Friday, January 8, 2016

D-backs to open own Mexican baseball academy

For years, the Arizona Diamondbacks have sought to establish a strong presence in Mexico.  However, the Phoenix-based team is planning something that neither the Los Angeles Dodgers nor San Diego Padres have done South of the border: Constructing and operating their own baseball academy for young prospects in Mexico.

While the comcept of a major league team building and running academies in Latin American countries is hardly new (the Dominican and Venezuelan landscapes are dotted with them and the great baseball movie "Sugar" opens in such a setting), the Diamondbacks will be the first to do so in Mexico.  Solo Beisbol's Roberto Espinoza reports that Hermosillo has been chosen as the site of both the academy and a D-backs' satellite office (also an MLB first).

Former big league first baseman Erubiel Durazo, a Hermosillo native, will oversee the operations in his hometown.  Durazo spent 1999 through 2002 with Arizona before playing three more seasons in Oakland, for whom he hit a combined 43 homers with 165 RBI's in 2003 and 2004 (batting .321 his second year with the A's, good for fifth in the American League).  Durazo is translated as saying, "We're making history as an organization and as a country.  With the support of Sonora governor Claudia Pavlovich, the Diamondbacks look to be a 'Mexican' team, build the country's first Academy, then go look for other states." Espinoza writes the states of Sinaloa and Nuevo Leon are being considered for future academy sites.  Former D-backs' All-Star Luis Gonzalez, now a special Adviser to team CEO Derrick Hall, has been in Hermosillo setting up shop (including the naming of scouts) in preparation for the team office and academy.

The news may not being going over well in the Mexican League offices.  The LMB has had a virtual monopoly over teenage ballplayers in Mexico for decades by signing them at an earlier age than MLB teams are able to, then retaining their rights when they become old enough to play up north.  An informal blacklist of homegrown players who circumvented the system by waiting and signing directly with MLB teams instead was lifted earlier this winter, allowing expats to play in Mexico after their days in the USA or elsewhere are over.  The LMB also operates an academy in Carmen, near Monterrey in Nuevo Leon) while a similar facility exists in Oaxaca.

MLB vets Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez, along with their father David, opened the Gonzalez Sports Academy featuring Mexican-born baseball prospects near San Diego in 2010.  Prospects who signed with MLB organizations gave the GSA a 30% commission, far less than the 70% routinely paid to LMB teams for the same thing.  The facility shut down in 2012.