Mark Cryan, Andrew Scarlata ’19 examine the Dominican Republic’s success developing MLB players

Before their research was published this fall by the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport Management, it began nearly five years ago as a Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF) project.

Assistant Professor Mark Cryan and Andrew Scarlata ’19 are uniquely positioned to examine why the Dominican Republic, an impoverished country of fewer than 11 million people, produces roughly 10 percent of the players on Major League Baseball rosters. It is a topic the two have investigated since 2016, culminating in a recently published article in the North Carolina Journal of the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport Management. Cryan and Scarlata looked specifically at the success of the Kansas City Royals and its baseball academy in the Caribbean nation.

During the Sport Management Department’s 2018 end-of-the-year banquet, Assistant Professor Mark Cryan (foreground) presented Andrew Scarlata ’19 (background) with the department’s Major of the Year Award.

As part of his annual Winter Term class – albeit not this January due to the pandemic – Cryan leads students on a three-week visit to the Dominican Republic, studying baseball, tourism and issues regarding to social justice and globalization. Scarlata accompanied Cryan as part of the 2016 class, and returned to the DR that summer to serve as an intern at the Royals’ academy. A year later, he worked as a culture intern for the franchise’s minor league affiliate in Idaho.

Those experiences were great preparation for Scarlata’s current role as the Washington Nationals’ coordinator of player education and cultural development.

“Andrew and I both share a strong interest in player development in Latin America, and feel that it’s important for the MLB teams to invest in their education programs in the Dominican Republic, like the Royals have been doing,” Cryan said. “Now, Andrew is doing that in his job with the Nationals.”

As part of their research, Cryan and Scarlata conducted multiple site visits and interviews with the manager of the Royals’ educational program. Their findings were supplemented by insights from Scarlata’s own internship experience. Through conversations with top MLB officials in the Dominican Republic and visits to other team academies, the researchers knew that Kansas City’s academy program ranks among the best.

The researchers concluded that the franchise’s success in developing future big-league players is closely tied to the level of time and resources devoted to the organization’s educational program. It also highlights the Royals’ emphasis on education and personal development – many Latin American teenagers quit school to train at the academy full time. The team’s officials widely agree that a smarter player is a better, more valuable player.

Cryan and Scarlata initially began researching the topic as part of a Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF) project, which Scarlata presented in spring 2018.

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“This is a great example of a student’s undergraduate research project helping them develop a deeper understanding of an issue,” Cryan said. “Between his sport management internships in this area and our research project, he became a real expert in this topic, and a valuable employee for the Nationals.”

Cryan is a former general manager of the Burlington Indians, the Cleveland minor league baseball affiliate in the Appalachian League, and was one of the founders of the Coastal Plain League. He is also the author of “Cradle of the Game; Baseball and Ballparks in North Carolina,” considered the definitive book on baseball in North Carolina. The second edition was published in 2014. A third, completely updated edition is now scheduled for publication in 2021, and will include a comprehensive look at major changes in the state’s baseball landscape.

North Carolina Journal

The North Carolina Journal of the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport Management (NCAAHPERD-SM) is a professional peer-reviewed journal intended to meet the needs of AHPERD-SM educators and to serve as a forum for socioeconomic, educational and ethical issues. The publication is produced online twice a year (April and November).