Wilmer Becerra, the leader of the Cardinals' Venezuelan Academy for the last two seasons, is running the San Luis (St. Louis) entry in the Liga Paralela or Parallel League.
The Cardinals' 25-man squad includes 15 position players and ten pitchers, sourced from a number of lands, not just from the home country of Venezuela. They include outfielder Edwin Conde from Nicaragua and outfielder Quincy Martina from Curacao.
The primary sourcing of players has been the 2006 Venezuelan and Dominican Summer Leagues. In addition, there are some players new to the organization as well as two who played in the USA this past summer – pitcher Fabian Marquez from Johnson City and an outfielder named Freddy Parejo, who competed for Brevard County in the Brewers organization.
Three of the players, catcher Yorbert Alcala, shortstop Romolo Ruiz and pitcher Fernando Cedeno, are seeing their first game action as professionals. They were among a group of 16-year-olds signed by the Cardinals to 2007 contracts amid much fanfare in July. "Cards Add Six Young Venezuelans to Pipeline".
The informal nature of the league adds to its developmental focus. Says Jeff Luhnow, Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development, "The advantage we have in being in a place like Venezuela is that the winter leagues are instructional leagues and therefore, not officially part of Minor League Baseball."
But, don't think that means the games aren't taken seriously.
Says Luhnow, "The Parallel League is the minor league for the winter leagues in Venezuela, so there are umpires and rules. There is no messing around. We're playing in a real league. But, there is much more flexibility as to who gets to be on those rosters."
One huge benefit of that is that anyone can play. Luhnow explains. "Anybody can participate. We can have tryout players and anyone from the organization or outside it."
This won't be the first time the Cardinals have brought in players for a look in a competitive environment before signing them. "That is where we first saw (Donovan) Solano. He came over there from Colombia and spent two weeks playing with our team in games. That is when we realized he was a player we wanted to sign. Same thing with Jose Martinez, in fact," explained Luhnow.
The Cardinals' 2005 Liga Paralela squad finished 24-30 and was led by Juan Lucena (.396) and Jose Martinez (.362) with the bat and Ivan Brizuela (2-0, 1.17, 23 K in 23 IP) and Daniel Peralta (3-1, 2.08, 36 K in 26 IP) on the mound.
This year, Luhnow wants to win.
"The last two years in the Paralela, we have done OK, but it has been very focused on development. This year, with the number of players returning from the US and the quality of players we have in Venezuela, and the players from the Dominican, because it is a tougher league and there is more games than anything we can provide for them in the Dominican, we may actually compete this year for something in the Parallel League," he said.
The ultimate answer will be provided via the results generated on the fields of Venezuela over the next two months.
Check back here at stlcardinals.scout.com for periodic updates on the Liga Paralela and all winter baseball activity featuring members of the Cardinals organization.
The Cardinals' 2006 Liga Paralela roster, including where the player competed this summer, if applicable:
|Yolbert Alcala||C/July sign||Venezuela|
|Romulo Ruiz||SS/July sign||Venezuela|
|Fernando Cedeno||July sign||Venezuela|
|* Played for Brevard County in Brewers organization|
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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