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SoxProspects News

June 15, 2009 at 8:05 PM

Q&A with Eddie Romero, Jr.

Eddie Romero, Jr. is the Coordinator of Latin American Operations for the Red Sox, a position that he has held since November 2006. He joined the Sox in February 2006 as a scouting assistant. Romero, a Florida native, oversees all aspects of player development in Latin America, including the Red Sox Dominican Academy headquartered in El Toro. The academy is open forty weeks a year, has up to eighty players and forty employees at a time, and is home to Boston's Dominican scouting efforts. Eddie graduated from the University of Florida for both undergraduate and law school. Before joining the Red Sox, he was a prosecutor for the State Attorneys' Office for the 4th Judicial District of Florida. His father, Ed Sr., was a major league infielder with Milwaukee, Boston, Atlanta, and Detroit from 1977 to 1989. In the interest of learning more about the day-to-day operations of the Latin American Program, SoxProspects.com staff members Jonathan Singer and Mike Andrews sent some questions over to Eddie, which he graciously took the time to answer.

SP: What is your background in baseball? How did you make the transition from the legal field to baseball operations?

My background stems more from growing up in a baseball family than anything else. I never played pro ball, but my father did. Once he retired from playing, he coached throughout the minor leagues. My family would join him in whatever city he was working, and most of what I learned about baseball came from being in those minor league clubhouses and bus trips. It was a unique upbringing that has really helped in my current position. My first job in baseball was in 2002 as an intern with the Milwaukee Brewers, where I was fortunate enough to work with Jack Zduriencik (current GM of the Seattle Mariners) and Bobby Heck (current Scouting Director for the Houston Astros), among many other talented people.

While working as a prosecutor in Jacksonville in 2006, I had sent resumes to every club. Of the several that I sent to the Red Sox, one happened to catch the attention of Craig Shipley, VP of International Scouting. Ship was a teammate of my father’s in the minor leagues and had worked various baseball camps I attended in South Florida. Ship called me out of the blue about an opening in the front office, and two weeks later I was in Boston. Baseball is full of legal “issues”, from basic negotiation to labor and contract law, and that legal background has proved to be useful.

SP: We want to ask some general questions about the workings of the Latin American Program to give Red Sox fans an idea of what it's all about. What is a typical day like at the Dominican Academy during the Dominican Summer League season?

A typical day for our DSL players begins around 6:45 am when they wake up and head to breakfast. After eating, they’ll head to the weight room for their morning workout, which lasts about an hour. Players then go out to the field for early work, stretching, fundamental work, and batting practice until 10:00. The games begin at 10:30 or 11:00, depending on where we play. Select players will have extra work after the games. That is followed by lunch, an hour to rest, and then everyone gets on the bus to ride to English class, which is 2 hours long, 4 days a week. They return for dinner around 7:00, hopefully watch the Red Sox game, and then lights out at 11:00 pm. Sundays are off days in the DSL and most of the Dominican players go home to see their families. It’s a full schedule and, as you can imagine, the guys are exhausted at the end of the day.

SP: What is the calendar like at the Dominican Academy during the off-season? Are there coordinated workouts throughout the off-season? Instructional leagues? Classes? Spring Training?

There is not much of an off-season at the DR Academy. We start with our winter program which runs in January and February, preparing guys for spring training. The academy closes for March while our DSL coaching staff attends spring training in Ft. Myers, and then reopens in April. From April through the start of the DSL, we have coordinated workouts every day and play preseason games. After the DSL season ends in August, players do not report back to the academy until October for the Dominican Instructional League, which ends in late November. For each program, players attend English class 3-4 times a week. Our staff, headed by manager Jose Zapata, does a great job of organizing our workouts throughout the year. We try to duplicate the daily schedule used in Ft. Myers as much as possible to ease the transition once a player gets his call to the States.

SP: Are all players in the Latin American Program signed to the same seven-year standard minor league player contract that domestic players sign, or do some players sign shorter deals?

All Latin players that are signing their first professional contracts (as opposed to players who have been released by another club) sign the same standard contracts that domestic players sign.

What kind of competition do recent signees face at the Dominican Academy after they sign and before they debut in the DSL or in the GCL? For example, Michael Almanzar signed in July 2007 but did not debut for an affiliated team until June of 2008. What type of activity would he be getting in the meantime? Intra-squad games? Scrimmages against other teams? Was he allowed to travel with the DSL squad in 2007?

Recent signees, including our July 2 signees, participate in what is like a parallel league to the DSL. They play 3-4 times a week against other teams’ recently signed players. This is a great way for these signees to get much-needed at-bats/innings under the supervision of our coaches. Michael Almanzar and Roman Mendez are two players who have participated in this league prior to heading to the States or participating in the DSL.

SP: What steps does the organization take to ensure that the players who are signed before the age of 18 get the equivalent of a high school education, and that they learn English?

We really emphasize a useful knowledge of English at the academy. As mentioned above, our players attend an English-only school 3-4 times a week, depending on the time of year. Duncan Webb, our Coordinator of Latin American Education, oversees the curriculum and has done a terrific job continuing the lessons from the DR to our education program in Ft. Myers. We try to be as proactive as possible to ensure that these kids feel comfortable once they get to the States. In addition to the classes, our fundamental work on the field is done in English, almost all of our coaches are bilingual and emphasize English baseball terms, and we hire an English-speaking intern every year to supervise the classes in DR and tutor players who need extra help; the past few years, this intern has been American. The best students are rewarded for their performance at the end of the year. Since the majority of the players we sign from DR have not finished middle school, they do not have enough time while at the academy to attain a high-school-equivalent diploma.

