The Texas Rangers may be done playing the waiting game for pitching prospects Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando. According to MLB.com, the two were banned from entering the United States for the past five years after a human trafficking and visa fraud scandal. But the U.S. State Department has given word to Rangers GM Jon Daniels and assistant GM Thad Levine that the two players will be allowed in the country within the next few weeks, in time to participate in spring training.
The two players were involved in a human trafficking ring in the Dominican Republic. The Dallas Morning News reported that the Ranger prospects and other young Dominican players were paid $3,000 to fill out paperwork and pretend to marry certain women.
"There was an organized crime group that was effectively preying on young baseball players," Daniels told MLB.com. "They had lined up a number of [Dominican players] to marry women that wanted to get into the U.S. A number of them agreed to do it, including Alexi and Omar. The women that were married got access in the U.S., and by the time the players went to their visa appointments to come over, the State Department realized what happened and denied access to all players involved."
Beltre, 28, and Ogando, 26, were granted admission to the States because they spent the past year in the Dominican Republic educating others about the dangers of human trafficking. The converted good-doers also have future plans for a women's shelter.
"Both still have a chance to make the big leagues and have an impact," Daniels said. "Both are very good people who definitely made a mistake. In their estimation and in our estimation, they paid a price that was not necessarily in line with what they did."
They will still have to apply for reinstatement by Major League Baseball before joining a minor league club for the upcoming season, but this formality is the last step in this long process. Daniels didn't think they would ever get approval. The club even considered sending the pitchers to Mexico or selling their rights to teams in Japan, but the Rangers remained persistent, exhausting several legal means, including tapping their connections with former Rangers owner George W. Bush.
"Every time we got to the end of the line, one of our other scouts would see these guys throw and say, 'We have to keep trying to get them in. They have big league ability,'" Daniels said.
Ogando and Beltre are both on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, and expected to play in Double-A or higher, offering "plus fastballs." In the Dominican summer League last season, Ogando was 0-2 with a 2.45 ERA. He had a 2.25 ERA in winter ball this season. He throws 95-98 mph with a slider and split-changeup.
Beltre pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the Dominican Summer League last season, with 10 strikeouts and three walks. He throws 92-95 mph with a slider and split-changeup.
The Rangers signed the 18-year-old Beltre in 1999 and gave him a $600,000 bonus in 2000, unprecedented for an international signee. His last U.S. appearance was in 2004 with Class A Stockton, where he went 5-5 with a 2.45 ERA. Ogando was acquired from Oakland in 2005 in the minor league Rule 5 draft for $12,000 and has never played in the U.S.
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