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DJ Suonandajie and Other Chinese Players Sets Sights on MLB Draft

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Kansas City, Missouri — Fans who felt forced to jump off a lawn chair and applaud when a batter known as DJ stopped on second base in a recent Ban Johnson summer college league match. There was no one. The ball he tore the first base line. It’s routine that the team’s fastest runner, DJ, needs to curb his desire to make triples by prioritizing what’s happening, rather than risking finishing innings in third place. It was a great play.

But when the story was told to Ray Chang, a DJ high school coach 7,000 miles away in Nanjing, China, he was proud.

“It’s amazing. I love listening to it,” he said. Born and raised in the United States, Mr. Chan said on the phone. “Our main focus is to talk about the details and strategies of the game, because when these kids come to us, they have the experience of playing and watching the game, the kids in the United States. Because they are far behind us. “

Chang is the manager of baseball operations for the Major League Baseball Player Development Initiative in China. This program provides academic and baseball school education for students from grade 7 to high school. The first development center was established in Wuxi in 2009. Additional centers have been opened in Changzhou (2011) and Nanjing (2014). Chang, who is also the head coach of the Nanjing Center, has been working full-time in China since 2017, when he retired from a 12-season minor league career that began with the San Diego Padres organization.

His former student, DJ, is from the 24-year-old of Qinghai Province in Tibet’s Autonomous Region and is identified as Fnu Suonandajie on visa documents. However, Fnu is not a name. This is an abbreviation for First Name Unknown, a term used by the Department of State for foreigners with unknown names. And Suonandajie is not a surname. It was given to him by a monk when he was a child. He corrected the cultural differences by asking Americans to call him DJ.

At 5 feet 8 inches and 184 pounds, DJs play the centerfield and hit the lead-off. He didn’t play baseball until he was nearly ten years old, but was discovered in 2011 by an MLB recruiter searching China for a promising athlete to send to a junior high school program in Changzhou.

Recruiters were initially impressed with the speed and accuracy of the DJ’s feet. This is a skill that encourages DJs to throw rocks at domestic yaks and stop grazing. He says it’s a common job for Tibetan children, having rocky lands close enough to yaks and aiming to surprise them and move them together without actually hitting them. ..

MLB recruiters are working to open the world’s largest market to sports that you know little about. The goal is to find a player who will help increase enthusiasm there in a way that interests the Chinese NBA after Chinese basketball player Yao Ming signed with the Houston Rockets in 2002.

Not surprisingly, DJs say basketball, soccer, tennis and table tennis were probably his play options if baseball wasn’t called. Instead, he graduated from a high school program at a development center in Nanjing, where he was taught by Chan. He came to the United States, earned his roster as a walk-on at Los Angeles Harbor College, and last year graduated from a community college with an associate degree in communications. Shortly before Thanksgiving, he was awarded a full scholarship to play baseball at Rockhurst University, Division II School in Kansas City.

“I like the idea of ​​pitcher vs. batter. I’m the only one against him,” DJ said about his passion for baseball before the recent Van Johnson League match. “In my first match in the Summer League this year, I struck out the first three at-bats, but if I had another chance, I thought,” I got the first three at-bats, but I got this. ” I squared it. Hit it with the ball and the gap. I turned the bat over and told myself, “I got you.” I really like the idea of ​​not giving up until the end. “

By attending a university in the United States, DJs and a few other players may show a new path in the development process and ultimately lead to the watershed moment of MLB’s expansion into China. This is the first year player draft.

Previously, the player path for development centers was to sign as an international free agent. The milestone was first achieved in 2015 when Baltimore Orioles signed Guiyuan Xu, the first graduate of the Development Center. Guiyuan Xu is an itchy fielder because of his love for Ichiro Suzuki. He played 73 games over three seasons with rookie and class A balls before Xu was released.

Since then, six development center graduates from Boston, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Philadelphia have signed. Five of them had the same fate as Xu and couldn’t exceed the minor league minimum levels before they were finally released. Only right-handed pitcher Joron Jao remains in the Milwaukee system.

DJ will be one of at least nine graduates looking for another path this fall with a baseball scholarship at a US university. Two more graduates are considering offering a scholarship.

Upon enrollment in college, they are eligible for the MLB Annual Draft. This draft starts on Sunday and runs for three days. While MLB is negotiating with the player’s union to create an international draft (the deadline for that decision is approaching July 25), the current system is limited to amateurs playing in the United States and Canada.

In addition to making development center graduates easier to see and track for MLB scouts, Chan says there are other benefits to choosing a college option rather than signing as a free agent.

“To be honest, this is a blessing to me,” Chan said. “Face the impact of a new culture and the rigors of the 144-game minor league season. This is far more games than the games I played this season at the age of 17. Good luck on the college route. You’ll be better able to handle minor league baseball grinds and get used to the new culture. “

“They can definitely compete, but they need to move to a new culture and a longer season,” he added.

When Brian Minity, assistant general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies and overseeing organizational scouting and player development, signs development center graduates, the goal of drafting development center graduates will soon occur. May be an international free agent in 2018. Miniti was recently appointed to the board of directors of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the international governing body for baseball.

“Especially the player development project that started from scratch takes time, but I think the day to meet Chinese players in the major leagues is approaching,” said Minity. “From a scouting point of view, every team is hungry for players who have the tools, and it doesn’t matter where they come from. If you have a 6ft 2 left-handed person with really good arms, he Will be noticed. “

In fact, there is. Another Tibetan and development center graduate, Roger Rang, is 6-2, £ 185, left-handed and will be a second-year student at Arizona Western University this fall. Until July 8, he hit 50 batters in 48⅓ innings in just nine steps for Wyoming’s summer college league team, Casper Horseheads.

In the next few days, 20 rounds of drafts will appear on the deck, attracting the attention of scouts.

Brad Lefton is a bilingual journalist based in St. Louis. He specializes in baseball in Japan and Asia.

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