Another critical piece of the Washington Nationals efforts to rebuild their operations abroad was put into place Wednesday afternoon when Boston Red Sox Latin American coordinator Johnny DiPuglia accepted a position as the Nationals director of international operations.
DiPuglia, one of Latin America's most respected scouts, had worked for the Boston Red Sox since 1999, when he started as a Latin American cross checker. He scouted talent-rich Florida for the team for several years before being promoted to Latin American scouting coordinator in 2005.
DiPuglia, of Dominican descent, was raised in Miami and started his professional baseball career in 1990 as an area scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. He moved on to the San Francisco Giants as the assistant international director in 1998. During his tenure with the Red Sox, he was instrumental in the team's signing of All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez. He also can count Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel, Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, Marlins hurler Anibal Sanchez (he of a no-hitter in 2006), Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, and former longtime utilityman Eli Marerro among his 19 signees who have made it to the majors.
"This was a tough decision to leave because of people like Craig Shipley (Boston's vice president of international operations) and [GM] Theo Epstein," says DiPuglia, 46. "But I'm getting older and I thought I should have tried this, to develop something from ground zero."
The Nationals international operations were leveled last February after Major League Baseball's Department of Investigations discovered that top Dominican prospect, Esmailyn Gonzalez, recipient of a club-record $1.4 million signing bonus, was four years older than purported and actually named Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo. The signing is the epicenter of an ongoing FBI investigation into former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and his special assistant Jose Rijo.
Within days of SI.com breaking the news of the Gonzalez incident, then-assistant general manager Mike Rizzo traveled to the Dominican Republic to shutter the team's Dominican academy, which operated at a complex owned by Rijo. Rizzo found a temporary complex for the team, but establishing the Nationals as a permanent presence on the island -- among many other issues -- now falls to DiPuglia.
In moving from the Red Sox, a team that spent $12.1 million from 2003 to '08 on international signings, the third most in the majors, to the Nationals, DiPuglia joins a team that ranked 25th in international spending with $4.5 million over the same period.
"I met with [ownership] and they're committed," says DiPuglia, who understands why the Lerners family that owns the team would be hesitant to invest in international signings after being defrauded in the Gonzalez case. "They want to go forward and they thought I was the right guy."