In the wake of Wilmer Difo’s promotion to the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, The Washington Post’s James Wagner shared an important fact via Twitter. As Wagner correctly noted, Difo is the first homegrown prospect signed out of the Dominican Republic to make the Nationals’ 25-man roster since the Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez scandal.
The incident Wagner refers to is one that drastically reshaped the Nationals. Gonzalez was a shortstop prospect signed by the Nationals out of the Dominican Republic in 2006 for a $1.4 million bonus. In February 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that Gonzalez’s true identity was in fact Carlos David Alvarez Lugo and that he was three years older than initially believed. As a result, general manager Jim Bowden resigned, Jose Rijo—the head of the organization’s Dominican operations—was fired, and the Nationals had to completely rebuild their Dominican Republic operations.
They became far more cautious in their international spending efforts. In fact, the Nationals did not come close to approaching the bonus they gave to Alvarez—who remained in the organization through 2013—until they signed third base prospect Anderson Franco for $900,000 just two years ago.
It is clear that the Nationals are now more measured and cautious in their international free agent decisions, but that level of restraint has not hurt the organization. In fact, Difo is preceding a wave of intriguing Dominican prospects to the majors. Continue reading…