The Puerto Rico Baseball League has added two more teams for a total of six, and this year was renamed the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League.
"In a firm commitment to Puerto Rico baseball and its fans, we will turn the league into a stepping stone to promote the development and improvement of young talents," said Hector Rivera, the league's president.
There was also a surge of fresh interest in the sport after 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa became the first Puerto Rican to be the first overall pick in the draft, receiving a $4.8 million signing bonus with the Houston Astros in June. Previously, the highest-drafted player out of Puerto Rico was catcher Ramon Castro, who went No. 17 to Houston in 1994.
"Puerto Rico baseball is rising little by little," Correa said. "A lot more young players began dedicating themselves to the sport and saw that it could be done."
Correa is a graduate of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School, which receives $400,000 each year from MLB and has produced athletes who have been drafted or awarded scholarships at Division I universities in recent years.
"The talent that we're seeing now, we will likely see it knock on the doors of the major leagues in the next four to six years," said Lucy Batista, the school's headmaster.
Correa's achievement also has stirred interest in recreational baseball players across Puerto Rico, with teams in some towns being forced to wait in line to play at public fields. Using Correa's popularity as a platform, MLB plans to start tournaments and after-school programs across the island to further stimulate interest in the sport, said Kim Ng, the organization's senior vice president for baseball operations.
"I think that we're on the upswing there," she said. "Carlos Correa being the first pick in the draft this past year is more indicative of what's going on in Puerto Rico, and I think it has to a certain extent reinvigorated the game down there."
The importance of local academies is key. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Hiram Burgos said he enrolled in the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in 10th grade and graduated in 2005.
"I developed immensely," he said of his time there. "I added almost 10 miles to my speed as a pitcher."
Rodriguez, the former Marlins manager, said he anticipates a spike in talented baseball players from Puerto Rico in the next 10 to 15 years, thanks to the academies. And while he believes that another Clemente could be in the works, he warned against expectations that Puerto Rico would see a second golden era.
"It's not fair to compare what's happening now to the time of the Roberto Alomars, Carlos Baergas," he said. "That was a cycle. It is very, very rare for that to happen, not only in Puerto Rico, but in any state in the United States."
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.