MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' new academy in the Dominican Republic is open for business. Club officials, including general manager Doug Melvin, have spent the week inspecting the complex in Ramon Santana, a municipality just northeast of San Pedro de Macoris along the Dominican Rebublic's southern shore. It is owned by former Brewers reliever Salomon Torres, who runs three such facilities and will oversee day-to-day operations under the supervision of his Towers Corp. The Brewers have not announced the terms of their lease, calling it only a "long-term partnership." They previously played at a less modern facility near Santo Domingo.
The new complex, built in 2006, represents an upgrade. It has two baseball fields, batting cages, bullpens, a clubhouse and weight room, plus 13 rooms of housing, classrooms and a cafeteria. Next season, the Brewers will move to the San Pedro de Macoris division of the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, joining affiliates of the Angels, Braves, Blue Jays and Tigers. Torres also operates the Braves' and Tigers' facilities. He pitched his third facility, previously occupied by the Rangers, to Brewers officials at last year's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Former Reds GM Dan O'Brien, one of Melvin's special assistants, was the Brewers' point man on the move. "This new academy will provide the Brewers with all the necessary ingredients to allow their Latin players to take their baseball skills to a new level, putting them in a position to become a big league player some day," Torres said in a statement provided by the Brewers. "From the meals to the fields, we take care of everything in between so the Brewers scouts and personnel can concentrate on their most important task, which is the development of these players." The move represents another step for the Brewers in re-establishing a base in Latin America. From late 2003 to early '09, the Brewers were the only Major League team without a permanent academy outside of the U.S. When their previous Dominican facility was shuttered, assistant general manager Gord Ash said the plan was to take the funds that had been invested in the infrastructure and staffing necessary to host scores of 16- and 17-year old international prospects and apply them instead to fewer higher-cost and presumably higher-level prospects who would be imported directly to the U.S. The Brewers essentially traded quantity for, they thought, quality. High-profile signings followed, including right-handers Rolando Pascual for a reported $710,000 bonus and Wily Peralta for $450,000 in 2005. Peralta has panned out. So far, Pascual has not. "We thought the attraction -- and it did help us to sign players -- would be to bring them over immediately to the States," O'Brien told MLB.com in 2010. "What we found," O'Brien said, "is that the transition was too radical. In addition to your baseball skills, all the things that go into becoming a good professional player, it was just too much." So beginning in 2008, the Brewers altered their philosophy. That spring, they hired Rolando Valles, a left-hander with experience in the U.S. Minor Leagues, as Latin liason, a sort of father figure for Latin players. In 2009, the Brewers rejoined the DSL by sharing a summer team with the Orioles. In 2010, Milwaukee made a more permanent return by opening a complex and entering a standalone DSL team. Managed by Nestor Corredor, a former Brewers Minor League catcher-turned-pitcher, that team went 44-27 during the 2011 regular season and earned a Wild Card berth to the DSL postseason. Four players were named All-Stars -- infielder Orlando Arcia, catcher Deivi Mejia, and right-handers Gian Rizzo and Carlos Sosa. Players must also perform in the classroom, where they take lessons twice a week in English in addition to cultural training and classes in basic accounting and nutrition. The class work is meant to ease an eventual transition to the U.S. At the same time, Brewers officials envision their academy as a positive for the local Dominican economy and community. Over the summer, the club's DSL players took part in a community service project at a school in Santo Domingo's Villa Mella, helping to renovate unsanitary restrooms, painting the interior and exterior and aiding in a project to provide the school with clean drinking water. The DSL season runs from early June through late August.