So, the Astros are taking their prospects on trips now

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According to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggert, the Astros recently brought eight players and six staff members down to the Dominican Republic for a 10-day getaway:

The group spent the 10 days touring the country, with the players working out at the Astros’ Dominican Academy in the mornings, then interacting with the various communities and villages they visited in the afternoons. It was a learning experience, not only for the players from the States, but the Dominican-based players as well.

“There were a lot of things to it,” assistant director of player development Allen Rowin said. “We were trying to get the U.S. players to understand where their Latin brethren are coming from, to see firsthand where the guys come from in the Dominican, to see the complex and understand what they’re doing, and also for them to kind of have a feel for what the Latin guys go through when they come to the States.

The players on the trip were all draft picks from the last three years, including 2012 first overall pick Carlos Correa and a 2013 pick in Brett Booth.

All in all, it seems like a very good experience for the kids and maybe something more teams should do. It also, however, sounds like an extra benefit that prospects should not be entitled to given the strict draft cap rules now employed by Major League Baseball. Now, I highly doubt the Astros were using a trip to the Dominican Republic as a carrot to get Booth to sign with them a few months back. I’m assuming the Astros cleared the trip with MLB as well.

But this is one of the problems with salary caps in general: anything outside the norm that teams do for players needs to be monitored closely to make sure there are no unfair advantages. Just as NBA teams next summer won’t be able to promise LeBron James luxury boxes and such perks, MLB teams have to be limited in what they can do for prospects, given the rules in place.

Watch: Cody Bellinger breaks NL rookie home run record

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Cody Bellinger helped the Dodgers to their first lead on Friday night, going deep for his 39th home run of the season and setting a new National League rookie home run record in the process. With two on and two out in the third inning, the Dodgers’ slugger launched a 2-1 pitch from the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, skimming the right field fence to give the team a three-run cushion:

The three-run bomb was Bellinger’s sixth of the season. In what is undoubtedly a Rookie of the Year award-worthy campaign, he’s logged 21 solo shots, 11 two-run blasts and a single grand slam. His historic home run topped former NL rookie leaders Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, at 38 homers apiece.

The Dodgers need to stay on top of the Giants to clinch the NL West or, barring that, have the Marlins pull off a win over the Diamondbacks. They currently lead the Giants 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Marlins, meanwhile, are staying just ahead of the D-backs with a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth.

Report: Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman initiate Marlins’ staff cuts

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A report from Barry Jackson and Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reveals that prospective Marlins’ owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman have already initiated several key firings within the organization. While the sale of the team is still pending final approval next month, Jeter reportedly pushed club president David Samson to remove four special assistants this week: Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Jack McKeon and Jeff Conine.

Hall of Fame infielder Dawson, outfielder Perez and Marlins’ legend Conine served as special assistants to the president. McKeon, who served as team manager from 2003-2005 (and briefly in 2011), was terminated from a 12-year post as special assistant to owner Jeffrey Loria.

The move didn’t come as a big surprise to Dawson and McKeon, Jackson and Spencer noted. It’s part and parcel of dealing with new ownership. But it was disappointing news nonetheless, especially as the long-tenured McKeon might lose an opportunity to return next September to manage one game and cement his status as the oldest manager in MLB history.

Should the Marlins’ sale go through in October as expected, this figures to be the beginning of several cuts. Per Jackson and Spencer:

Jeter also is expected to fire some people on the baseball side of the operation, though it’s believed president/baseball operations Michael Hill will be retained, at least indefinitely if not permanently.

Any replacements for those already released from the team have yet to be announced.