As more and more baseball players make the journey from the Dominican Republic to the major leagues, professional teams are making sure they’re keeping an eye on the best talent in the baseball-crazed nation.
The Minnesota Twins are no different.
"The Dominican probably produces more elite baseball players per capita than any area on the planet," said Brad Steil, the Twins’ director of minor-league operations. "And with the amount of talent coming out of there, we have to be able to sign those players and get them into our system and make that a big piece of, of developing major-league players."
Like most teams, the Twins have a baseball academy in the Dominican. Minnesota’s current facility, which opened in 2004, is located near Boca Chica on the southern part of the country near the Caribbean Sea. The Twins’ facility is located on a compound called Baseball City, which is shared by several MLB teams.
At the academy, dozens of players from the Dominican — some as young as 16 years old — hone their baseball skills under the watchful eye of team officials and the tutelage of several coaches. They wake up at the crack of dawn and hit the fields early in the morning to learn the basic fundamentals of the game. Off the field, they do plenty of learning in the classrooms, including English classes.
"A lot of these kids growing up down there they don’t play a lot of organized baseball and so it’s really a lot of times their first chance to play baseball in that kind of environment," Steil said. "It’s a big transition for these kids. I think if anybody thinks about it what it would be like for you at 17 years old going to a new country where you don’t speak the language, you don’t know the culture, so at our academy we try to prepare the kids for the transition when they come over here."
The biggest name to have come through the Twins’ baseball academy in the Dominican is Miguel Sano, one of the top prospects in baseball. Sano, who will miss the 2014 season after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, took part in the academy in 2010 after signing with the Twins as a 16-year-old in 2009. In 20 games in the Dominican summer league in 2010, Sano hit .344 with 10 RBI and three home runs.
Current Twins shortstop/center fielder Danny Santana also participated in the Dominican Republic academy in 2008, and minor league prospect Jorge Polanco played there in 2010. Santana made his major league debut with Minnesota earlier this season, and Polanco is currently playing for High-A Fort Myers.
The dream of all the kids at the baseball academy to play big-league baseball, hopefully earning enough money to take care of their families. For many, that dream may never come true. For others, it will. But for every kid taking part in the Twins’ baseball academy, the pursuit of their big-league dreams begins at Baseball City.