Law: Scouting the next wave of Venezuelan prospects

The political and economic situation in Venezuela that has resulted in famine, deaths from lack of basic medicines and violent crime has led the U.S. State Department to issue a Level 3 travel warning, “Reconsider Travel,” making it just one of five countries in the Americas at that level. (The highest is Level 4, currently assigned to North Korea as well as 10 countries in North Africa and the Middle East.) Major League Baseball has also advised clubs to discontinue travel to Venezuela, although teams do still send some scouts to the country, and five teams continue to operate academies there despite the adverse conditions.

There are still plenty of Venezuelan players looking to sign with MLB teams and who are good enough to earn six- and seven-figure bonuses, but scouting them has become far more difficult than it was five years ago, so MLB has begun holding showcases for those players in nearby Aruba, with their second such workout taking place November 13-15 at Winston Field, near the capital of Oranjestad.

This year’s workout brought approximately 60 players from Venezuela and included three Aruban prospects as well, and attracted more than 110 scouts from all 30 teams. Most players were 14 or 15 years old, and thus ineligible to sign until July 2 of 2020 or 2019, respectively, although there were a few 16-year-old players who could sign immediately. At least one player agreed to terms during the event — within a few hours after he left the mound — although the deal won’t be announced until he’s officially eligible to sign next July 2. The showcase allowed these players to compete in a safe environment, controlled by MLB, in six-inning pseudo-games where each pitcher was allowed to face enough batters for scouts to evaluate him.

There were challenges getting the players to Aruba, including the country’s requirement that travelers coming from most South American countries be vaccinated against yellow fever. Only one hospital in Venezuela had the vaccine at all, and some players and even one coach were unable to receive the vaccine in time to make the trip.

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