SP: We heard that Chris De La Rosa and Victor De La Cruz were released from the organization shortly after being suspended for performance enhancing drugs. What steps does the organization take to teach players about baseball's drug policies and the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs?

Before each of our 3 programs in the DR, our training staff in the DR, headed by Jean Carlos Blanco, gives a presentation on the dangers and restrictions pertaining to performance-enhancing substances. We also provide the players with approved supplements so that they do not have to search for products on their own. Additionally, just before the end of each program, the trainers give the players another presentation to reinforce what is and is not allowed. The suspensions of the players you mention serve as perhaps the strongest deterrent for our current players.

SP: Can you briefly describe the visa process? Are all foreign-born players required to obtain a visa prior to the season, or are there a set number of transferable visas that each team has per country? How quick is the visa process if the front office decides to promote a player without a visa from the DSL during the season?

All foreign-born players (except those born in Puerto Rico) are required to obtain a visa in order to work in the US. A few years ago, immigration laws were changed to remove the visa cap which allowed each MLB team a set number of visas. With the new guidelines, there is no limit as to how many visas we can obtain. Once the decisions are made by Mike Hazen, our Farm Director, and the rest of the player development staff on who will be coming to the US, Raquel Ferreira, our Director of Minor League Operations, coordinates the process by requesting the visas with the US government. Once the visas are approved, and with the help of our international scouts, we set up appointments at the US consulates in each country for our players. The players are interviewed at these embassies, and once they are approved, they are free to travel to the US.

The visa process is quite lengthy and expensive, so we try to get all of our visa approvals done prior to the season. The procedure can take a few months, so a player without a visa is highly unlikely to be promoted.

The Red Sox last had a Venezuelan Summer League team in 2005. Has there been any discussion about going back to Venezuela and fielding a team in the VSL again?

We have not entertained the idea of fielding a team in the VSL. I like the idea of centering a team’s Latin operation in one place, and given the political climate in Venezuela at the moment, the safest, most efficient place for us to have that program is in the DR. However, we remain very active in scouting Venezuela.

Beyond the day-to-day operations, we're obviously curious about the players. Who are some players that we should keep an eye on this year for the DSL Red Sox?

From an offensive standpoint, we’re very excited about Oscar Perez. Oscar has been playing in Extended Spring games in Ft. Myers, and we recently sent him to the DR so he could catch 4-5 games per week. He’s a great kid with a very strong work ethic, and has the tools to be a good defender with offensive upside. Keury De La Cruz is another young player with tools. He’s one of our most recent signees, and he’ll get the majority of games in center field. He has a very smooth left-handed swing and a good approach, especially considering his age. Curtney Doran, another recent signee from Curacao, has shown us a lot of talent in a short amount of time. His overall game is very aggressive and he’ll be the everyday right fielder. He’s a strong kid with good plate discipline and power. He’s also got a plus throwing arm.

On the pitching side, Raynel Vellette and Juan Rodriguez have had good starts to the season. Raynel is a wiry right-handed pitcher who participated in instructional ball last year in the States after the DSL. He has a quick arm with command of his fastball, and an advanced feel for his secondary pitches, especially his breaking ball. Juan Rodriguez is a power arm who has really come on lately. He’s intense and likes to attack hitters, and has been working hard on his slider and split-fingered fastball. Nestor Lastreto has also pitched very well. Although he isn’t a power arm, he’s got a great feel for pitching and above-average fastball command, which is something we really emphasize to players at this level.

Players promoted from the Latin American Program are faced with the difficult task of assimilating into a different culture. What makes for a successful transition from the Latin American Program to the States? For example, what traits - beyond their baseball skills - have made for the successful transitions of players like Stolmy Pimentel, Felix Doubront, and Argenis Diaz?

More than anything, a player’s makeup will help ease his transition to the US. Players that are willing to accept a different culture and make an effort to understand the language and the accompanying lifestyle changes in a new country will assimilate a lot easier, and in turn will feel more confident on the field. We impress upon the young kids that the key is feeling comfortable in their new surroundings, such as being able to talk with their new teammates, being able to communicate with their coaches, and ordering food at a restaurant without problems. And we also make sure that they keep in touch with their support systems back home. Another tremendous resource we have is Jesus Alou, our DR Academy director. Jesus has been in baseball almost 50 years and seen everything, and many players contact Jesus when they need some advice.

You mention Argenis, Felix, and Stolmy; I think the common thread with those players was their willingness to be proactive learning the way of life here. They were not afraid to make mistakes or sound silly. Stolmy actually won the award 2 years ago for being our best English student after his DSL season. Last week while I was in Ft. Myers, a group of about a dozen Latin American players gathered at the minor league complex to watch the Portland game which was being televised. They were all very impressed by the way Doubront handled himself in his pregame interview, and as much as we want to stress the importance of learning English, seeing a peer conduct a full interview really captures their attention.

SP: What attributes made Manny Rivera and Roman Mendez so successful last season?

Roman and Manny both made huge strides during the season last year. They were able to command the fastball and improve the secondary aspects of pitching. They could slow things down in tight situations, control the running game, and not be phased by negative plays. They’re both very mature pitchers in spite of their ages, exhibited by the way they prepare for their appearances. Mendez is more of a power-type pitcher with plus velocity. Manny relies more on his deception and control, though his velocity has ticked up this year. They’ll be fun to follow.