Tribe to use identity testing for prospects
Club looks to confirm ages of international players via DNA
CLEVELAND -- Consider the Indians once bitten, twice shy.After one of the Tribe's recent top international signees turned out to not be whom he claimed to be, the team has begun taking advantage of DNA testing to confirm the identities of players they are targeting in the foreign market. Earlier this year, the Indians found out that Jose Ozoria, the 16-year-old Dominican shortstop they signed to a $570,000 signing bonus, was actually a 19-year-old named Wally Bryan. Such confusion is not uncommon in a "buyer-beware" environment in which many players or their agents falsify their birth records in order to be more attractive to big league clubs. MLB conducts investigations on international players, but the Bryan case is proof that such investigations are not foolproof. DNA tests, however, are decisive and the Indians are considering making them part of their standard operating procedure in this regard.
While a DNA test does not confirm age, it can confirm whether a player is truly the son of his claimed parents. This way, a player could not borrow a birth certificate from a younger person in another family -- a practice that has been used in the past. Bone scans have also been used by MLB to help confirm ages.
In requesting the tests, clubs agree to pay extra money for the investigation. But John Mirabelli, the Tribe's assistant general manager in charge of scouting, said it's the price of peace of mind. "This is one way we can be a little more precise and feel good about the information we're getting," Mirabelli said. Mirabelli said the Indians requested DNA tests, which have only become available to teams in the past year, on two players they are currently targeting in Latin America. The club is also considering requesting such tests on all players it would sign for more than $50,000. Players don't have to submit to the tests. "If a kid and his family decide to decline," Mirabelli said, "we'll pull our offer and pass." Mirabelli said he applauds the work MLB has done to offset the fraud in the international market, but he said what's happening in Latin America is still an "epidemic." Despite the uncertainties of the market, a mid-market club such as the Tribe has to be active in the region in order to remain competitive. "We've got to do whatever we can to get some degree of certainty," Mirabelli said. "Our ownership is adamant about making some changes in the way the industry operates in Latin America." The Indians are in the process of signing between seven and nine players from the Dominican, Venezuela and Panama. Mirabelli said the club hopes to have the signings finalized and announced around Oct. 1.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.