If you need proof that the resources that Major League Baseball has started to pour into the Dominican Republic to verify age and identity, you need look no further than the San Diego Padres.
In 2008 they thought they were signing 16-year old 3B Jefri Pena, but what they were really getting for their $325,000 investment was 20-year old Jefri Mercedes. That same year they signed another 16-year old, SS Alvaro Aristy for a cool million. The only problem, for San Diego anyway, was that Aristy was actually Jorge Leandro Guzman and he was much closer to 19 than 16.
Once bitten, twice shy? Not remotely.
The Padres dipped back into the Dominican talent pool the following summer when they landed 16-year old OF Yoan Alcantara for $135,000. Recent events have come to light that have revealed that Alcantara was involved in age and identity fraud shenanigans of his own. We don’t know his true identity and perhaps more importantly – with regard to his prospect status – his true age remains a mystery at this point. What we do know is that the contract investigator involved in Alcantara’s case, Kleiber Miguel Bruno Gonzalez, accepted a $25,000 bribe to help Yoan fraudulently pass his background check and verification process.
This news may be a bigger blow to the organization than the previous two cases. Aristy/Guzman has failed to hit above the Mendoza line in 3 minor league seasons. Pena/Mercedes is nowhere to be found. Alcantara however turned in a standout season by hitting 0.348/.367/.586 with 28 XBH and 8 SB in 50 games for the team’s affiliate in the Arizona League this year. A season that was noteworthy enough to earn him the distinction of being the #1 prospect in the AZL league according to Baseball America.
No matter how old he turns out to be, he still has that season on his resume and he is still a potential five-tool talent. That’s the good news, but his prospect status dims considerably if he winds up being 20 or 21-years old instead of 18. If nothing else those extra years are going to make his 25-4 SO-to-BB a little less palatable. The news overall is disappointing, but there is still reason to hope that Alcantara will provide the Padres a return on their investment in the long run.
Major League Baseball still has a lot of work to do to verify identities and ages of eligible Dominican free agents but they’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of seasons. Enough so that the Padres should feel relatively comfortable that 16-year old OF Franmil Reyes, who they signed last week for $700,000, won’t turn out to be someone else. They just have to worry about his development and his ability to play baseball.