When the Rays this month announced plans to start an academy in Brazil, it might have turned a few heads.
To Carlos Alfonso, it's just the beginning.
The Rays' director of international operations said the club's footprint in procuring players overseas has grown by leaps and bounds in the past three years.
It has signed more than 70 players from Japan to Argentina since he came aboard in 2006. And though the Rays continue to make strides in the hotbed of the Dominican Republic, they also have plans for scouts to expand their territory to Europe and Australia and will have another cover the Pacific Rim.
Alfonso admits, like with Brazil's academy — which could house 40-50 players — results will take time. But the Rays are getting closer to reaping the rewards in Latin America.
SS Omar Luna, signed from the Dominican Republic in 2006, became the first such acquisition to make it to Class A. He hit .251 with 19 doubles and 19 stolen bases for Columbus last season after a year with rookie-league Princeton.
"We've signed quite a bit of players from Latin America probably faster than we thought," Alfonso said. "We've come leaps and bounds from where we started. It takes some time. It's going to take a little bit more time to go forward. We're excited. I never envisioned in less than three years we would be this far in the game."
Alfonso, who has spent more than 40 years in pro baseball, also couldn't have foreseen all of the changes in international scouting; from the emergence of agents to the growth of the game in nations such as Peru, Ecuador and Argentina. Last month, the Pirates signed two pitchers from India, the first players from that country to sign contracts.
"Hopefully in my lifetime," Alfonso said, "I'll be able to see probably as many as 15-20 countries represented (in the majors)."
roster watch: Though the Rays have improved their depth with the acquisitions of OF Matt Joyce and RHP Joe Nelson, they are still in the market for another big bat, possibly a DH.
OF Milton Bradley might be leaning toward the Cubs, making Jason Giambi, Pat Burrell, Garret Anderson and Bobby Abreu the most likely candidates for the Rays. Angels GM Tony Reagins said his club will stay with their existing outfield, which helps the Rays by taking a team out of the bidding.
Rays rumblings: In his career, Nelson has been tough on left-handed hitters (.216) as well as righties (.241). … OF Fernando Perez is playing well in the Venezuelan winter league, hitting .301 with two homers and seven RBIs.
Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith @sptimes.com.