This piece is a little old but this is the first time I've seen it and I thought it was very interesting. The reason I posted this is because I'm becoming more and more intrigued with Viola. While it's highly unlikely that he wins the job, Viola is one of the guys in contention for the fifth starters role. I'm very intrigued by Viola and apparently the Reds are too. Mark Sheldon (Reds.com beat writer) reported today that Viola is impressing in big league camp.
Here's more info on Pedro Viola as told by his former AFL teammate, Randy Newsom.
When I was 20, a scout from the Reds invited me to a late summer workout at the University of Cincinnati's baseball field on a Saturday morning. As an undrafted junior in college that had professional aspirations, I was ecstatic. I had actually caught the eye of a professional scout and now had the opportunity to perform for that pro contract I so desperately wanted. When I arrived, 20 minutes before the scheduled start, I was startled to see over 150 other baseball players ranging in ages from 15 to 25 gathered around signing in and collecting numbers for the day's activity.
I was halfway crushed. I decided to stay and I threw well enough to be invited to stay for a private showcase in the afternoon. I pitched really well again, or so I thought, and that was it. No further info, no contract, just a good job, thank you, and away I went, back to Tufts University to improve on my game and hopefully catch another scout's eye. The whole day reminded me how tough it was to get signed and how many players were competing for those pro contracts.
At 20 years old it was a tough experience. I can't imagine what it would have been like at 16, or 14, or maybe even 12. But that is the reality that one of my teammates in the AFL faced where he grew up, in the Dominican Republic.
Pedro Viola is a 24-year old 6-foot-1, 185-pound lefthanded pitcher for the Reds. He throws anywhere from 90-95 mph, with decent control and command, a good slider, and a workable changeup. Coming out of college in America, that skill-set would have landed Pedro at least a million dollar bonus and a fast track to the big leagues. The Reds signed him two years ago, when he was 22 for the astronomical price of $1,000.
When I first heard this, I was astounded. I had to get our shortstop, Sean Rodriguez, a bi-lingual Cuban-American (not to mention an incredible shortstop), to come over and translate just to make sure my barely conversational Spanish wasn't deceiving me. And it was true. Pedro Viola signed with the Reds for $1000 two years earlier. Since then he spent one season in the (Rookie-level) Dominican Summer League (a weed-out process for Latin American players just to get to the GCL) and then worked his way from low Class A Dayton all the way to Double-A Chattanooga and now the Arizona Fall League. Along the way he threw up a 3-win, 2-loss, 6-save season with a 1.42 ERA, a sub .200 BAA, and a 94-30 strike out to walk ratio in 82 innings. Pedro can pitch.
The irony is that he almost didn't have the chance to prove that in America. Even with his talent, Pedro, like me, is a late bloomer. He's a hard worker, probably the reason he has increased his velocity (which he says was about 85 when he was 16) to the 95 he occasionally flashes today. But unlike me, the opportunities for a late bloomer in the Dominican Republic or most foreign countries in the baseball world are few and far between. He couldn't go to high school, then college, and then play independent ball if necessary. At 19 years old, with a fringy 87 mph fastball, Pedro had to find a way to stand out. So at someone else's advice, he did the same thing that many Latin American players did and maybe still do, he changed his name. Using the birth certificate of a cousin, Pedro was no longer Pedro, he was a 16-year old prospect with a new name and a not so fringy 87 mph heater. He signed with a team I won't name for $20,000. A year later, after he was discovered to be using the wrong name and was actually 20 years old, they released him. Pedro was Pedro again, but he was out of work. He went back to the academy that he signed out of the first time and continued to pitch. No one was interested. His velocity jumped to a consistent 90 mph and he developed a slider. To no avail, he was damaged goods. Some might argue that he didn't deserve another contract for lying. When I started in pro ball, I would have said that too. Now I know better.
While the game itself is able to mesh players on the field from around the world, the game outside of the game is a clash of cultures. In America, players live and die with the draft. I am a rarity, an undrafted American free agent. Outside of the United States, the process is a lot less regulated and even more cutthroat. Players are constantly scrutinized by agents, scouts, academies, and organizations at younger ages. It seems a lot of teams assume that if you haven't signed by 20, you probably have something wrong with you. Even if you do get signed, you have to work your way to the States and then start up that same long road with players that are speaking their native language in their native country. I can't even imagine how long that road can be.
I know that some American fans, executives, and even players have soured from some of the issues that have come from the growth in international player development. Age scandals, steroid abuse, exorbitant bonuses to players and agents alike, and many other negative headlines are easy to point to as problems. These are issues that need to be dealt with and are being dealt with from what I've heard.
But, after getting to know and interact with these players on a day-to-day basis and play with them I've come to understand at least some of what they are dealing with. Despite the differences in languages, cultures, and backgrounds we are sharing the same experience in trying to chase down the same dream. It's a distinctly American dream where the best players get to play on the biggest stage.
All that said, after two years of working out and hoping, Pedro's dream was turning into a fantasy. He was a couple months away from being forced out of the academy because of his age. Younger players, some just sixteen and some using aliases and false birth dates, were taking all the opportunities and attention that Pedro needed to get that elusive second chance. He was a player with no team. At the same age, I was an undrafted free agent who had just finished college--I knew the feeling.
But baseball is a game of breaks, and for Pedro and I, God thankfully granted us both a big one in the form of a major league organization. Pedro continues to work hard and even on the rare days that he struggles he keeps a great perspective. Pedro's just happy to have this opportunity. One he didn't think was possible just two years earlier.
Two years later, you have to think that the Reds are probably pretty thankful too.