Mariners to build Dominican baseball academy
Spread out over 24 acres, facility will house up to 80 young prospects
SEATTLE -- It requires a little imagination, at this point, but Tim Kissner has seen the vision. A piece of property that sits barren in Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic will be home to a sparkling new 24-acre Mariners baseball academy in about 15 months, and Kissner knows the importance.
As the Mariners' new director of international operations, one of Kissner's first assignments last week was touring the land in the Dominican where the club announced Wednesday it will be making a major investment in international player development with the construction of a Latin American academy.
The facility will house up to 80 young Dominican prospects who will be able to live, train, attend school and develop their baseball skills. Final construction cost is expected to exceed $7 million.
The Mariners share an academy in the Dominican with the Dodgers, but Kissner said owning their own facility instead of splitting a rental will help the club strengthen its foothold in the Dominican, which produces more Major League players than any country outside of the U.S.
"The upside to these players is unbelievable," said Kissner, who replaced Bob Engle as the Mariners' international director on Oct. 29. "But they don't have the coaching, the housing, the nutrition that kids we're signing out of the States do and they don't have the organized baseball.
"When we sign them, they have raw tools, but their skills need to be developed. If we have our own facility to feed and house and educate them, it's a safe place for them to live and have instruction on the field and in the classroom to help them reach their maximum potential. If you're going to be active down here, you need something like this."
The academy will include two full-sized fields, with room to build a third if needed, as well as lighted batting cages, bullpen facilities with six mounds and a practice field. Adjacent to the fields will be the dormitory, dining hall, classrooms and computer labs.
"This is an investment in the Mariners' future," said general manager Jack Zduriencik. "Having state of the art facilities in the Dominican Republic will help not only with the training of our top Latin prospects, but with development and recruitment of talent from across Latin America."
Players signed by Seattle will be able to stay at the academy and unsigned players are allowed to visit for less than 30 days. With the new MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement limiting the amount of money that can be spent signing international players, Kissner feels the academy could help with the recruitment process of some of the talented teens.
"If you bring in a player and try them out, they're going to have experience with the coaches and people working with them," he said. "So when it comes to signing, they might remember that as a positive. If the facilities are nice, that can only help."
Kissner has spent the last week in the Dominican meeting with academy staff and watching young prospects. He said the new site has been cleared and now just needs to be filled and leveled before construction begins.
"It's a fun time to be getting started here," he said.
Kissner will fly to Venezuela on Thursday and spend four days at the Mariners' academy there before returning to the Dominican and eventually coming back to Seattle for Thanksgiving.
While all 30 Major League teams have instructional and winter league teams in the Dominican, the Mariners are one of only a handful that is investing in and owning their own academy there. Four teams, including the Mariners, also have teams in Venezuela, where the Mariners are renting their facility.
The Dominican has produced a number of recent Mariners, including Michael Pineda, Carlos Triunfel, Hector Noesi and Carlos Peguero, while Venezuela has produced Felix Hernandez, Franklin Gutierrez, Jesus Montero and Jose Lopez, among others.