Cards Add Six Young Venezuelans to Pipeline

On Thursday, the St. Louis Cardinals held a press conference to announce the signing of six young Venezuelan ballplayers to their first professional contracts. Five of the six are just 16 years old.&nbsp

On July 13th, ceremonies were held at the Cardinals' Venezuelan Academy in San Joaquin for the signing of six players; pitchers Jose Peñaloza of Valencia, Fernando Cedeño of Guanare and Jose Calero, along with catcher Yorbel Alcala of Piar City, shortstop Rómulo Ruiz of Cagua and centerfielder Peter Jasber.

The latter five of the six were July 2nd players, which meant they are 16 years of age and eligible to sign for the first time on July 2nd. Peñaloza is 18. The Cardinals contingent at the signing ceremony was headed by Enrique Brito, Cardinals Latin America Coordinator of Development and Scouting.

Brito said, "These players signed today will bear fruits for us in three or four years, as they are talented enough to project to play in the major leagues, with the youth and discipline necessary to be successful in this difficult race".

Cardinals Vice President of Player Procurement Jeff Luhnow singled out Ruiz, who will receive the largest signing bonus the Cardinals have ever given a Venezuelan and is also the largest July 2nd bonus in team history.

"Romulo Ruiz is an exciting shortstop prospect. I saw many of the players that were signed for six figures in both Venezuela and the Dominican Republic this year, and in my opinion, he was one of the best, Luhnow said.

The Cardinals had their eye on Ruiz for some time, but projected a position change for the then-catcher.

"We had seen him in February (when I went to Venezuela for the Caribbean Series) as a catcher, and our opinion was that given his speed and range, shortstop would make more sense. We spoke to his trainer, and he was converted to that position. In June, when I saw him again, I was amazed at how smooth the transition was for him. He is a natural at that position. He has five tools, a tremendous work ethic, and great instincts for the game," Luhnow gushed.

It wasn't a slam dunk that Ruiz would become a Cardinal, however.

"Thanks to the support from ownership and their commitment to the international program, we were able to compete against several other teams that had an interest and land him. His contract was signed at 12:01 a.m. on July 2nd, as is tradition for many of the top players," Luhnow said.

Luhnow also called out Calero as another player to keep an eye on.

"The right handed pitcher, Jose Calero, is another exciting 16-year old prospect. He has a prototypical pitcher's body (6'-3" and growing) and his stuff is developing quickly. His fastball is almost average now, and he has the makings of above average secondary pitches. Our scouts in Venezuela felt he was one of the top three pitching prospects available in this year's class," said Luhnow.

Brito explained that the new signees will participate in the Development League, which begin in October and the Venezuelan Summer League in 2007. Some may also be invited to the fall Instructional League in Florida to improve their skills. The Cardinals continue their agreement with the Aragua Tigers, who have the first option to deploy these players in winter ball.

The academy has been operating for two years under the direction of Wilmer Becerra, along with Julio Herrera, head of operations and Nixon Peraza, trainer.

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Want more news on the Cardinals prospects in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela? We have exclusive and detailed eyewitness reports from none other than Cardinals Vice President of Player Procurement Jeff Luhnow, who recently returned from visits to both summer league teams. Look for these special insider reports coming this week to subscribers of

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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