2011, behind only fellow Rangers’ Dominican signing Nomar Mazara ($4.95 million). Mazara grew up playing in the same youth league as Rosario, who signed for $1.75 million on July 2, 2012, the highest bonus of the 2012-13 signing period in the first year under the bonus pools. The return on investment for the teams that signed them ranges from solid to spectacular. The players all have bright futures ahead of them, but they also don’t want to sacrifice the futures of the new wave coming up.
“The focus is on that next generation of players,” Rosario said. “Just like we benefitted from having the opportunity, we feel that the next generation deserves to have the same opportunity that we did.”