Cardinals 2007-2008 Winter Ball Preview

At least 19 St. Louis Cardinals prospects are suiting up in five Caribbean nations this winter. And that doesn't count two full developmental squads of youngsters in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

Not only are the St. Louis Cardinals expanding their Caribbean presence via their ongoing efforts at their baseball academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, but they are also stepping up their presence in winter ball across multiple nations. This not only gives prospects valuable playing time, but also increases the presence of the Cardinals organization in more Spanish-speaking nations through both participating players and coaches.

16 Cardinals players are already committed to suit up with at least three more expected, competing in such diverse places as Caribbean Series participants Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic as well as Nicaragua and Colombia. Here they are!

Cardinals winter league participants – 2007-2008

Mexico Pos Club 2007 Final
Hugo Castellanos P Obregon Memphis
Fernando Salas P Mazatlan Palm Beach
Amaury Marti OF TBD Springfield
Venezuela
Matt Scherer P Caribes Springfield
Mike Smith P Caribes Memphis (FA)
Rico Washington IF Caribes Springfield
Cody Haerther OF Caribes* Springfield
John Rodriguez OF TBD Memphis
Juan Lucena 2B Aragua Springfield
Jose Martinez SS Aragua Springfield
Dominican Republic
Elvis Hernandez P Cibao Quad Cities
Nicaragua 
Ryde Rodriguez OF Boer Instructs
Luke Gorsett OF Chinandega Palm Beach
Colombia 
Chris Grossman C Sincelejo Palm Beach
Donnie Smith P Sincelejo Palm Beach
Shane Robinson OF Sincelejo Palm Beach
Dan Nelson SS Sincelejo Palm Beach
Andres Rosales P Sincelejo Johnson City
Gustavo Martinez P Sincelejo GCL Cards
* May join second half


Mexico

The Mexican Pacific League began its 50th season on October 9 and will run through December 30. The eight-team league apparently has two Cardinals farmhands currently competing, native Mexicans Hugo Castellanos and Fernando Salas. However, Cuban émigré Amaury Marti, who played in Mexico this summer, is also expected to return to Mexico for winter ball.

While former short-season class A pitching coach Sid Monge is reprising his role with the Venados de Mazatlan, his break with the organization may signal the end of the Cardinals' participation there. Ex-Cards minor league catcher Iker Franco is also suiting up in the league again.


Venezuela

The eight-team Venezuelan league began play this past Thursday, October 11 and also will continue through December 30. Gulf Coast League Cardinals Manager Enrique Brito's new team, the Caribes, already have three Cardinals imports - Matt Scherer, Mike Smith and Rico Washington - and are expected to be adding Cody Haerther as well.

Like most of the players, Haerther is understandably excited about the potential. "After my hamate injury, I knew I was going to play some winter ball and was excited about the idea of getting some more at bats since I missed so many this year. I have yet to hear anything "officially", however I have heard that Brito's team was interested in having me play during the second half of the season."

If and when Haerther reports for winter ball, look for the outfielder's regular first-hand reports on baseball and life in a foreign land in "Cody's Caribbean Corner", exclusively right here at stlcardinals.scout.com.

Middle infielders Juan Lucena and Jose Martinez are playing for the Aragua Tigres while outfielder John Rodriguez, like Haerther coming off an injury-riddled season, will also get some much-needed at-bats in Venezuela this winter.

Along with the players noted above, former organization pitchers Jose Garcia, Jackson Paz, Justin Pope and Jeremy Cummings are among those competing along with outfielder Roger Cedeno and infielders Luis Ordaz and recently-released Jose Contreras.


In addition, 40 players primarily of the ages 16 through 18 make up the Cardinals' roster in the Liga Paralela, the minor league for winter ball in Venezuela. The 15-team league participants each play 56 games in two halves between October 11 and December 19 with playoffs following.

Jeff Luhnow, Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development offered this introduction. "Our team in the parallel league in Venezuela is already in action. It is a 100% Venezuelan team this year with players from the VSL, players recently signed, and players returning from the US. Everyone currently signed and expected to play in our system next year is involved. Javier Meza is the manager and Dernier Orosco is the pitching coach. They do a superb job. I will be visiting them in November."

