The Caribbean continues to represent a prime source for many future major leaguers, but is also an environment where finding players and signing them has been likened to the "Wild West" of the late 1800's in the USA. For some good reasons, the lack of structure in many aspects of player sourcing in Latin America scares some organizations.
The man charged by the Cardinals to lead their charge through this treacherous territory remains Vice President of Player Procurement Jeff Luhnow, brought in from the business world almost three years ago. The Spanish-speaking executive travels extensively in his global leadership role for the organization.
While the conclusion of the first year of play by the Cardinals' re-established presence in the Venezuelan Summer League (VSL) was not great in terms of wins and losses (24-46, ninth place out of ten teams), the very young team demonstrated significant gains in the area of player development that go far beyond their collective numbers - a .215 batting average (tenth) and 4.63 ERA (eighth).
Luhnow sat down with me this week for an extensive discussion covering the standout pitchers and offensive players from the Cardinals' Venezuelan squad this summer. We also talked about players from that country who have made the move to the minor league system here in the USA.
The first clip recaps the 2006 VSL season's objectives; the Position Player of the Year, Edwin Conde, and the Pitcher of the Year, Wladimir Mendoza, both of who are invited to 2007 Extended Spring Training; and the injuries to the 2006 Pitcher and Player of the Year, Senger Peralta and Jose Ramirez.
Finally, the top position players on the 2006 team are called out - shortstop Dognnt Bolivar, catcher Wilmer Alvarado, outfielder Quincy Martina, second baseman Jose Garcia and outfielder Cristofher Dumont.
And, there's much more from Jeff Luhnow still to come!
Look for the second installment of this exclusive interview, where Luhnow shares plans for the fall and next spring for a number of these players, including the Parallel League in Venezuela, the Winter Instructional League in the Dominican and Extended Spring Training in Jupiter, Florida in 2007.
We also discuss the pros and cons of an International Draft, the Cardinals' interest in other emerging geographies, including Panama, Colombia and the East and much more.
So, come right back here tomorrow for the second installment of what I hope you will agree is a very interesting and informative discussion with the Cardinals' international leader, Jeff Luhnow.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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