Correa exemplifies rebirth of Puerto Rican baseball
While spotlight shines on No. 1 Draft pick's school, the island is making comeback
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Carlos Berroa knows the question is coming, so go ahead and ask.
The baseball director at Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School doesn't really have an answer but he does have a nice comeback that should suffice for now.
"When is the next Carlos Correa coming?" Berroa said. "Well, it's simple. It took us almost 20 years since the Draft was implemented in Puerto Rico to get the No. 1 pick. Hopefully, it will happen again but it takes a special talent. The bottom line is that we need to continue to develop kids and give them the opportunity to get drafted."
The Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School (PRBAHS) has been in existence for 10 years but gained unprecedented attention in June, when Correa, the school's most famous alumni, made history as the first Puerto Rican player selected with the first overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. This week, a team from PRBAHS is one of four competing in the MLB Amateur Prospect Tournament at Estadio Quisqueya in the Dominican Republic's capital city, and Berroa can barely walk a few feet without somebody asking about Correa.
Whether one of the players on Berroa's roster here or back home in Puerto Rico turns out to be the next Correa is to be determined. What is certain is that baseball on the island is back in the spotlight because of Correa and the high school's focus on developing players.
"Baseball is on the rise, no doubt about it, and we are riding a good wave right now," Berroa said. "We hit rock bottom but now we are on the recovering side of things. We have a lot of good talent in Puerto Rico and a lot of good talent in the Minor Leagues and in the lower leagues and people are starting to see that."
Including Correa and Jesmuel Valentin, who was selected by Dodgers with the 51st pick, four players were taken in the First-Year Player Draft from PRBAHS this year. Overall, 25 players from the island were drafted and four additional Puerto Rican players were signed after a showcase put together by Major League Baseball.
Since the first class graduated in 2004, there have been 86 players from PRBAHS selected in the Draft. The commonwealth became subject to the Draft in 1989 and five years later, catcher Ramon Castro, who was selected by the Astros with the No. 17 pick, became the highest pick to come from Puerto Rico before Correa.
"They've had a banner year and if you talk to them, they will say the same thing," said Joel Araujo, manager of Latin American game development for MLB. "We want to help them and remind people that baseball in Puerto Rico is on the rise again and the academy is on the forefront of that revolution."
There remains room for improvement.
The Puerto Rican Winter League, once home to Hall of Famers and almost every player from the island to play in the Major Leagues, has struggled to stay relevant in recent years. The league's woes, along with the implementation of the Draft, were once the most-cited reasons for the decline of baseball on the island, but Berroa believes that should no longer be the case.
"I don't think the league represents what's going on with baseball in Puerto Rico right now," he said. "Obviously, we have to improve our Winter League but we still have some good young talent [who] will be good players in the big leagues worth paying attention to. I just think that we have finally adjusted to the Draft and programs like at our academy that focus on development of players will produce players for years to come. "
Puerto Rico won its first game against a team of the top Dominican prospects on Sunday and was defeated by USA Baseball's 15-and-under team in its second game of the tournament Monday.
The wins are nice but they are not the top priority, Berroa said, and it's not the reason he brought his team to Santo Domingo.
"I think it's really important that we expose the kids to scouts and get as many eyes on them as possible," he said. "It's key for them to get this experience and see the different types of players from different countries and realize that it is not easy to be a professional baseball player."