Dodgers bring a smile to top Venezuelan prospect who lost his father to COVID-19

Dodgers bring a smile to top Venezuelan prospect who lost his father to COVID-19

Jesus Galiz, the top-ranked catcher in the 2020 international free agent class, Friday became one of two highly sought Venezuelan teenagers to sign with the Dodgers.

Galiz, 17, headlined the Dodgers’ signees with Venezuelan shortstop Wilman Díaz, the third-ranked player in the class, according to MLB.com. He joined the organization two years after the Dodgers landed Diego Cartaya, another Venezuelan and the top-ranked catcher in 2018.

It wasn’t where Galiz expected to end up. He had a different vision seared in his mind a few months ago. He would sign with the New York Yankees, ascend through their farm system, and become a star catcher in the Bronx. His father, as always, would guide him through the rise.

His dad was his rock.

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Those dreams were derailed in November.

First, Galiz and his family contracted COVID-19. He and his mother experienced mild symptoms but his father died from complications from the virus in November, a month after getting infected. Edgar Galiz was 46.

Edgar was his son’s first coach and enrolled him at Go Pro Baseball Academy in Maracaibo, where he eventually took a job and Jesus Galiz grew from a 9-year-old shortstop with potential to a professional prospect as a catcher. Edgar encouraged his son to commit to sign with the Yankees in February 2018. He was a proud father.

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“He was the one who taught me how to play baseball since I was 3,” Galiz said in Spanish. “He was with me for everything. He taught me everything. Everything I know now about baseball, I know thanks to him. My batting stance. How to hit. How to throw. Everything.”

Nine days later, Galiz said, he received the next blow: The Yankees were pulling out of their verbal agreement.

“It left me without words,” Galiz said.

Galiz said he was slated to sign with New York for $1.5 million once the international signing period opened Friday. The Yankees, according to Galiz and his agent Emiro Barboza, explained they rescinded the offer because of substantial financial losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Everything was going very well. We never got a complaint from them, a problem, nothing,” Barboza said in Spanish in a telephone interview from Venezuela. “Then the Yankees called me to tell me that the offer was canceled, that they were making some administrative changes and they apparently weren’t going to sign anybody for 2020. But I don’t know if that’s true.

“It was a surprise and remains a surprise. I still don’t have an explanation for it besides that it was because of COVID and it was an administrative decision.”

A member of the Yankees organization disputed Barboza’s account Tuesday, explaining that the Yankees reached out to agents in the fall to inform them that the Yankees wanted to see their targeted players again before signing any after not seeing them since the pandemic started.

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The team, according to the Yankees organization member, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, was leery of committing money to players it hadn’t laid eyes on in nearly a year and could’ve signed Galiz after evaluating him. A team spokesman said the organization hadn’t signed an international free agent as of Wednesday and is scheduled to hold workouts this week.

The agreement’s collapse ignited anger in Venezuelan baseball circles.

José Luis Montero, president of the Assn. of Venezuelan Baseball Agents (AVAB), took to social media to fiercely denounce the Yankees’ behavior. He insisted it wasn’t an isolated episode. Montero contended Major League Baseball has abandoned Venezuela amid the country’s political and economic turmoil over the last decade, leaving Venezuelan prospects behind and more vulnerable than peers from other countries, notably the Dominican Republic.

“This happens a lot,” Montero said in Spanish in a phone interview. “It happens in different ways. Sometimes a team will wait until the end, after verbally committing to a player a year or two earlier, and tell him they have to cut their offer in half when he lost out on being on the market and getting a better deal from another team. That’s also happening in Venezuela.”

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Montero noted Venezuelans must secure visas to travel to several countries, including the Dominican Republic and the United States. So players who want better exposure likely travel to Medellín, Colombia. Montero said the bus rides can last up to 30 hours.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Montero said. “They’re obstacles we’re trying to overcome in Venezuela.”

Galiz, Montero believes, is just a high-profile example of the inequities. The catcher was left scrambling for a team after limiting his exposure once he committed to the Yankees. At that point in the timeline, in November, so close to the beginning of the signing period, most franchises had already earmarked most of the money they were allowed to spend on international free agents. Choices were limited. The last-minute events cost him money.

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The Dodgers saw an opportunity. Galiz was one of the players they targeted before he committed to signing with the Yankees and kept tabs on him.

“We just loved the skill set and make-up,” said Roman Barinas, the Dodgers’ Latin America scouting supervisor. “He fit the player profile we look for — skilled, intelligent, mature. We just didn’t expect him to become available.”

Galiz tried out for the Dodgers two days after his Yankees agreement fell through. The team offered him $812,500, the remainder of the $5.3 million they were allowed to spend. It was nearly $700,000 less than the Yankees committed to Galiz. Other organizations offered more, but not for next year’s signing period. Galiz didn’t want to wait. He chose the Dodgers and had a verbal agreement four days after he became available.

“We’re still mourning my dad’s death,” Galiz said. “It’s a pain that will never go away. But we have to keep going in life and live it like he would want us to.”

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So last week Galiz, accompanied by his mother, Minaret Perez, traveled to the United States to take a physical before signing Friday at a hotel near Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers’ spring training facility in Arizona. It wasn’t how he envisioned the biggest day of his life, without his father there, but he was one step closer to his goal of playing in the major leagues. It just might be on the other coast in a lighter shade of blue.

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