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After Traveling, Nats Sign Four Venezuelan Teenagers

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Washington Nationals' aggressive mining of the international talent market continued yesterday with the signing of four Venezuelan teenagers, days after two team executives traveled to the country on a scouting trip and only a week after the team landed a quartet of players from the Dominican Republic.

Yesterday's bounty included Sandy Leon, a 17-year-old switch-hitting catcher; 16-year-old shortstop Adrian Sanchez, also a switch hitter; 17-year-old center fielder Jesus Morales; and 6-foot-4 first baseman Juan Urdaneta, who also is 17.

Both of the Nationals executives who scouted the players last weekend in Venezuela, scouting director Dana Brown and assistant general manager Mike Rizzo, pointed to Leon as the one who stood out. Leon is expected to begin his professional career in the (Fla.) Gulf Coast rookie league this season, while the others will play the season in the Venezuelan summer league; none can be expected to impact the big league team for at least several years.

"When you get a switch-hitting catcher who has a chance to be an everyday big league player . . . those kind of guys don't come along every day," Brown said of Leon. "We're thrilled about that."

Added Rizzo, "He swings equally well from both sides, with power, and he has legitimate catching skills."

After all but ignoring international amateur talent while the franchise was under Major League Baseball's stewardship from 2002 until last July, the Nationals have moved aggressively in Latin America under new owner Theodore Lerner, and also are upgrading their scouting operation in Asia.

"When I first came in, [the team] had a budget of zero" for international scouting, General Manager Jim Bowden said last week. "After discussions with [ownership] we were able to reallocate some dollars for Latin America. We walked. Now, I think we're jogging. And eventually, we'll be sprinting."

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