Juan Duran & Yorman Rodriguez
Big investment and big potential in Latin teenage duo

By John Fay jfay@enquirer.com April 5, 2009

One morning after Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez got dropped off at the Ed Smith Stadium complex - neither has a driver's license - each posed beside Francisco Cordero's Ferrari while the other snapped a cell phone picture.

The first paycheck either collected was enough to buy a fleet of Ferraris.

Duran, a 17-year-old Dominican, and Rodriguez, a 16-year-old Venezuelan, represent the Reds' first foray into high-dollar bonuses to Latin American teenagers.

The Reds paid Duran a club-record $2 million signing bonus on Feb. 27, 2008. The record lasted until Rodriguez signed for $2.5 million six months later.

The signings were a big risk. Duran and Rodriguez were signed purely on raw talent. Neither has played that much baseball.

But it was a risk the Reds felt they had to take. Latin America has produced some of the biggest stars in baseball. If the Reds are right about Duran and Rodriguez, the $4.5 million will seem like money well spent in 2012 or '13.

But it's risky. When the Reds drafted Jay Bruce, they had seen him play in dozens of high school games against top competition in Texas. He was ready to play in the Gulf Coast League as soon as he signed.

With Duran and Rodriguez, it's a different process.

"You're really starting from scratch," Reds player development director Terry Reynolds said. "The system in Latin America now is you take these kids around for tryouts. They don't play a lot of games. They're just starting to learn the game - what it takes to be an outfielder, what it takes to be a hitter, what it takes to be a teammate. There's a lot of things involved outside of just playing the game.

"It's a fun process. It's fun to watch them grow in all those aspects."

There's been a slight setback in the process with Duran. He had arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss four to six weeks.

Besides learning baseball, there's also the cultural side. Duran speaks only a little English; Rodriguez almost none. They'll take lessons once the season begins.

"They're 16, 17 years old," said Charlie Rodriguez, the assistant trainer for the Gulf Coast League Reds and Latin player liaison. "It doesn't matter what background you have, it's going to be a shock. The food is different. The people around them speak a different language. They get along with everybody, but trying to deal with it is hard for them."

Duran and Rodriguez have been in the U.S. since late January, but homesickness hasn't been a factor yet.

"At this point, it's not," Charlie Rodriguez said. "It's spring training and they're around guys from their country. But that time will go by quick. Midway through extended (spring training), they'll hit that wall. We try to accommodate them. We have this company that cooks for the Latinos.

"We try to make them feel as close to home as possible."

But the season goes until September.

"Come July, you'll see calendars in their rooms," Rodriguez said, "scratching the days."

Compared to dealing with all that, learning baseball isn't a big deal.

"They have all the tools the scouts said they have," Reynolds said. "They've both improved a lot already."