Minor baseball in the city is passing through a very unusual moment while the “farming” structure is suffering from the lack of fields for kids and teenagers to practice the sport. Meanwhile, the player market here in Colombia for Major League Baseball scouts is enjoying one of its best periods in the country’s history. So far this year, across Latin America, Colombia has the third most players signed into MLB after the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Even though Barranquilla has the best team in professional ball across Colombia (Los Caimanes), Cartagena has a huge lead in the number of players being recruited to the majors. The reason is that there are more minor league ball diamonds in “La Heroica” and they are all well distributed across the city, whereas here in “La Arenosa”, there are a lot of adult players but very few academies building young players and very few diamonds for local kids to get interested.
The difference between these two cities is that there, in Cartagena, baseball is the major sport; while here in Barranquilla, football takes the biggest piece of the action. The reason it’s so difficult to find baseball diamonds in Barranquilla is that the players are mainly divided into two groups; those living in poor parts of the city and country club members, making it tough for the average kid to be interested in playing.
It’s a substantial difference. Based on the MLB inscription roster for this year, Barranquilla is contributing only 35 youth, whereas Cartagena hopes to inscribe more than a 100.
Jose Mosquera, the Colombian national youth team coach, explained “The kids who come to train are mainly here to avoid drugs and the gangs; they pursue baseball to find an economic exit to the dangerous environment that surrounds them. The discipline and the sportsman lifestyle is the only way to keep them on the right track”.
Luckily, as part of the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games to be held in Barranquilla in 2018, the federal and local governments are working together to build a professional baseball stadium. On the other hand, the rest of the city is completely forgotten. “Citizens need to have more places to play to stop wasting the talent we have,” Mosquera said.
One of José Mosquera’s biggest concerns is where they are going to train while the stadium is under construction. They don’t have anything figured out yet, and they hope that Uni-Atlántico will let them do it on their field. If there were other public parks, they wouldn’t have to depend on the mercy of thirds.
Mosquera has several trainees waiting for the MLB signing deadline of July 2nd, the day when all of their dreams could come true. One of Barranquilla’s most promising players is the Colombian-Venezuelan, Adrian Sanchez, who is in the AA category and has been signed by the Washington Nationals. Here he plays for the Monteria Lions and this year he was the batting champion of the country.
José Luis Barraza, MLB Scouting Bureau representative for the Colombian area, said “Fifteen national players signed a contract in 2015 with one of the 30 MLB organizations. For over five years, our country has been signing, at least, ten ballplayers into the big leagues.”
Last year, Colombia had a great performance at the Pan-American Games held in Aguas Calientes, Mexico. Our team, which was “a filler” reached the finals against the US, after defeating such giants as Venezuela and Panama. Five of the players training in Barranquilla were observed in that tournament by 55 MLB scouts.
Right now the Colombian players market is very strong. Generally, a national player could expect to earn a $100,000 USD signing bonus, but after Jorge Alfaro (prospect number 6 in the majors) $1,3 million deal, the checks are expected to be bigger and bigger.
Colombian players are usually better at the middle infield positions, such as shortstop, catcher or second base. Historical examples like the SS Edgar Renteria, (two times World Series champion, MVP in one of them among other personal awards) and Orlando Cabrera (one time WS champ) show our strength in that area. Nowadays in the majors, the national infielders are Dilson Herrera (Mets), the Solano brothers (Marlins) and Giovanni Urshela (Indians).
Mosquera explains that the market is strong because of their formation strategies: “We exceed on these positions because of our physics; we don’t have big players or hitters, so we have to focus on areas where velocity is a must. We always push our ball players to play in places where most Americans fail. That’s the only way to be competitive with them”.