Twins’ Dominican academy produces first graduating class
When workouts are done for the day, players at the Minnesota Twins’ Dominican Republic academy often find themselves retreating to classrooms.
Pictures of the Twins’ minor-league stadiums line the classroom walls -- a reminder to the young players of where they are trying to go next.
Head shots of Latin American players who have played for the Twins take up a different classroom wall -- a reminder of who they are trying to emulate.
When the Twins opened their new Dominican academy in 2017, they also expanded their curriculum for players from singular English classes to a more robust program.
Wednesday, Jan. 30, their first round of students received their high school equivalency diplomas at the academy in Boca Chica.
“There’s a great deal of pride and effort that was put into that,” Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. “I know this is important to the Pohlad family, this is important to (team president) Dave (St. Peter) and others that we invest in the entire athlete, and it’s important to us.”
Alex Banks, Jim Caceres, Wilfri Castro, Jesús Feliz, José Guevara, Nelson Roberto and Nomar Urdaneta make up the organization’s first graduating class.
“Hopefully these seven are the first of many that are part of it,” farm director Jeremy Zoll said.
Players in the Dominican Republic often leave their education behind when they sign deals with teams, and they come into the academy with varying education levels.
The Twins, like many other major league teams, partner with CENAPEC, which works with the Dominican Republic’s education ministry to bring players through the high school equivalency program.
In addition to English, Amanda Daley, the Twins’ Senior Manager for International Administration and Education, said players also take a Spanish language class, a social science class, a natural science class and a math class.
They also learn computer skills and life skills, which can range from dental hygiene to sexual and reproductive health classes to money management and safe driving instruction.
Every team has some kind of learning initiative, but not every team has a high school equivalency program.
“It’s symbiotic, but we feel supporting our players and giving them their education is going to help their future,” Daley said. “It also helps ours and our endeavors in trying to … put the best players on the field and with education. That’s just the best way that you can support somebody is to help them be educated.”
This past year, the Twins have ramped up their efforts, hiring Pierre Jacotin, who is based in the Dominican Republic and focused solely on education. Daley said Jacotin’s hiring has been a “game changer,” for the organization as he can support the players day-to-day and see if they’re struggling or need additional help.
“Amanda and Pierre have been huge parts of taking that to new heights, and I think that gets forgotten a lot when it comes to signing all these young players in Latin America at age 16,” Zoll said. “They’ve got kind of a long way to go from an educational perspective. They’re down there playing baseball, but they do have an afternoon set of classes as well.”
During the winter program, players will go to three days of high school equivalency classes and two days of English, Daley said.
Within the program, there are different levels that players get placed in based on where they were in their education prior to coming to the academy.
The first round of graduates actually finished classes last May and June, Daley said, and then had to pass national exams.
The program started when Brad Steil, now the Twins’ Director of Professional Scouting, was the farm director. Daley said Steil encouraged allocating resources to the program, setting up the classrooms in the academy and creating expectations that players would go to these classes.
Jose Marzan, the Twins’ Latin American Operations Coordinator, also has been involved in the process and program, as have a number of others throughout the organization.
“We hope that it supplements and supports them and ultimately makes them better in baseball,” Daley said. “That’s the goal. But we also want to help them grow as human beings and young men into men who are going to be contributing in a number of areas, not just baseball. So … this takes them back to their country with a diploma that supports them in any number of efforts and gives them a little bit of a leg up.”