Teenage catcher is latest gem from MLB Development Centers
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."