So professional teams sign 16 year old Dominican kids to professional baseball contracts but what is the journey like? Where do these kids come from? How are they developed? And what happens to them after they sign? What is life like for a 12 or 13 year old Dominican prospect before they are eligible to sign? I’m going to try to give us Americans a better understanding.
The high school graduation rate for the Dominican Republic is low. Many rural schools don’t go past 5th grade. If you take 100 Dominican kids, and follow them through their education years, you’ll see that only about 85% of kids attend schools starting in 1st grade. Of those that go to school, about a third will be done with school by 5th grade. The high school attendance rate is about 60% of kids attending to start high school. Of course, less than 25% of them will end up with a high school diploma. As I was told when thinking about this situation, “put on your non-American glasses.” It is different world from what we know.
The Dominican is filled with baseball. Grant Gavin mentioned in his interview with RFR that there were kids playing baseball or some form of the game all over when he was down there for the Royals 2018 Cultural Development Tour. Baseball is a way for families to make money they could never make themselves. Baseball is a chance for children to get an education they may otherwise never get. Baseball is a way to improve a family’s life. Because of this, some kids drop out of school somewhere before high school and go to what we will term preprofessional baseball academies.
Kids end up at these preprofessional academies at the ages of 15, 14, or maybe even 12. Some of these are basically boarding schools that teach baseball. Families send their kids away to live and others are close enough that their kids can still live at home and travel back and forth. Most of these preprofessional academies are free with the agreement that the students will give a portion of their contract back to the academy or the buscones (trainers) if they sign. A pretty standard rate is 30% of a signing bonus. But this opportunity gives kids a chance to train with a well known buscone that has connections to scouts and major league teams. It also gives them a chance to use or acquire equipment they may not get otherwise. Or for some, just to have a regular meal on a daily basis.
Major League Baseball is very concerned with these preprofessional academies turning into pipelines for teams. If you look at the recent punishments handed out to the Braves, you can tell MLB is trying to make a statement that you will do things the right way in the Dominican Republic. MLB knows there is a problem here and they need to clean things up. You keep hearing about an international draft, and this is part of the reason but this is also part of the reason that may never happen.
If you are a really good player at the age of 13, you may have several buscones approach to recruit you and maybe even offer bribes to come train with them. You can almost compare this to the recruiting process that high school kids go through in the US only with illegal benefits. MLB tries to police things down there but there is corruption to overcome. If you are able to get a better life because of your kid’s athletic talent, it is done.
Life in the Dominican Republic, in general, is tougher than life in the United States. Our kids play on travel ball teams with really cool uniforms and parents bringing portable speakers to play intro music for them when it is time for an at bat. They play on perfectly manicured fields with water, gatorade, and food being brought to them every couple of innings. Our system of baseball isn’t wrong, it’s just different. I hope you have a better understanding of life for the up and coming Domincan kids. Next time, we will discuss what happens after a kid signs and what the Royals specifically are doing to help these young players adjust to a possible future in the United States.