Victor Robles, the top prospect in the Washington Nationals’ organization, and one of the top prospects in baseball, signed for $225,000 back in 2013. Juan Soto, ranked No. 2 on most lists of the Nats’ prospects, signed for $1.5M as a 16-year-old in 2015.
Shortstop/second baseman Luis Garcia, who landed at No. 6 on Baseball America’s list of the Nationals’ top prospects, and No. 9 on MLB Pipeline’s list, signed for $1.3M back in 2016.
Catcher Raudy Read (No. 9 on BA’s Top 10 for the Nationals in 2018), signed for $130K as a 17-year-old in 2011.
Shortstop/third baseman Yasel Atuna, ranked No. 10 on BA’s list and No. 8 on MLB’s, got a franchise-record $3.9 million bonus when he signed as a 16-year-old in July of 2016.
All five prospects listed above were signed out of the Dominican Republic after the Nationals revamped their international scouting operations in 2009, the same year Mike Rizzo took over as the General Manager in the nation’s capital following the scandal surrounding Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez, who was actually 20 years old when the Nationals thought they signed him as a 16-year-old for $1.4 million in 2016.
Washington Post writer Jorge Castillo, in an excellent, in-depth, article published last week, looked into the changes that have resulted in a wave of talent that’s entered the organization since then, providing prospects that have helped out at the major league level.
Rizzo, in an MLB Network Radio interview last week, discussed the changes within the organization and the hard work put in to turn things around, which, as Vice President of International Operations, Johnny DiPuglia, told the WaPost’s Castillo, wasn’t always easy.
“I’m not going to tell you it was a honeymoon,” DiPuglia said. “Obviously, it wasn’t.”
“I think it all goes back to... you have to be hands on in the international side,” Rizzo told Sirius/XM hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette, “especially the Dominican side.”
“I was in charge of international scouting for seven years I was with the Arizona Diamondbacks. I was down in the Dominican Republic probably a couple a thousand times in my baseball career, so I know the landscape, I know how business is done there, and I know how to scout and evaluate players and it’s really about the people you have on the ground there. It’s hands-on. You have to be there. You really can’t maintain it from afar. And I think that’s the biggest change that we’ve had.”
Hiring DiPuglia, Rizzo explained, was one of the keys to the turnaround.
“Hiring Johnny DiPuglia down there and the fine staff that he’s put together, we’re all on the same page, and we’re upfront and honest and we’re doing things by the rules and just trying to beat people by outworking them and out-evaluating them. It’s hard to outspend a lot of teams, but we’re trying to get the best players we can and do things the right way down there.”
While the WaPost’s reporter noted that the Nationals’ current facilities are actually, “... a considerable upgrade from their previous headquarters,” he also acknowledged that, “... it lags behind most other clubs’ amenities,” which Rizzo told the MLB Network Radio hosts was at least in part by design.
“We like our players to be a little bit uncomfortable down there,” he explained.
“We don’t want the Taj Mahal of academies. We want them to want to leave the place, to get out of there and get to the big leagues, and we’ve made that.
“We’ve got ourselves a very comfortable, clean, positive work environment down there in our Dominican academy, run by great people, and we really put our financial muscle behind the player, and less so with the grand academies.
“They get their work done and we develop them and get them out there, and you can see by the Top 10 lists, and the Top 20 lists, how many really good prospects we’ve had in the Dominican Republic, and it doesn’t count the ones we’ve used in trades to bolster our major league club, so in the last ten or so years we’ve really come a long way.”
With Dominican-born prospects filling up the organization’s prospects list, and Robles, Read, and catcher Pedro Severino, who’s expected, as of now, to back up at the major league level in 2018, the work everyone has put in (the players included) is paying dividends.
“It’s a tribute to all the people down there,” Rizzo concluded. “Johnny DiPuglia gets the most credit, but he’ll tell you there’s a lot of hands on stuff that goes on and there are a lot of people that have done a great job.
“They’re the unsung heroes, obviously, of baseball, those guys who evaluate, and grind it out every day down there, the coaches, managers, trainers and scouts that work those countries, often in dangerous situations.”