“Corruption exists in every pore of commerce, and the Latin-American market just happens to have really oily skin.”
Jason Parks, “From the Buscones to the Big Leagues,”
When we talk about the lower levels of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system, President/CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins would like to have us mention about how 3 of their 4 short-season teams made the post-season (one of them winning a league championship), and how their High A club won a league shared title. It’s evidence of an ample wave of talent that’s working its way up through the system. Failing that, they would prefer we talk about the team’s High Performance Department, which Shapiro believes will give the club a competitive advantage in years to come.
Unfortunately, given the latest PED suspensions of players connected to their Dominican complex, such is not the case. In addition to the three players suspended last week, three more received suspensions this week, and we also learned that a seventh player was found to have tested positive in September.
17-year old Southpaw Naswell Paulino, a converted OF who struck out almost a batter per inning in the DSL, 19 year old RHP Jol Concepcion, who also fanned nearly 9/9 at two levels, and 20-year old Righty Juan Jimenez were suspended in this latest round. Paulino and Jimenez received 72 game bans, Concepcion 60. All three, like the trio suspended last week, were found to have used Boldenone. After the season, RHP Luis Silva was found to have tested positive for Stanozolol.
In an email, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins stated that this had been a lengthy process:
A little while ago, MLB informed us that a group of our Latin American prospects had failed drug tests. Due to the large group of impacted players within our program, MLB launched our investigation that we and our Player Development staff fully complied with. MLB’s suspension decisions were recently announced at the conclusion of their investigation.
Atkins was choosing his words carefully (he said much the same to several media outlets yesterday), but his concern was obvious:
This situation is very disappointing and disturbing to the organization; disappointing that the players made these choices, but more so disturbing that some failure of our environment allowed this to happen. It is our responsibility to create an environment and culture where our players know that PED use is not condoned, and to give them resources and education to ensure that they do not make these decisions. As we seek to determine both how and why this happened, an internal investigation into the situation remains ongoing, and we will double down on ensuring that all our staff is properly equipped to help our players make the right choices. Aside from this specific situation, we fully support the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and will continue to collaborate with MLB on all matters relating to PED abuse.
To be honest, none of the seven prospects named are familiar to most Blue Jays fans; given the club’s sanctions for going past their pool allotment to sign Vladdy Jr, they could sign no picks for more than $300K – SS Hugo Cardona, part of last week’s group, was the only one who signed for that amount. The club had high hopes for him, as well as Paulino and Concepcion.
When it comes to determining why these 7 young men took the risk of taking a banned substance, several factors come into play. The first of these is probably the knowledge that they are marginal prospects, desirous of gaining an edge over the competition and eventually making their way off the island to play. In an interview last year, High Performance Director Angus Mugford said that the marginal players stateside were the ones most receptive to the new methods of training and nutrition that the club was introducing for much the same reason: to seek that edge.
Education is likely also a factor. Kids growing up stateside know that there’s risk involved with taking any kind of supplement. Dominican kids are not necessarily exposed to that kind of knowledge. Teams do their best to educate their international players, but sometimes it takes a while for their message to sink in.
And then there are the unscrupulous types that can be found at or near some MLB complexes. Perhaps they are connected to a buscone, the all-powerful scout/agent/coach/trainer types that wield an enormous amount of influence over young players. Not all buscones are corrupt, but it only takes a few to upset the system. As Parks wrote in his essay, “(some) buscones smell money like reality show celebrities smell fame.” This is usually the case in regard to bonus money, but it’s likely that can spill over into the development of players. The pressure must have come from somewhere for these kids to get bigger faster – they didn’t come up with the idea on their own. Were they aware that what they were taking was against the rules? There’s a slight possibility they were, but what’s more likely is that they ingested those supplements after someone told them that they were fine.
This has to be an embarrassment for the Blue Jays. Certainly, other teams were caught in this dragnet, but the 7 suspended Blue Jays tops MLB, something they certainly are not proud to be part of. The Blue Jays had 5 players suspended for PED use last year (including MLBer Chris Colabello), but only 1 was a complex leaguer. There is great irony that the team is generating this sort of headline when they’ve invested so heavily in the High Performance group, and earlier this month received approval to vastly upgrade their training and rehab facility in Dunedin. Whether or not the investigation results in wholesale changes to their Dominican complex remains to be seen, but this is something the club is surely hopeful of putting behind them.
With the Braves having been dealt a harsh sentence in the wake of their own international scandal, Parks’ opening words in his Buscones tome ring true:
Hunting talent in Latin America is 80-grade complicated, and no one authority, no matter how experienced, can supply a definitive perspective, so varied are the possible outcomes.