Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - migh—
Not so fast.
According to multiple local reports, the U.S. State Department has notified the Rangers that Dominican righthanders Alexi Ogando and Omar Beltre have been provided waivers to permit them to apply for work visas, and all immigration restraints to their entry into the United States have been removed. Their five-year eviction for participation in a marriage fraud scam looks like it's coming to an end, and it appears they should be admitted to the country. Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine reportedly played a significant role in the process from the organization's side.
Ogando and Beltre were unquestionably top-tier prospects, and it obviously remains to be seen whether, at age 26 and 28, respectively, pitching dominantly for five years against largely overmatched Dominican Summer League competition will translate stateside. But there's a reason Texas kept both on the restricted list for three years (adding Ogando to the 40-man roster before doing so in his case) rather than moving on, as all other clubs have long since done with the other 30 Dominican players around the league caught up in the scandal. (Apparently, the players were promised - and in some cases not even paid -- $5,000 by a Dominican crime syndicate to agree to a sham marriage to women they didn't know, after which the women would gain entry into the United States with their newly acquired visas, obtain divorces shortly after arriving, and in some instances would then sell their visas on the black market.)
The two prospects reportedly spent the last year making public service speeches to educate Dominican citizens about these human trafficking scams, an effort apparently not overlooked by the State Department. Charisse Espinosa, agent for the two, gets credit for coming up with and helping execute the concept and the plan.
Beltre, whom Texas signed for a hefty $650,000 in 2000, and Ogando, purchased by the Rangers from Oakland for $12,000 in the minor league phase of the 2005 Rule Draft - and promptly converted from outfield to pitcher, both offer nasty stuff on the mound, touching the upper 90s with remarkable strikeout-to-walk numbers (though those can be skewed in the DSL, as we know). Just to get a sense of things: last year, in 18.1 DSL innings, Ogando struck out 31 and issued one walk, with a typographical 10 groundouts for every flyout. Beltre, in 7.1 DSL innings, allowed no earned runs and fanned 10 while walking three. Flip to the back of any Bound Edition from the last few years - those numbers weren't aberrations.
Jon Daniels suggests the two will probably begin the season in Frisco or Oklahoma City.
It will be interesting to see what the roster implications are. In order to participate in camp, both righthanders will need to be reinstated from the restricted list, and since both are already on the 40-man roster (and would never be exposed to waivers at this point - far too risky), two players are going to need to come off the roster to make room for them. Righthander Luis Mendoza and infielder Joaquin Arias's lack of options (and longshot chances to make the Opening Day roster) could make them the primary candidates.
Few doubt Ogando and Beltre would have been big leaguers several years ago had they not been denied stateside entry in 2005 and ever since. Now it appears that they're going to get their chance.