BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates, aiming to overcome a decade of lacking in Latin American talent, will have a Jan. 22 groundbreaking for their new baseball academy in the Dominican Republic and hope to have it complete for the summer of 2009.
The academy, to be located on a 46-acre property the team recently bought in the town of El Toro, will function as headquarters for all Latin American operations, and it will include two or more fully furnished fields, housing, classrooms and a training area. The Pirates' entry into the Dominican Summer League also will make its permanent home there.
The projected cost will be between $4 million to $5 million.
"It's a great, great thing for us," said Rene Gayo, the Pirates' Latin American scouting director. "This will take us to the top of the pack as far as facilities."
In his first major act as principal owner, Bob Nutting flew to the Dominican in May to survey the team's buildings and operations there and decided shortly afterward that a new facility would be preferable to upgrading the existing one.
He also made a habit afterward of stressing the need to find more talent in that part of the world, a point he reiterated yesterday.
"Latin America needs to be an even greater priority for our ballclub," Nutting said. "The Pirates have had a great history of Latino ballplayers making a significant impact at the major-league level, including the great Roberto Clemente. Today, no team has more opportunity or, frankly, a greater need to acquire and develop quality players from this region than we do."
Players in Latin America are not included in Major League Baseball's draft and, thus, available only as free agents.
"This facility will help our baseball operations staff attract, retain and teach the best players, coaches and scouts in the region," Nutting said.
General manager Neal Huntington said the academy "will provide us with an advantage in recruiting players, while providing an optimal setting to teach our young players not only baseball skills but also life skills."
Gayo called it "kind of our Pirate City" in that it will have all of the team's necessities in one small footprint. The existing setup is scattered by comparison, and the only living quarters -- a necessity when bringing players from other countries -- were separately located, rented apartments.
"Look, it's still up to us to get the players. That doesn't change," Gayo said. "But what it does is speed up the process of developing those players. And it sends a statement, I think, that the Pirates are serious."
The Pirates have not had an originally signed Latin American prospect make it all the way through their ranks since second baseman Jose Castillo, signed out of Venezuela in 1997. And that is not about to change, as the current system has no more than a trickle of Latin American talent.
At the same time, the Pirates' summer affiliates in the Dominican and Venezuela each ranked among those leagues' elite in 2007. The Dominican team included 17 first-year players.
"We feel very, very strongly about the talent we're putting together down here," Gayo said.
Design for the complex will be revealed Jan. 21 in Pittsburgh, and the team will have a groundbreaking the following day in El Toro.