SAN DIEGO (AP) -Even as they try to make up ground in the NL West, the San Diego Padres are doing the same thing thousands of miles away, in the Dominican Republic.
The team planned to officially open the Padres Dominican Republic Baseball Park in Najayo, San Cristobal, on Wednesday. The $8 million, 15-acre park will house the club's international baseball academy and serve as the hub for the organization's Latin American baseball operations.
While the Padres have been successful in the past in signing players from Mexico and Puerto Rico, they've done ``poorly'' in scouting the rest of Latin America, especially the talent-rich Dominican, CEO Sandy Alderson said.
``You just have to look at our 40-man roster to reach that conclusion,'' Alderson said. ``Historically, I don't think we've had many players in San Diego from the Dominican Republic.''
The Padres don't have any Dominicans on their 25- or 40-man rosters. The Padres have only one Latin American player on their 40-man roster who began his pro career in the organization.
``Our hope is that in the next four to five years that we'll have several players that are of Latin American descent that are on our 40-man roster that are homegrown,'' general manager Kevin Towers said.
While almost all the other big league organizations have an academy in the Dominican, Towers said the Padres' park is ``by far the nicest complex on the island. Now it's up to us to put a good product in there. If we plan on being a major force down there, we had to have that in place at least as a start.''
The Padres' push in the Dominican Republic came from owner John Moores. While the Padres had a complex there, it wasn't producing much for the farm system and it, ``like many others in this country, was simply awful,'' Moores said.
``We all believe that this state-of-the-art facility will pay dividends for the Padres and help the club remain competitive for years to come,'' Moores added.
About 35 players have been using the academy for a few weeks, and it can accommodate up to 70. Towers said it's as nice as most big league clubs' spring training complexes. It has two full fields and a half field, indoor batting cages and covered pitching mounds, plus a weight room. There's a dormitory for the players, separate quarters for the coaching staff, a dining hall and a classroom with computers to help players continue their education, particularly in learning English.
``It's about developing a player on the field and developing a player off the field,'' said Randy Smith, the former general manager who's the Padres' director of international scouting.
``We're looking into giving them a chance to continue their education,'' said Smith, who likens the academy to a boarding school that will operate 10 months out of the year. ``A lot of their premium players drop out of school at a very early age. There's a lot of off-the-field stuff we need to help them with as well.''
The Padres will cater to lesser-profile players, who would command smaller signing bonuses.
``For us to be one of the best teams in Latin America, we've got to get the diamond in the rough,'' Smith said. ``I think this gives us a better opportunity for that.''
Smith said he's heard from division rivals that the Padres will be more of a threat in the region now that they have the academy.
``This will put us on the map,'' he said. ``Now we've got to follow through and sign them and develop them.''
The typical Dominican prospects are 16 or 17 years old, so it could be a while before one of them makes it all the way to big league club.
``But those players will show up in our farm system and we'll be able to tell well before one arrives on the major league club whether this program has been successful or not,'' Alderson said.
``It's a great location. It's a great place for these kids to be able to play and develop,'' he said.

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