Top Liga Paralela hurlers include Richard Castillo and Eduardo Sanchez as well as infielders Jose Garcia, Domnit Bolivar and Romulo Ruiz. Also, a number of the Cardinals' "July 2nd" signings this year are competing, including catcher Kevin Moscatel, who received a $360,000 signing bonus.

Follow this link to see the entire roster.


Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic winter league begins the Wednesday, October 17 and will run through December 22. At this point, rosters are not available; however, we think that Quad Cities starting pitcher Elvis "The Mosquito" Hernandez may suit up with the Gigantes del Cibao.

Just a warning, however. At times, clubs show players rostered who may have been invited, but either will not play at all or perhaps get just a few at-bats at the end of the season in preparation for the playoffs and Caribbean Series. For example, Hernandez' alleged teammates include Albert Pujols and the Mets' Jose Reyes. So, you get the drift.

As in Venezuela, there is a winter developmental minor league in the Dominican where the Cardinals will be providing a full team of prospects. However, this environment is more like the instructional league than full-bore competition. When I get the Cardinals roster, I will share it.

Here is Luhnow's intro. "The Dominican instructional program starts on Monday and games commence around the 1st of November. We will have players from the DR as well as Central America and Puerto Rico. Maximo Alvarez (aka Tom) is our manager there and Bill Villanueva is our pitching coach. Selin Aquino (Pujols' personal BP pitcher) helps out and is invaluable. I plan to be there also sometime in November or early December and will take some staff with me from the US – Dennis Martinez and Jose Oquendo have both expressed interest."


Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan Winter League will not begin play until Friday, October 26 and runs through November 25. Rosters have not yet been formally released, However, I have been told that top international signee Ryde Rodriguez will be returning to the Indios del Boer. The ex-Cuban outfielder played with the same club under then-manager Dennis Martinez last winter. "El Presidente" served as Brito's GCL pitching coach this past summer.

Outfielder Luke Gorsett is expected to play with the Tigres del Chinandega. That team is fronted by Major Leaguer Vicente Padilla and Cardinals minor league catching coordinator Dann Bilardello is on the staff.


Colombia

Organized by former Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria, the four-team Colombian Winter League begins play on October 24. For the Sincelejo Toros where Cardinals scout Neder Horta is managing, we expect to find four 2007 Palm Beach players, Chris Grossman, Donnie Smith, Shane Robinson, and Dan Nelson.

Horta was also quoted in a Colombian paper last week noting that Andres Rosales and Gustavo Martinez will be on his pitching staff.


Puerto Rico

Due to financial problems, the Puerto Rican League is on hiatus in 2007-2008. As a replacement, there was a proposal to expand an existing amateur league by including some professional players. But, those plans are unclear. More than likely, there will be no Puerto Rican professional season this winter.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina traditionally feels the tug of nationalism, having suited up for his hometown Carolina Gigantes for the last several seasons. Frankly, Yadi getting a few months of rest instead doesn't sound like a bad prescription to me, especially given the physical demands of catching. Last winter, there was only one week between the end of Caribbean Series and the pitchers-and-catchers reporting date for spring training.


Caribbean Series 2008

Celebrating their 50th anniversary, this year's Caribbean Series will be held from February 2-8 in Santiago, Dominican Republic, home country of the 2007 champions.

Normally, last year's host Puerto Rico would join the winners from the Dominican, Mexico and Venezuela in the tournament. However, with the Puerto Rican League suspending play, instead it looks like there will be two teams from the host country competing this year. Colombia and Nicaragua have also petitioned for Series inclusion in the past, but have not been approved.

As we do every winter, we will be providing regular updates on the status of Cardinals players competing in the Caribbean winter leagues. We will likely also be reporting on additional players suiting up. So, check back here regularly at stlcardinals.scout.com for the most comprehensive Cardinals minor league news anywhere – year ‘round.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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