Soon after he was made commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred expressed interest in exploring the idea of an international draft. Such an idea would obviously have to be hashed out in negotiations with the Player's Association, which won't happen until the current collective bargaining agreement ends following the 2016 season. In the meantime, we are left with the status quo; specifically the domestic draft and the system of international free agent signings.
To be clear, the implementation of an international draft would not severely, if at all, change the scouting networks of professional baseball clubs. Clubs would continue to exhaust all methods in the name of identifying top talent. What it would do, however, is minimize if not eliminate the baseball academies operated by many professional teams. These virtual pipelines of talent would likely be abandoned. Can you picture the Cleveland Indians spending both time and money to develop a young prospect who was no more likely to be drafted by them than be drafted by the Yankees?
Many small market teams (yes that includes Miami) rely on such academies located across Latin America to establish a presence and create a production line of talent up to the big league club. Certainly the Dodgers and Tigers of the world also utilize the academy structure as well; smaller market teams are more likely, however, to see such academies as more reliable ways to secure top talent. Where a team locates its baseball academy in Latin America depends on many factors, chief among them being proximity to young talent. The Marlins have a well established baseball academy in the talent rich country of the Dominican Republic.
Marcell Ozuna is the latest example of a player signed as a teenager from the Dominican Republic. Signed at age 17 in 2008, Ozuna has blossomed into a rising star at age 24 and looks to be a centerpiece of the Miami outfield for the next several years. Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill spoke about the financial commitment made to director of international operations Albert Gonzalez and his staff as they work to identify and sign top prospects. "We've tried to allocate more dollars to it, and make sure Albert and his staff are as strong as they can be. You see it at the upper levels with Marcell Ozuna, who was signed by Albert and his staff. Now you see him flourishing at the Major League level."
Not content to simply admire their handiwork when it comes to the success of Ozuna, Miami is hard at work identifying and developing young Dominican's to one day help the big league club. Currently, the Fish have three top Dominican prospects, all at different stages of their development, who are progressing through the farm system: Jose Urena, Jarlin Garcia, and Isael Soto. These three represent the latest in what Miami hopes is the beginning of a pipeline of Dominican talent making its way to the big league roster.
Jose Urena is a big league ready reliever. His above average fastball profiles well in the bullpen. His future as a starter depends on how successful he is in refining his breaking ball. He certainly has the size, at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, to handle throwing 100 pitches every fifth day. Urena will open the season at Triple-A New Orleans in the rotation along with Justin Nicolino for the Zephyrs. I would bet on seeing him in a Marlin uniform before the 2015 season is over.
Jarlin Garcia is an interesting prospect signed in 2010; though he only made his full season debut during the 2014 season. An important member of the left handed pitchers of the Miami farm system club, Garcia uses his plus fastball to set up his off-speed stuff. He should start the year at High-A Jupiter, but could very likely see time on the mound for Double-A Jacksonville during the 2015 season. Definitely a player to keep an eye on.
Isael Soto is 18 years old. According to scouts inside the Miami organization, he could be the left-handed hitting version of Ozuna. Signed in 2013, Soto played the 2014 season as a 17 year old in Rookie ball; posting a respectable 251/302/426 slash line. The Marlins have shown they will be aggressive with Soto, so look for him to continue staying on the fast track towards Miami.
As baseball continues to expand around the globe more and more emphasis will be placed on identifying and acquiring top young talent. Within the current framework of the system, that involves a great deal of time and resources spent developing and nurturing Latin American baseball academies. The Marlins have made a commitment to establishing themselves in the Dominican Republic, and for good reason. Names such as Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Pujols hail from the country and are known even to the casual baseball fan. It is the hope of the Marlins that Marcell Ozuna marks the beginning of a trend; a trend consisting of a healthy pipeline of young Dominican talent progressing through the farm system on its way to Miami.