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February 01, 2010

Rangers expect Dominican prospects in big-league camp

The saga of Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando, banned by the State Department for their minor roles in a human trafficking ring in the Dominican Republic, has finally taken a positive turn in their favor.

 

General manager Jon Daniels said late Sunday night that the right-handers have been cleared to enter the United States and are expected to participate in Texas Rangers spring training.

 

Beltre and Ogando will have hearings this week for work visas, which they are expected to get, and will have to be cleared by commission Bud Selig before their dreams of pitching in the major leagues can resume.

 

“We’ve recently have had some momentum in that process to the point where there is a strong likelihood that they will be able to come in this year and be there for spring training in a couple weeks,” Daniels said.

 

The right-handers were prevented from entering the United States early in 2005, when the State Department discovered that they and many other professional players had been paid to marry Dominican women to help them get visas to enter the U.S.

 

Daniels said a local organized-crime syndicate was running a human-trafficking ring unbeknownst to the players. The U.S. has denied Beltre’s and Ogando’s visa applications the past five years.

 

But they have been seen in a different light the past year after the Rangers had all but exhausted their options. The players’ agent, Charisse Espinosa, suggested they start speaking publically to young Dominican players as part of a public service against human trafficking.

 

The players did so sincerely, and the State Department has taken note.

 

“I think the State Department is finally looking at these guys as something more than just the perpetrators of a crime but people who can be used to help trumpet the dangers of human trafficking,” said assistant general manager Thad Levine, who has been the Rangers’ point man on the case.

 

Beltre and Ogando remained on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, albeit on the restricted list and have not counted as one of the 40 players. Once reinstated by the commissioner’s office, two spots will have created for them.

 

They will be in big-league camp in Surprise, Ariz., said Daniels, and likely will start the 2010 season in Double A Frisco or Triple A Oklahoma City.

 

Beltre, 28, has the most experience of the two. He spent four seasons mostly as a starter in the minor leagues and has pitched in international events.

 

Both have pitched in the Dominican Summer League and some winter ball, and they also worked out in Japan for teams there.

 

But Ogando, 26, is an outfielder the Rangers grabbed in the 2004 Rule 5 draft and converted into a pitcher. He has yet to pitch in the United States, but his mid- to upper-90s fastball is considered a plus pitch.

 

“Every time we get to the end of the line, one of other scouts will see these guys through and say, ‘We’ve got to get these guys in here,’ ” Daniels said. “They’re better than some of the people we’ve got, and they’ve got big-league ability. We’ll see.”

 

-- Jeff Wilson

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