Vasilio Tejada has watched hundreds of talented teenagers hit baseballs throughout the past two decades in the Dominican Republic.
"Moreno," as Tejada is known in international baseball circles, worked with a young Robinson Cano more than 10 years ago. The 5-foot-6 ex-ballplayer from San Pedro de Macoris is best known for coaching top prospect Miguel Sano and guiding the then 16-year-old to a $3.15 million deal with the Minnesota Twins in 2009.
Tejada, 45, is a trainer, a baseball buscon, Spanish for "one who is searching." His latest find is a teenage shortstop named Dermis Garcia, who just might be his best discovery yet.
"Dermis has the power of man," Tejada said in Spanish from the Dominican Republic. "I've never seen anything like it. He's introspective, too. He's only 16, but he carries himself like an 18- or 19-year old man. Not even Sano was like that."
Garcia is ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's list of Top 30 International Prospects for 2014. There are several prospects who can make a case for being the top prospect in this year's class, but few have an argument as persuasive as Garcia's.
"As far as a consensus on a No. 1 prospect goes, it's harder to say this year," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for MLB. "Scouts are doing their homework and identifying players, but once you get past top guys, it becomes a matter of who the clubs like and their preferences. It will be interesting to see a year from now who ends up being the steal of this year's class, because it's not as obvious as it has been in the past."
This year's Top 30 International Prospects list includes 14 players from the Dominican Republic, 13 from Venezuela, two from Colombia and one from Korea. The position breakdown is seven outfielders, 15 infielders (which includes 13 shortstops), five pitchers and three catchers.
|6||Christopher Acosta||RHP||DR||Red Sox|
|10||Anderson Espinoza||RHP||VEN||Red Sox|
The first goal for a teenage prospect like Garcia is to sign with a big league club, which they can do when the international signing period begins on July 2. The next step is entering a big league academy in the Dominican Republic. The organization that runs the academy typically decides after two years if the prospect is ready to start playing in the Minor Leagues. It's not uncommon for an international prospect to begin his pro career in the U.S. at 17.
Garcia is expected to sign a bonus worth approximately $3 million, with the Yankees considered the favorite to sign the teenager.
"Dermis is one of the best I've ever seen and definitely one of the most mature," said Tejada, who has worked with Garcia for the past four years. "He's a leader, more of a man than a boy in that way. He was just born that way. I know he is looking forward to this next part of his life."
A 16-year-old international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between July 2 through June 15 of next year if the prospect turns 17 before Sept. 1 of this year or by the completion of his first Minor League season. Additionally, any prospect who is already 17 or older and has not previously signed a Major or Minor League contract, resides outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and has not been enrolled in a high school or college in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico within the previous year is eligible to sign during the period.
There are also specific signing guidelines each team must follow.
In 2012, in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, spending limits were introduced and each club was allotted $2.9 million to spend on the international market during the signing period that began that July 2.
bonus signing pools
For the second consecutive year, those numbers have changed. Each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team's record in 2013, a figure ranging from $5,015,400 for the Astros, who had the Majors' lowest winning percentage last year, to $1,866,300 for the Cardinals, who had the highest winning percentage.
The signing bonus pools are made up of four slot values.
Additionally, for the second consecutive year, clubs are allowed to trade pool money. The exemption that allowed clubs to sign up to six players for bonuses up to $50,000 without counting against the allotment has been eliminated this year, but all bonuses of $10,000 or less are also exempt.
There are penalties in place for teams exceeding their spending limits.
Teams that exceed the pools by 0 to 5 percent have to pay 100 percent tax, and teams that exceed the pools by 5 to 10 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $500,000 during the next signing period and also have to pay a 100-percent tax on the pool overage. Teams that exceed the pools by 10 to 15 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next signing period and have to pay a 100-percent tax on the pool overage.
In the most severe penalty, teams that exceed the pool by 15 percent or more are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods in addition to paying a 100-percent tax on the pool overage.
The international signing guidelines do not apply to players who previously signed a contract with a Major or Minor League club, nor do they apply to players who are least 23 years old and have played as a professional in a league recognized by the Commissioner's Office for a minimum of five seasons. Cuban players who are at least 23 and have played in a Cuban professional league for five or more seasons are also exempt.
The emergence of the Dominican Prospect League (DPL), International Prospect League (IPL) and Major League Baseball's Amateur Prospect League has also changed the amateur baseball landscape in the D.R. from one that was heavily reliant on the tryout format to one that features prospects playing in games.
More than 500 prospects from the DPL have signed with Major League teams since the league began play in 2010. Nearly 200 prospects from the IPL have signed in the past three years.
"The people that come out here as members of the front office to evaluate talent are experts in their field and they are paid a lot of money to make these decisions that impact teams," said Ulises Cabrera, co-founder of the DPL. "These decisions have consequences that impact their bottom lines currently and impact the long-term success of organizations. It's not to be taken lightly. When a team makes a decision on a strategy or a player, it's because teams have thought it through and multiple people have been on board."
In 2012, MLB launched a league designed to provide a neutral ground where Major League teams could evaluate the top unsigned amateur international players. Hundreds of players have participated in the international program and signed since its inception.
"The reaction has been positive and the league has become what we have wanted it to become," Araujo said. "It's a great evaluation tool and it's a complement to a team's scouting effort. We are the league where you can bring IPL and DPL guys in or whatever league, because we don't have a stake. What's at stake for us is creating a neutral environment so clubs can scout the top prospects."
The system appears to be working.
Last year, Eloy Jimenez, ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's Top 30 International Prospects list in 2013, played in the International Prospect League and signed with the Cubs for $2.8 million during the summer. Jimenez plays for Chicago's Rookie League team in Arizona. In all, six of last year's Top 30 are playing in the Arizona Rookie League, two are in the Gulf Coast League and 18 are playing the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer League. Three players from last year's Top 30 currently play at Class A.
Dermis participated in MLB's Amateur Prospect League events this year.
"When you see a player in a game, you get a better idea of what you are investing in," said Amaurys Nina, president of the IPL. "That's part of our mission here. It's not just about a showcase or a practice anymore. That's good for baseball. I think there should be some changes to how much teams can spend and not every trainer down here is happy, but overall, everyone is pleased with progress MLB has made down here and the players coming out of the Dominican Republic."