A total of 40 executives and scouts from 22 MLB teams gathered recently to evaluate a prominent group of prospects. No, the site was not on a well-manicured training academy near Santo Domingo. This “showcase” was held at a municipal sports complex in Mazatlán, Mexico. Judging by the outcome of the two-day event, Mexican kids in their mid-teens will soon be signing big league contracts, just like their counterparts in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Organized by the Diablos Rojos, the country’s most celebrated professional franchise, this was clearly a petition to welcome the game’s movers and shakers to Mexico. For the first time in a group setting, Mexico’s top talent was finally getting the exposure it has never received. To say that these kids earned some deserved respect would be a gross understatement, especially when you consider the tentative deals on the table.
Tirso Ornelas, a lanky outfielder with a swing that could be compared to Ken Griffey, Jr., was blasting 400-foot bombs to all parts of the yard. Barely 16, Ornelas has a big arm and his 6′ 3″ frame should continue to grow. Two days after the tryout, the youngster received an offer from the San Diego Padres that he couldn’t refuse.
“We have committed (to the Padres),” revealed Tirso’s mom, Elsa Evette, by telephone. “We are very happy.”
While the money hasn’t been finalized, several sources report that Ornelas will receive bonus money in excess of six figures, a record for a Mexican player.
Another youngster who received high marks was catcher Carlos Soto, Jr., and the Sinaloa native received a $400,000 pact by the St. Louis Cardinals after the first day of tryouts. Soto will now live the dream of his dad, Carlos Sr., an all-star backstop in the Liga Mexicana for a decade but who never got the opportunity to perform north of the border.
Still considering his options is Omar Alejandro de Leon, 16, a quality left-handed pitcher with a body and style much like Colorado Rockies veteran Jorge de la Rosa. Then there’s Luis Roberto Verdugo, a human aspiradora and by far the best infielder among the cast. The problem is that Verdugo is only 15, and will have to wait until 2017 to sign a pro contract.
Mexico has always produced outstanding talent, especially in the northern region of the country. Southpaw hurlers have led the parade, from Fernando Valenzuela and Oliver Perez to Manny Banuelos and Julio Urias. Position players have been represented too, like Chihuahua’s Mario Mendoza and Tijuana’s Adrian Gonzalez. The problem, however, is that prospects have always been discouraged from joining MLB organizations, with threats that they would be “blackballed” from playing in Mexico later on in their careers. That all changed last fall when a movement led by business tycoon Alfredo Harp Helú felt that marketing Mexican “peloteros” wasn’t such a bad idea, at least within the big picture. Harp Helú, of course, owns the Diablos Rojos, which explains why all the participants at these workouts are the property of his team.