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Justin time: BoSox tap Chinese talent

By Yang Xinwei | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-19 07:44

Teenage catcher is latest gem from MLB Development Centers

Justin time: BoSox tap Chinese talent

Tibet's Justin Qiangbarenzeng last week became the third graduate of China's MLB Development Centers to sign a major-league contract when he inked a rookie deal with the Boston Red Sox. The 16-year-old recently switched from playing second base to catcher. [Photo provided by Wu Ying/for China Daily]

Justin Qiangbarenzeng is reaping the benefits of an accelerated baseball education.

Ten years ago, the Tibetan teenager had no clue about the game. But earlier this month, the 6-foot, 185-pound catcher signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox.

"The Red Sox have the vision to trust Justin for his talent," Rick Dell, MLB Asia's general manager of baseball development, said at the official signing ceremony last week in Nanjing.

"I thank Justin's trust in the MLB Development Center training program. He's a product of our MLB Play Ball! program when he played for Dacheng School in Beijing and won the 2011 national championship."

In 2015, Xu Guiyuan signed with the Baltimore Orioles, and two months ago pitcher Gong Haicheng inked a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Qiangbarenzeng is the first Tibetan to sign with a pro team.

"If you were sitting here two years ago and said we would have three players from our DCs signed with MLB, I don't think anyone would have believed it," said Dell.

"I think it's outstanding. To have one player signed is outstanding, but to have Xu, Gong and now Justin signed, it really validates our program."

Born to a working-class family in Tibet's Maizhokunggar county in 2001, Qiangbarenzeng joined the Beijing Dacheng School baseball team under coach Li Wei at age 6. Three years later he helped Team China beat Chinese Taipei to win a tournament in Japan and was one of six Chinese selected for the All-Star team.

"Justin's baseball IQ is on a whole new level," said Ray Chang, a Chinese-American who played Triple A ball in the US and is now head coach at the Nanjing DC.

"What makes Justin different is that he makes adjustments very, very quickly.

"With Justin, you know his mind is always going, always turning, always making quick adjustments, always making himself better. That's what will help him achieve success in the States."

Chang was convinced of the kid's work ethic when he witnessed Qiangbarenzeng practicing sliding on a soggy infield after a sudden rainstorm. "I knew then that he was something special," said the coach.

Dell agrees.

"Justin has an outstanding work ethic, and I'm sure that's what the Boston Red Sox have seen. He's very adaptable. Just two months ago he switched positions from second base to catcher and he has done it seamlessly.

"His signing confirms MLB's commitment to China, to give young men a chance to dream, believe and succeed."

After their initial assessment, Red Sox scout Louie Lin and Eddie Romero, Boston's former international scouting director and now assistant general manager, suggested Qiangbarenzeng could be a good catcher, prompting the switch.

"Justin's successful switch to catcher was crucial in our decision to sign him," said Lin, who has been scouting in China for the past 10 years.

"He is my first mainland player, but I believe he won't be the last."

Justin time: BoSox tap Chinese talent

Boston has signed eight players from Taiwan, which Lin believes will help smooth Qiangbarenzeng's transition.

"I know it's a great honor to sign with the Red Sox," said the 16-year old. "And I also know more difficult times are waiting for me, but I believe I can succeed. Being lucky also means you have to work harder, and that's what I will do.

"I will train even harder than before because I have changed to catcher ... which means more effort. I will work harder to repay those who have helped so much along the way."

Li Wei, who coached Qiangbarenzeng on the Dacheng School team, recalled the player's dedication to training - including rising each morning at 4:30 to begin his workouts.

"I believe Justin could be the first successful Chinese player in MLB," said Li.

"He is strong willed and very capable of facing new challenges."

Qiangbarenzeng will leave for the US at the end of August to live and train with the Red Sox' Gulf Coast League rookie affiliate in Florida.

"From Justin's signing, we see the future of China's baseball," said Yi Sheng, team leader of China's national baseball squad.

Yi said that although only 668 players are registered with the China Baseball Association, the country is ranked 17th in the world - the highest of any of China's men's national teams.

"The signing of three Chinese players with MLB teams is a small start, but a big step forward for China's baseball development," said Yi.

"I can honestly say that I think baseball has a great future in China."


Building a proud legacy

Over the past four years, China's three MLB Development Centers, the only such facilities outside the United States, have churned out four groups of graduates in Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing, all in Jiangsu province.

Of the 55 grads, 28 are attending Chinese universities, seven are attending universities in the US, 12 are playing with CBA teams, three are working at the DCs and three have signed with MLB clubs.

"Besides the three players signing with MLB teams, I am very proud of the fact we have student athletes going to universities in China and we have student athletes going to universities in the US and playing baseball," said Rick Dell, general manager of baseball development for MLB Asia.

"So the story doesn't end with who got signed; the story continues with all our student athletes and their opportunities to go on and have life-changing experiences. The mission of the DCs is to develop student athletes, not just as baseball players but as total persons."

Aaron Wang, general manager of business and media development for MLB China, agreed.

"MLB arrived in to China in 2007 with the aim of developing baseball and education, kicking off the Play Ball! program that covered more than 100 elementary schools and setting up DCs in Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing," he said.

"Justin Qiangbarenzeng is a product of the DCs and sets a good example of how our system combines sports and academic excellence. I believe the future of China's baseball development will be ensured by the growing number of Chinese graduates."

Dell said it will be an ongoing process.

"There's an old saying that it takes a whole village to raise a boy, and that really is what our MLB Development Centers are - villages of trainers, coaches and supporters on many levels that cluster around our student athletes to get them to realize their full potential," said Dell.

Justin time: BoSox tap Chinese talent

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