February 2, 2012
The BP First Take
Thursday, February 2
Indians manager Manny Acta has many vested interests in Dominican baseball. A native of the baseball hotbed of San Pedro de Macoris, he understands what young players dreaming of a big-league career endure just to give themselves a chance. On Wednesday, Acta shared his views with MLB.com Indians beat writer Anthony Castrovince.
Entering his third year in Cleveland, Acta is walking a thin line because of the identity and age scandal surrounding one of his pitchers, formerly known as Fausto Carmona. Sports Illustrated’s Melissa Segura explained the economic considerations surrounding Roberto Hernandez Heredia’s decision to change his name and pare three years off his age, and those of others like Marlins pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo (Leo Nunez). Acta added that, beyond just money, teams are also cognizant of the smaller window of opportunity that older players face, forcing them to adjust not only to professional baseball but also to the new culture more quickly.
As Acta said to Castrovince, there is a “need to adjust, adapt and improvise,” because the incentives for 18-year-old players to claim they are 16 are too great. Dominican players are very rarely signed after their 19th birthday, though there are notable exceptions, including the Dodgers’ 10th-best prospect, right-hander Angel Sanchez. The 22-year-old shined in his pro debut, and could project as a mid-rotation starter.
But what Sanchez accomplished in 2011 is remarkably unique. He leaped from Dominican college ball to Single-A without missing a beat, either on the field or off. He is the exception, not the rule, and his path to the majors remains treacherous, since he will be 23 by the end of next season and still in High-A or Double-A. One down year along the way will put Sanchez on the brink of being too old to retain his prospect status.
The obvious counterargument is that fierce competition is the nature of the game. Even those who are fortunate enough to be signed out of the Dominican Prospect League face long odds of ever setting foot on a big-league field. From the teams’ perspective, age matters—as well it should. But Acta’s defense, based on the distinctions made between college players in the U.S. and those in his native country, should not fall upon deaf ears. If teams want to avoid what Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman called “time bombs” in the Castrovince article, they need to address the system, not the individual players.