Mike Silva's New York Baseball Digest » Blog Archive » “Pelotero” Displays Need for Change

“Pelotero” Displays Need for Change

By Mike Silva ~ October 16th, 2011. Filed under: International Baseball, Morning Digest.

I had the opportunity yesterday afternoon to screen the movie Pelotero at the Hamptons Film Festival. The film follows two young Dominican baseball players, or peloteros as they are called, while they work to achieve their dream of being signed by a professional club on their 16th birthday; the age they are first eligible.

The film has some star power at the top as the executive producer is former Mets manager Bobby Valentine. Andrew Muscato, who directed “The Zen of Bobby V,” worked with Valentine on the project as well.

Directors Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jon Paley spent 9 months in the Dominican Republic surveying the country, building relationships, and getting an overall feel of what Dominican baseball is all about. They followed five peloteros, but settled on two: Miguel Sano and Jean Batista.

Sano should be a name familiar to baseball fans as he is an infielder that signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2009 for $3.1 million dollars, the second highest bonus in Dominican baseball history. He would have been the highest ever- some believe he could have commanded as much as $6 million- but questions about his age led to a lengthy MLB investigation that depressed his market value. Despite tests to his DNA and bone structure, there were doubts to his legitimacy due to his enormous talent and size for a 16-year old. The league never fully vindicated Sano, but the Twins took a chance and he just completed his second year of pro-ball. Baseball America recently named him the #1 prospect in the rookie-level Appalachian League after he hit .292 with 20 HRs and 59 RBI in just 293 plate appearances. His ability to play shortstop has some believing the Twins could build their team around him in the near future even though he is just 18 years of age. BA also ranked him the Twins third best prospect going into the season.

Batista is a middle-infielder in the Astros organization that represents the side of Dominican baseball that caused such a stir about Sano’s alleged age. After working for three years with renowned trainer Astin Jacobo, it’s discovered his family lied about his age, forcing MLB to suspend him for one year and the Astros to cut his bonus by over 50%. Batista played second, third, and short while splitting time between the rookie Gulf Coast and Appalachian leagues. He hit a respectable .288 with 3 HRs and 29 RBI in 199 plate appearances. His future is not quite as bright since he is already 19 and a full year behind in his pro development.

The film displayed every side of Dominican baseball and how the culture ties into it. You see the poverty these kids come from, and how they view baseball as a way to give their family a better life. Baseball is not a recreational sport, its job training and failure means disappointing their family. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure to put on kids that start training as young as 10-years old.

Obviously corruption is a big part of the film. When you come from that type of poverty there is a need to succeed by any means possible. You have steroids, ID fraud, and unscrupulous agents, trainers, and big league scouts. Remember, possessing skills of a 19 year old at 16 is extraordinary and could lead to riches and top prospect status with a big league club. It also brings wealth to the trainers, who take as much as 35% of the kid’s signing bonus. It may sound large, but they essentially are a benefactor for the pelotero from the minute they take them on as a student. Don’t forget the stories we have heard about scouts skimming bonuses in exchange for the kids signing with their team. In short, you see the business side of Dominican baseball which looks an awful lot like the old wild west.

MLB doesn’t come out unscathed either as you see another example of how their anti-trust exemption allows them to make decisions with impunity. At one point a member of Dominican baseball compares them to the mafia. Many Dominicans believe intense investigation of top prospects on the island is a way to roll back the escalating levels of bonus money being paid.

Since Finkel, Martin, and Paley were in the DR, the league started a department to address the issue of the corruption. Current Mets GM Sandy Alderson was originally the front man on this project for the league. Obviously, there is a ton of work still to be done.

The movie is definitely something the hardcore baseball fan will enjoy, but even the casual observer or non-fan can appreciate the narrative of these two kids, and yes we must remember they are literally kids. If you want to spend 73 minutes of your day learning something new, then this film is the way to accomplish that. You get to see two diverse stories that give you the good, bad, and ugly of big league baseball in the Dominican Republic.


