It's the summer of 1994 in the Dominican Republic. Teenagers are showing their skills off to the general manager of the Detroit Tigers, Joe Klein. The hitters bat and, one after the other, the pitchers throw. The sun has started setting by the time a tall, sturdily-built right-hander takes his turn. And as soon as Francisco Cordero starts unleashing fastballs, Klein takes notice.
"There was no question in my mind that he was going to be a major leaguer," said Klein, who is now the executive director of the Atlantic League.
Even then, Cordero had a blazing fastball. He was a couple inches shorter than he is today and had yet to fill out completely, but Tigers scout Ramon Pena liked the looks of the 19-year-old. Klein was surprised to find out that Cordero hadn't been signed, but the pitcher didn't remain a free agent for long. The Tigers signed him 16 years ago today.
It took most of five minor league seasons for Cordero to reach the majors and even when he finally debuted with the Tigers in 1999, he walked nearly a batter per inning. It wasn't until three years after the Tigers sent Cordero to Texas in the Juan Gonzalez trade that he emerged as a dominant pitcher. Cordero has been effective every season since 2002, averaging 30 saves per year, posting a 2.90 ERA, striking out more than a batter per inning and limiting his walks (3.8 BB/9).
Now, Cordero's nothing like the teenager the Tigers found in the Dominican 16 years ago. Klein sees similarities between the prospect he signed and the 35-year-old flamethrower in the Cincinnati bullpen, but can he believe they're the same person?
"No," Klein said. "He's learned to focus and he's matured and I'm really proud of him."