First wave of Marlins' international signees surfacing
Signed at young age out of Dominican, Ozuna, Caminero could open year in Majors
MIAMI -- When the Marlins open Spring Training on Sunday, Marcell Ozuna will be the frontrunner to start in center field, while Arquimedes Caminero will compete for a bullpen spot.
The two made their Major League debuts last year, and they have the abilities to enjoy promising careers.
They also represent something more to the Marlins. The Dominican Republic natives are the first wave of home-grown international signings who are filtering up to the big leagues.
With limited economic resources, the Marlins have not been major players in the international market. In the fall, they heavily scouted Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, who ended up signing with the White Sox for $68 million.
Miami did not take part in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, and the Japanese sensation ended up joining the Yankees for $155 million.
Even though the Marlins aren't financially positioned to win bidding wars with higher revenue clubs, they have been active on the international front. Their primary focus is Latin America, where they have their academy in the Dominican Republic.
In recent months, high-ranking Marlins officials have personally attended various showcases in Latin America.
With so much uncertainty projecting teenagers, the Marlins have offered more modest signing bonuses and then developed players in their system.
"If you get two guys that you found at 16 in the Dominican who are [now] performing on your team, you've done it," Marlins president David Samson said.
Ozuna and Caminero are early examples.
Caminero, a right-hander with a fastball in the upper 90s, signed in 2005. Now 26, he will be given an opportunity to earn a spot in Miami's Opening Day bullpen.
An imposing 6-foot-4, 255-pounder, Caminero appeared in 13 games for the Marlins last year, posting a 2.77 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 13 innings.
In recent years, Caminero has bounced back from Tommy John surgery, and now he has a realistic chance to make Miami's 25-man roster.
Ozuna, 23, is an energetic outfielder with a strong arm and power potential. He showed encouraging signs as a rookie last year, batting .265 with three homers and 32 RBIs in 70 games. A middle-of-the-order option, he added 17 doubles and four triples.
Ozuna's season was cut short in late July after he sustained a left thumb injury that required surgery.
Right field is a more natural position for Ozuna, but he is blocked there by Giancarlo Stanton. With Christian Yelich in left, the Marlins like Ozuna in center with that trio.
Ozuna signed with the Marlins in 2008, and he has impressed at every level.
With the global expansion of baseball, the talent pool has widened. Japan, obviously, is producing big league stars. But it is a market the Marlins haven't seriously explored due to the posting system, which offers compensation to the Japanese league team.
Under the system, the posting cap is set at $20 million for the rights to negotiate with the player.
"The posting system change basically was a re-allocation of dollars from the posting club to the player who was posted," Samson said.
Although the posting cap replaces the blind bidding of the past, to the budget-conscious Marlins, it remains a deterrent when it comes to signing Japanese players.
"We'd rather focus in Venezuela, the Dominican and Panama, because we have a bigger infrastructure there," Samson said. "We have a better understanding of their success rate at the Major League level."
Entering Spring Training, the Marlins will have 69 total players in camp. Three of them will be their own international signings. Right-hander Jose Urena, also from the Dominican Republic, joined the organization in 2008.
Urena projects to start the season at Double-A Jacksonville.
No matter if it is the international market or the First-Year Player Draft, the reality is a low percentage of young players enjoy big league success.
"The number of 16-year-olds who make it is small," Samson said. "But you have to buy a lot of them and you do the best you can, and that's it."