© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

02/21/09 4:18 PM EST

Tribe optimistic about Czech signing

Catcher to experience unique program until finishing high school

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have a new Czech mate.

The club announced Saturday that it has signed amateur catcher Martin Cervenka, a native of the Czech Republic, to a Minor League contract. The 16-year-old from Prague was signed by Peter Gahan, the Tribe's Australia and Europe scouting supervisor.

Because Cervenka is still in high school, he'll be on a bit of a different program than the typical Minor Leaguer. The Indians will let him continue to play for his club team, Kotlarka, during the '09 season. He will then report to the Player Development Complex here for extended Spring Training during his school breaks and spend the 2009 and '10 summers at the MLB Academy in Australia, where he'll participate in the Australian Summer League. This will be the plan until he finishes high school at the age of 19.

"We like his athleticism," scouting director John Mirabelli said. "He's 6-foot-2, 165 pounds and is very projectable. He has a great work ethic, and he's got some aptitude and physical skills."

But he comes from the Czech Republic -- a country the Indians have never tapped into in such a manner. And that's probably the most interesting aspect to the signing.

Actually, Mirabelli said Europe is an emerging market for teams in the hunt for amateur talent. MLB established an academy in Italy, and that's where the Indians found Cervenka. This signing could be just the beginning of the Tribe's foray into the European waters.

"It's the new frontier," Mirabelli said.

Of course, Cervenka is far from a finished product. It will be a long time before the Indians know if he has Major League-ready talent. But the fact that he's a catcher already makes him appealing to the organization.

"We always look to fill that position," Mirabelli said. "It's a tough position to fill. We think [Cervenka] is only going to get bigger and stronger. His bat is a ways away, and that's tough to project. But we certainly like his athleticism."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.