Top Dominican prospect Miguel Angel Sano cleared what could have been the most daunting obstacle in his path to the major leagues on Tuesday when the United States government issued him a work visa, SI.com has learned.
The work visa, usually a critical but secondary concern to talent and ability when signing international prospects, allows Sano to play baseball in the United States. The Minnesota Twins signed Sano, who played shorstop in the Dominican but could switch positions stateside, in September to a club-record $3.15 million signing bonus. According to some scouts, Sano possesses the best tools for a prospect in at least a decade.
While Sano's talent was abundant, so too were questions about his age and identity. His 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and precocious skills on the field fueled questions about whether Sano was really the 16-year-old he claimed to be. Those concerns echoed louder when Major League Baseball, which conducts extensive investigations to help prevent teams from being defrauded, issued a report concluding that Sano's identity was verified but his age was "undetermined."
The Dominican Republic, particularly Sano's hometown in San Pedro de Macoris, has been the epicenter for age and identity fraud. Some players and their handlers cut years off their age in order to increase their market value. Most infamously, the Washington Nationals learned that Esmailyn Gonzalez, a supposed 16-year-old to whom they issued a club-record $1.4 million signing bonus in 2006, was actually four years older and named Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo.
The age and identity investigations done by Major League Baseball often serve as a road map for the United States consulate, the agency which issues the work visas players need to play stateside. MLB's age "undetermined" verdict, coupled with a post-9/11 crackdown by the United States government when issuing visas, made many teams nervous about signing Sano, particularly with his multimillion-dollar price tag. The doubts over his age caused many teams to withdraw from negotiations. "He lost over $1 million," said Rob Plummer, Sano's agent. Plummer says the Baltimore Orioles, for example, backed out of the negotiations.
The Twins, however, stayed the course. "Because of all the speculation, everyone had some doubt [whether he'd get his visa]," said Mike Radcliff, Minnesota's vice president of player personnel. "I guess we just had fewer doubts."
The Twins, now knowing they can bring Sano to the U.S., will outline a player development plan. Radcliff says the Twins will bring him to the U.S. sometime next spring. The team, often cited as one of the best in developing young talent, is still hashing out its strategy for Sano. "The journey," Radcliff says, "is about to begin."