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Dodgers Sign 16-Year-Old Pitcher

April 06, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers continued to bolster their prospect-thin farm system through the international free-agent market Friday, signing a 16-year-old pitcher from the Dominican Republic after a month-long background check to verify his age.

The club outbid several teams for Jonathan Corporan--a 6-foot-2 right-hander whose fastball has been clocked consistently at 93 mph--giving the native of Santo Domingo a $930,000 signing bonus. He turns 17 April 21.

Corporan, whose agent, Don Nomura, also represents Dodger right-hander Hideo Nomo, is the latest in a long line of international players to receive big bonuses from the club recently because of its poor performance in the amateur draft for more than a decade.

But he is the first to undergo an extensive age-verifying process since the federal government crackdown on immigration documentation in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. More than two dozen Latin-born major leaguers aged overnight when documentation they submitted for visas was proven to be false.

"We did that for the very simple reason that we think very highly of this kid--and we think even more highly of him if he's 16," General Manager Dan Evans said. "There were rumblings from different sources that he may be older, so [Dodger scouting officials] went to work verifying his age.

"We're very comfortable saying this is a 16-year-old kid. Because of that, we think we got a really good player."

Players in the Dominican and other impoverished countries are often encouraged to lie about their age by intermediaries who arrange tryouts with teams and their families to increase their marketability to teams seeking young players with "high ceilings."

Clubs have long struggled to obtain official records to document players' ages, but they accepted the risks as part of doing business in the key foreign-player market. Now, executives are leery of making multimillion-dollar commitments to players who might be much older than they claim.

Evans instructed Jeff Schugel, director of international scouting, and Luchy Guerra, senior manager of Latin American operations, to confirm Corporan's age. They researched public records, but also relied on numerous contacts in government and baseball.

"We're going to make sure we're as thorough as we can be," Evans said, "simply because a kid who they rave about at age 16, who suddenly turns 19 or 20, you don't look for as much upside.

"He's the equivalent of a high school junior right now. If he were that age in the states, we'd be drooling about him."

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