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Teen baseball prospect Elian Soto verbally agrees to join Washington Nationals, sources say

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Elian Soto, Juan Soto‘s younger sibling, has verbally agreed to join his brother’s Washington Nationals just days after declaring his intentions to sign with the New York Mets, a source confirmed to ESPN on Wednesday.

Elian Soto, a 16-year-old outfielder and third baseman, wouldn’t be eligible to formally sign until next year’s international free agent class in January 2023. The younger Soto posted an Instagram video of himself working out in full Mets gear on Dec. 31 and had reportedly been given a $50,000 bonus but has since changed course.

Soto’s decision was first reported by Washington City Paper.

The Nationals’ offer is believed to be bigger. The discrepancy in money and a greater familiarity with the Nats’ minor league system — as opposed to a Mets system seemingly in transition under new general manager Billy Eppler — were the main factors in Soto’s decision, a source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.

The presence of Juan Soto, a 23-year-old superstar who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, certainly didn’t hurt, either.

Elian Soto, a left-handed hitter, isn’t considered a premium international prospect but is still young enough to develop into one. Amateur players and their trainers in the Dominican Republic often make handshake agreements with teams long before they’re old enough to officially sign a contract, allowing them to intermittently train at the team’s facility and preventing them from showcasing themselves to evaluators from other organizations.

There appears to be a strong possibility that an international draft will be baked into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is still being negotiated between the owners and the players. But the current international signing rules could still be in place next year in order to give teams and prospects more time to get acclimated.

Elian Soto, like his brother, is represented by the Boras Corporation, and adding him could play in the Nationals’ favor when it comes to extending Juan Soto, who is eligible for free agency after the 2024 season under the current CBA.

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Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball

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NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.

There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.

“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.

MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.

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Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.

“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.

The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.

Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.

Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.

Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.

“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”

Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.

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One fun fact you (probably) did not know for all 30 MLB teams

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From telling team numbers to surprising player stats, we find what you might have missed about your favorite squad.

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