Sources: MLB to allow minor leaguers to play in Pan American Games

Major League Baseball clubs will allow minor-league players to participate in the Pan American Games in Toronto this July.

MLB-affiliated players who aren’t protected on 40-man rosters are expected to be eligible for the seven-team tournament, which includes the United States and defending Pan Am champion Canada, baseball officials told FOX Sports.

The commitment can be viewed as evidence of MLB’s support for the Pan Am Games in particular and international baseball overall. (A higher level of participation –€” i.e., major leaguers from 40-man rosters — would not be practical for an in-season tournament.)

The International Olympic Committee dropped baseball and softball after the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, but MLB is a major financial supporter of the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s effort to reinstate both sports for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

In addition to Canada and the U.S., four teams have secured bids: Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The seventh entrant (from South America) will be determined by a qualifier in early March. Rosters for the tournament will consist of 24 players, according to Toronto 2015 spokesman Teddy Katz.

Canada defeated the U.S., 2-1, in the final of the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. The U.S. team for that tournament included a number of players — pitchers Matt Shoemaker and Drew Smyly, infielder Jordy Mercer, and outfielder A.J. Pollock –€” who are established major leaguers now.

Team Cuba is certain to be a source of intrigue at the tournament, given the profound impact of former Cuban national team players on MLB in recent years. Cuba’s roster at the last Pan Am Games included reigning American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu and Rusney Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with the Red Sox in August.

Currently, the Cuban baseball federation prohibits defectors from playing for the country’s national team. It’s unclear if that will change over the next several years as a result of the shift in relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

According to Baseball Canada, this year’s Pan Am tournament will run July 11-19 in Ajax, Ontario, outside Toronto.

Baseball at the Pan American Games typically hasn’t generated much interest among North American fans, but the timing and location of this year’s tournament should provide a modest bump in publicity. Local organizers were wise to ensure games would take place on two days (July 15 and 16) when there are no MLB events during the All-Star break. The July 19 final will take place on a Sunday, one week before the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony.