Hardscrabble baseball fields in the Dominican Republic may seem a long way from the major leagues, but the nation is home to one of baseball’s top talent pools. (Courtesy of Strand Releasing)

In the new documentary, Ballplayer:Pelotero, filmmakers explore the complicated and sometimes controversial relationship between Major League Baseball and hundreds of pro prospects in the Dominican Republic.

As co-director Jon Paley told Bill Littlefield on this week’s Only A Game, 16-year-old Dominican ballplayers eagerly await July 2nd as the first day they can sign a major league contract.  But, the joy of that day can fade almost as fast as it arrives.

“Every moment after that, their value decreases…gradually,” Paley said.  “One year, two years after their first eligibility day, these players are considered, you know, old men.  They’re no longer as valuable as they were when they were 16.”

The documentary criticizes MLB’s handling of one such prospect, Miguel Angel Sano.  Sano was subjected to unrelenting investigation after rumors surfaced that he was too young to be displaying such enormous talent, and that he might be one of the unknown number of Dominican players who take on false identities to hide their true ages.  Sano’s agent in the U.S., Rob Plummer, says the investigation was used to devalue an otherwise expensive player.  In the film, he accuses the league of collusion.  Paley isn’t willing to go quite so far.

“What we do know is that there was an investigation meeting at Major League Baseball,” Paley explains.  “The investigator sat down with Miguel and his mother and grilled him for a couple hours, in which his lawyers were not allowed to be present. Rene Gayo, who is a member of another organization, separate from Major League Baseball, was also present.  Certainly suspicious.”

Major League Baseball has claimed that the film contains inaccuracies, that it doesn’t reflect the current state of recruiting in the Dominican Republic, and that the league wasn’t given the opportunity to respond to the accusations.

Another of the three co-directors, Ross Finkle, says the documentary was shot in 2009 and accurately reflects the recruiting landscape in the Dominican at that time.  “We didn’t make this film to cause a scandal,” Finkle said.  “We were trying to answer the question of how the Dominican Republic produces such great baseball players.  So we reached out to Major League Baseball in hopes of getting a comment from them about the situation, which we were denied.”

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine served as Executive Producer for the project.  The film can be seen in theaters, on iTunes and OnDemand on July 13.