Colorado has been a part of the baseball landscape in the Dominican Republic since the club's inception in 1992. Earlier this spring I wrote about the Rockies new baseball academy in the D.R. and how it's state-of-the-art facility would help to mold better Latin American prospects in the Rockies system.
This summer the Rockies opened a brand new $6 million facility, large enough to house 80 players. The dormitory-style academy is set with classrooms, weight rooms and better practice grounds than some spring training facilities.
One of the brightest stars to enjoy the new academy this season was catcher Hamlet Marte. The right-handed batter enjoyed a breakout season putting up a slash line of .291/.382/.452 while tying the club record with seven home runs.
Marte was signed as an International Free Agent at the age of 17 and spent three years in the Rockies academy before moving stateside to participate in the current Fall Instructional program in Scottsdale, Arizona. Marte explained that earning a contract with the Rockies didn't happen overnight. Rather, starting at the age of 15 he spent two years trying out before Colorado signed him into the organization and he says it was well worth the wait.
"I think training with the Rockies is one of the best things that has happened in my life because it's more than a baseball organization here. With the Colorado Rockies, we are a family."
Playing in the United States is very different than in the Dominican says Hamlet. He's working on improving his defense and has discovered the mental aspects of the game to be a challenge in itself. He's working hard to get the opportunity to move higher with the club and although the organization never commits on their specific plans for a player, he thinks he may play in Grand Junction next summer.
Learning to play professional baseball as a teenager can be difficult and Marte initially struggled, batting lower than .200 twice before breaking out as a 19-year-old and tying the club record for home runs. He attributes his success to hard work in the off-season and taking the advice of his coaches. He emphasized the physical work he put in during the off-season prepared him for the increased playing time and output of production he enjoyed throughout the year.
It's a difficult jump from the island to the United States. Often times, players of high school age find themselves facing professionals with a college degree. However, Marte says it helps that past DSL veterans often return over the winter to train at the Rockies academy and share their knowledge and experience with the younger players.
Still, most players arrive with little fanfare and even less advanced scouting. In Hamlet's case, even the MiLB.com webpage that reveals his professional biography is wrong.
The information on my (Milb.com bio) page is an error. I was not born in New Jersey. I am from a small town in the Dominican Republic, called Salcedo.
Marte's breakout season in the Dominican isn't a sure indicator that he will play well in America in 2014. His batting average of .291 at 19-years of age is a good indicator however, as the list of players who have matched or exceeded that high of an average in recent years includes guys who have had some very good offensive numbers in the higher levels, including: Raimel Tapia (.316, 2012), Jose Briceno (.288, 2011) Rafael Ortega (.324, 2009) and Francisco Sosa (.291, 2009). The only player 19 or younger to hit higher and not produce, was Franmy Pena (.296, 2011). Look for Hamlet to follow a similar timeline as Raimel Tapia this year, by getting a shot in spring training to show he belongs in the United States and then possibly starting in Short-season Grand Junction.
I want to thank Hamlet Marte for taking the time to answer my questions and Charles Petro for translating them. I recommend following Hamlet Marte and Charles Petro on Twitter. Hamlet and the Rockies DSL Academy can also be found on Instagram.
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