Rene Gayo, the Pirates director of Latin American scouting, comes across as a suspicious character in this film. Gayo is suspected of causing the stir over Sano’s age because he wanted to sign him, but knew Pittsburgh couldn’t afford his original asking price. Gayo is caught on video numerous times saying how he could help Sano get a visa if he signs with him and admits he lied about his age. In one scene at the MLB offices in the Dominican, he points out how he would prefer the cameras not to be in the room when they discuss the investigation.


How does all this change?

Speaking with the audience after the film, Bobby Valentine believes there needs to be an international draft. There has been talk that an international draft will be part of the next collective bargaining agreement, set to expire this December, but it’s easier said than done.

The biggest issue I see is a hard slotting system to limit bonuses. That is something that Commissioner Bud Selig wants with the amateur draft here in the States. I would find it hard to believe the Players Association would agree to any sort of “cap” in baseball, even though it’s for non-union members. Start with a cap on bonuses in the DR and States, and five years later they will be talking about capping salaries it at the big league level. I could be wrong, but precedent tells me it will be a no-go.

There are many issues that would need to be vetted with an international draft. How players opt-in, the process of determining their age and identity, and whether other countries would comply with the system come to my mind. How do you think Cuban ballplayers will feel being subjected to such a system after they have been free to negotiate with any team after defecting? What if they refuse to participate? What if a country decides not to cooperate? Would you just ignore their talent?

These are all questions that don’t have easy answers. Can you legally deny someone the right to play baseball? These are deep debates that probably require a thesis paper. This is bigger than baseball; this could become an issue of international politics.

I do know after watching Pelotero that there is a need for change. Corruption will always exist, but an international draft will at least create some level of cost certainty. There will be a better understanding of a player’s value, just like in the United States, and even if there is no slotting system, you can bet teams will try to stay in the ballpark in most scenarios.

Right now there is no structure in the international market. A draft would be a great way to begin the foundation of such structure. Whether it can be done starting next year remains to be seen. My gut says no since baseball historically moves very slow on any issue, and this is one that will receive great resistance.

Look for the next commissioner to be the one looked at to really solve the problem. The guy in charge now just isn’t capable of fixing such a large issue.


Listening to Valentine talk yesterday made me think that he might be someone that could do a good job creating and implementing the international draft. He would even be a good choice to be the next commissioner of baseball.

Valentine dives into everything with two feet. Whether it’s managing his baseball team, broadcasting, civil service in Stamford, Connecticut or 9-11 rescue, Bobby V is not a figurehead.

He is headstrong and aggressive, but his passion, I believe, is always guided in doing what he believes is right.

I don’t know if managing a big league team is in his future, but there are other jobs that he could provide a service to the game. Getting involved with cleaning up the Dominican Republic might be an area that he could be of tremendous help.

I also think leading baseball into the next phase of their history is something he could certainly be good at, although I don’t know if the 30 owners could handle him.

I know he is happy and comfortable in the ESPN broadcast booth, but he is way too smart a baseball man for that to be his role going forward; at least in my opinion.


In case Red Sox fans are dreaming of Bobby V in Fenway, I can’t say that Valentine is interested (he was very mum on his managerial future yesterday), but the Sox did have a working relationship with Valentine’s former Japanese team, the Chiba Lotte Marines; something to think about.

I do think a Theo Epstein/Valentine marriage would never have worked or happened. Remember, Terry Francona was tired of Epstein’s controlling nature, but now that Epstein is headed to Chicago the odds of Valentine considering a Boston situation might have increased exponentially.


You can hear my conversation with Bobby Valentine live or on replay tonight at 8pm.


You can check out more about the film at peloterothemovie.com

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
Mike Silva
View all posts by Mike Silva
Mikes website

Post to Twitter Post to Yahoo Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook

Leave a Reply