The Venezuelan Summer League first began play in 1997, though the Cardinals only joined recently, in time for the 2006 season. The 2007 64-game regular season began on May 1 and continued through August 31.
There were nine teams in the league this past season representing eleven major league organizations, as the Cubs and Twins shared a team as did the Devil Rays and Reds. It should be noted that players from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are not allowed.
Roster limits are 35 active players of which no more than 12 players can be 20 years of age or older and no more than four players 21 years of age or older. At least ten must be pitchers as of July 1. No player on the active list may have more than four years of minor league service.
With a 23-46 (.333) record, the 2007 VSL Cardinals finished in seventh, 25.5 games behind the first-place Pirates. The club was just two games under .500 at home, but posted a league-worst .200 win percentage on the road.
Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow acknowledged the high-level view that the Cardinals' 2007 VSL campaign was not impressive, but pointed out that thinning out of talent was a one-year phenomenon.
"Clearly we struggled from a win-loss perspective. Both the VSL and the Dominican Summer League were adversely affected by the addition of the Gulf Coast League team – which automatically took most of the top players. That should change next year," Luhnow explained.
Certainly, that didn't mean that players did not improve. Luhnow continues. "Javier Meza and his staff did a very solid job with a very young and inexperienced team. There were several players that took a step forward and exceeded expectations. Many of them came to Florida for our instructional program and our staff here has been impressed by what they have seen."
Offensively, the Cardinals struggled mightily. Overall, they were last of the nine VSL teams in runs scored and stolen bases. Their collective .226 batting average was not only last, but the next closest squad hit a full 15 points higher. They did show an ability to take a walk, ranking fourth, but were sixth in strikeouts.
Yet, there were some strong individual contributors could get lost in the mediocre averages. Here are the team's hitting leaders.
Luhnow singled out one hitter. "Ismael Cardona was the top position player. He is catcher who was also used at first base and as a designated hitter."
The farm director called out four other position players on the 2007 VSL roster.
"Kleininger Teran did well enough to merit a trip to Jupiter for the instructional program. He played third base in many of the games and handled it well. The middle infielder Gerardo Mannbel performed well in his first professional season and I'm especially encouraged by his walks (41 in 218 at-bats). The staff considers Yorbel Alcala a prospect as a catcher and believes his bat will come around (he hit .146/.270/.185).
"Ted Obregon is a very interesting player. His grandfather was a well-known ballplayer in Venezuela decades ago, and Ted is an exciting shortstop prospect. When Juan Mosquera (the Panamanian shortstop who was in the DSL) was hurt and the team there needed a replacement, the staff in Venezuela didn't hesitate in recommending Obregon.
"When Jim Riggleman went to the DR and saw Obregon, he recommended we bring him to Jupiter in September. He stepped right in and played with the older players and looked comfortable, especially in the field," Luhnow said.
On the pitching side of the ledger, the aggregate team results were only slightly better than the hitters. The Cardinals finished seventh of nine in ERA at 4.38. They were eighth in strikeouts and issued the third-most walks. Their 1.32:1 strikeout to walk ratio was not impressive. Individual leaders follow.
|Home runs||5||Carlos Noguera|
Luhnow calls out his top hurlers next – his number one guy and three other standouts.
"Richard Castillo was the top pitcher. He had an outstanding year and he impressed all the coaches here in Jupiter (during the fall instructional league).
"Despite pedestrian numbers (1-6, 4.74 ERA), Jorge Rondon is an exciting talent that has opened some eyes, and Omar Diaz put up good numbers and showed decent stuff, too. Jose Calero is a young pitcher that we signed last July 2nd who still has a lot of potential – great pitchers body, good makeup, and tools that should continue to develop," Luhnow said.
Many of these youngsters still have a long way to go in their professional careers – a point Luhnow needed to emphasize.
"Everyone who struggled there needs more playing time and experience along with some patience from St. Louis. The guys just need more reps. It's amazing how sometimes the best Latin American prospects start their careers struggling in these leagues and somewhere along the way they start getting better in a hurry. I expect a few of these guys to do just that in the coming year," he said.
The facilities in San Joaquin, where the club plays on a loaned field, are on the organization's radar screen for upgrading next season.
"We are still seeking a permanent home and we are optimistic that we will have something in place for next season. We currently play in the brewery, which is well located and very safe, but the field is far from ideal. That is our top priority in Venezuela going forward," said Luhnow in closing.
Note: Full 2007 VSL Cardinals stats are located here.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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