In a late August '09 interview with the then-recently promoted to full-time D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, an internet-based writer asked the general manager if he planned on expanding the team's international scouting. Mr. Rizzo's response:
"We do have to expand ourselves into Venezuela specifically and the other Latin American countries. We signed eleven solid guys out the Dominican Republic this season, this year alone... but we're looking in the future to go down there and make more permanent accomodations for our players and we're going to do that in the very near future, so it is a priority for us."
The Nats' GM oversaw the rebuilding of the Nationals' Dominican operations himself and also set about restructuring the Nationals' front office later that fall. As SI.com's Melissa Segura wrote at the time in an article entitled, "Nats tap Red Sox exec to help rebuild international operations," one, "...critical piece of the Washington Nationals efforts to rebuild their operations," was their decision to sign, "Boston Red Sox Latin American coordinator Johnny DiPuglia," who, "accepted a position as the Nationals director of international operations." Though Rizzo himself traveled to the Dominican Republic to shut down the existing facilities after the "Smiley" Gonzalez scandal (which Ms. Segura played a big part in breaking) Mr. DiPuglia, would be called on, as Ms. Segura wrote, to, "[establish] the Nationals as a permanent presence on the island," and in Latin America in general.
At the press conference to announce that Washington had signed Yunesky Maya out of Cuba in what the Nationals called their "first major international signing", the Nats' GM credited Mr. DiPuglia, "our Director of International Operations, along with his staff and a deep scouting effort," for getting the Nationals a pitcher they thought could make an impact at the major league level immediately.
Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore examined the revamped facilities recently and first mentioned that the Nats had signed two Dominican-born prospects, 17-year-old catcher Raudy Read and 16-year-old outfielder Randy Novas, in a great article on the Washington Nationals' Dominican operations entitled, "Two years later, Washington Nationals moving past Esmailyn 'Smiley' Gonzalez scandal in Dominican Republic." Mr. Kilgore also mentioned the signing of 17-year-old pitcher Miguel Navarro, who got a $120,000 deal as part of the "roughly" $1 million dollars Washington spent on Latin American prospects last year.
This morning, Mr.'s Rizzo and DiPuglia together announced the signings of 16 international free agents, "highlighted by catcher Raudy Read and outfielder Randy Novas," as the Nats wrote in an official press release. Read, according to the release, "...has great instincts behind the plate, including exceptional hands, feet and arm strength...[and] has demonstrated a powerful bat with superior plate discipline." Novas, "possesses advanced tools", and, "His speed and instincts translate to superior range in the outfield," while he's, "consistently demonstrated power to all fields," at the plate.
The press release included a full list of the players signed today:
"...left-handed pitchers Joel Barrientos (17, Dominican Republic), Brian Escolastico (18, Dominican Republic) and Hector Silvestre (18, Dominican Republic); right-handed pitchers Anderson Martinez (18, Venezuela), Gilberto Mendez (18, Dominican Republic) and Felix Moscat (20, Dominican Republic); catchers Pedro Severino (17, Dominican Republic) and Jorge Tillero (17, Venezuela); first baseman Arialdi Peguero (18, Dominican Republic); shortstop Yewri Guillen (18, Dominican Republic); third baseman Diomedes Eusebio (18, Dominican Republic); and outfielders Juan de los Santos (17, Venezuela), Wilman Rodriguez (19, Dominican Republic) and Dioncio Rosario (17, Dominican Republic)."
The Nationals proved their willingness to spend for free agents this winter when they blew everyone in pursuit of Jayson Werth out of the water with their much-maligned 7-year/$126M dollar deal. Now they're proving that they're willing to spend money on the international free agent market as well. The Washington Post's Mr. Kilgore said the "roughly $1 million dollars" the Nats spent last year, "...one of the smallest budgets in the majors." When Mr. DiPuglia was hired, however, he told SI.com's Ms. Segura that he had, "met with [ownership] and they're committed," to spending in Latin America. Do today's signings make up for years of neglect in the past, no, but they're another step in the right direction.