I'm a little slow to comment on this, but there were a couple of articles that I wanted to pass along to you from the past week. The first comes from Baseball America, and it's about top Latino prospects testing positive for steroids just before the international signing period began. It's a story that should've gotten a LOT more attention but didn't.
Here's an excerpt:
MLB required 40 of the top Dominican prospects from this year's international signing class to register with the league last month, a process that included consenting to a drug test and to investigations into their ages and identities.
Baez said he recently met with the parents of about 20 players who reportedly tested positive for anabolic steroids, which is consistent with the word going around Dominican baseball circles: that nearly half of the 40 players who registered tested positive.
(Read the rest here.)
I almost did a double take when I read this. HALF of the tests came back positive. Wow.
This is very significant. The signing bonuses that top Dominican prospects are being paid has grown considerably in the past ten years, with Michael Ynoa signing with Oakland $4.25 million in 2008. Several other top prospects now receive bonuses in the millions each year.
This places them on par with first round draft picks in MLB's Rule 4 draft. They're certainly talented individuals, but they're very young, and very raw. And as this year's testing results show, some might be using steroids.
Usage of PEDs of course would inflate their natural tools. It would mean that scouts evaluations of them would be tainted. A 16-year-old throwing 97 on steroids is very different from a 16-year-old throwing 97 without steroids.
With teams paying the equivalent of first round money to these players, they need to make every assurance that their age is correct and that they are steroid free. Otherwise they're likely to see less return on their investment.
And according to one minor leaguer (who was incensed), it's not fair to other players either. Having been given huge signing bonuses, these players automatically move above other players on teams' prospect list. They're given far more chances than players who receive less money. Perhaps these chances are not duly earned.
One Latino friend told me that he doesn't suspect widespread usage of steroids by young prospects, but one has to wonder given this report. (See my previous post on buscones and drugs here.)
It's certainly alarming.
Minor Leaguers Testing Positive
On a related note, five minor leaguers recently tested positive for steroid use. All were suspended 50 games. All were Latino.
This is very disappointing. The rate of steroid use has declined sharply in baseball--especially in the minor leagues where testing has been in place since 2001. In my six years of playing, I in fact knew of very few players using PEDs. (See my previous Sporting News post on HGH here.) Not a large percentage of minor leaguers are testing positive, but it seems too high of a percentage are Latino. (Read this excellent article on steroids and Latino peloteros.)
In talking to Latinos, it seems sometimes they're just getting bad information. An uncle or friend they trust will tell them they can take such and such product and not test positive. And it seems steroids are very easy to get in most of their home countries.
I'm not sure there's an easy solution to this problem. Testing involves numerous countries, and it involves kids of a very young age. But it is a problem, and steps need to be taken. Perhaps increased testing combined with greater education would help. Maybe a more informed body of players--combined with a fear of testing positive--would reduce the usage.
Hopefully rates will go down, but in the near future expect more positive tests from Latino ballplayers.
Note: I'm not just picking on Latino ballplayers. There are obviously still Americans using as well, though perhaps not in as high of a percentage. In certain levels of baseball in the U.S., such as at the junior college level, more testing is still needed. We need to keep cleaning this game up.