In these conversations with Cardinals Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez (pictured), several other topics of note came up that seemed worthy of sharing with the readers. Hence, this "bonus" article.
Normally working in the mostly-vacant Jupiter complex when not out of the country, Rodriguez' office environment has been turned upside down by all the arrivals signaling the start of spring training. He welcomes the company.
"It is a great time of year," he said. "All the offices are being used. All the fields are being used. I am excited about it."
Where are these new signees going to play?
As I was looking at placing the 21 new signees on the rosters of the Venezuelan Summer League and especially, the Dominican Summer League, it became pretty clear that there are quite a few more players than roster spots to put them. While the Cardinals have not made any releases in months, that will change soon.
"We're counting on a lot of the guys who are traveling to extended spring training to either stay (in the US) or be released and not return to the academies," Rodriguez predicted. "With that in mind, you go start filling roster spots you know you are going to have."
Cross-academy roster balancing possible
The hierarchy of the system is such that the DSL is considered the higher level of play compared to the VSL, yet in the past it has been common to keep players in their home country as much as possible. That may be changing in 2010 as a way to better place each player in a more appropriate level of competition.
"We may explore sending Dominicans to Venezuela this year," Rodriguez divulged. "I know other teams have been doing that, particularly with younger guys. There is a difference in the competition level between the two academies. The DR is a little more advanced than Venezuela."
At this point, it is just a concept to which the Cardinals have not yet committed. But, they have a clear path as to how they will make the decision.
"It hasn't been determined yet," he said. "It is an idea. We'll see how spring training shakes out now, how guys are prepared and who is more ready. We'll decide once we start prioritizing who the players are that should be getting the most playing time. Once we tag those guys, if there are leftover young kids that we see are talented but raw and may struggle in their first year… we have a lot of 16-year-old kids in that group."
Comfort food in any language
A recent article in the Post-Dispatch by Hall of Famer Rick Hummel noted the food changes being implemented in the major league spring training clubhouse at the suggestion of GM John Mozeliak, designed to give the players healthier choices.
With that in the back of my mind as well as the likelihood of sending young Venezuelans to the Dominican and likely even younger Dominicans to far-away Venezuela, I asked about the Cardinals focus on healthy food at the academies, the kind familiar to these youngsters.
"That is something we decided to emphasize here the last two years," Rodriguez said. "You want to balance out giving kids local foods that they are accustomed to – rice and beans and their plantains, that kind of thing, with nutrition. If you can grill a piece of ham instead of frying it, which is something they are accustomed to doing down there, then we do that. We have the chef at the academy grilling as much as he can and baking as much as he can but at the same time giving them food they are used to and will make them feel comfortable like they are at home."
Academies open for business
Obviously, the Jupiter camp gets a lot of attention this time of year, but it isn't the only place in the Cardinals system where players are preparing for the season. In fact, those arriving soon the US may have a leg up in preparation compared to their American-based teammates.
"The academy in the Dominican is open," Moises explained. "We have a mini-camp going on right now for the guys that are going to travel at the beginning of March – the US spring training arrivals. We've also mixed in some of the recently-signed guys. And then, we will shut it down around the start of extended spring training (early April) for about two weeks or so and we will open it up again until the end of August when the Dominican Summer League ends.
"In Venezuela, we are doing something similar. We have a mini-camp for the guys who are traveling (to the US). We will close there for about two weeks in early March and we will run from mid-March to end of August."
The Mateo (non) impact
A number of folks, including me, wondered if there might have been some lasting damage to the Cardinals ability to attract and sign Latin American players, especially Dominicans, after the organization voided Wagner Mateo's $3.1 million deal last fall in a very high-profile move.
Rodriguez understands the questions are out there, but wants to put minds at ease. Part of it may have been driven by the delay in announcing the 21 new signees, but the Cardinals wanted to wait and announce them at once.
"Our fans are probably saying, ‘We haven't done anything since Mateo,' but it is just the opposite," Rodriguez asserts. "We've gotten more attention from agents and more exposure to players then we've ever had."
The Cardinals international director offered a detailed example to illustrate his point.
"In November, me, Jeff (Luhnow), (Enrique) Brito, and some of our domestic cross checkers and scouts had a tryout in Santo Domingo. At that tryout was Duanel Jones, the guy the Giants gave $1.3 million to before his contract was voided." (The issue was reportedly a failed drug test).
"Jones was a guy we had been on for awhile, but the money obviously got out of hand. An impressive kid. Power bat. Good profile. Third base. We were keeping tabs on him and evaluated him extensively.
"At that tryout, we had (Jorge) Alfaro, the Colombian catcher the kid that Texas gave $1.3 million to, Jones and Capellan, who we gave a nice amount to. We had a shortstop by the name of Orlando Cailex that signed with Boston for $1.5 million plus but he failed his investigation. His suspension is up at the end of this month. Now his name is Orlando Casito. The rumor is that he is going to get over $1 million if the competition is really interested in that amount.
"We had (outfielder) Socrates Brito at that tryout too. He just got six figures from the Diamondbacks. It was a pretty impressive workout. We had outfielder Phillips Castillo, who is one of the top July 2nd kids from the upcoming class. We had Vizmar De La Cruz. He is going to be a top July 2nd kid this year.
"Shortstop Antonio Gonzalez is going to get a big contract. We like him, but rumors are that his price is hovering around $1 million. Obviously, they can't sign anything (yet). He is a kid from Bani, in the southern part. We just placed a scout in that area and we have been keeping tabs on this kid because we really like him. The price is a little high, though," Rodriguez said.
The whole point of this name-dropping?
"My point is that we are getting access to guys. That hasn't changed. People wondered if Mateo would hurt us, but it hasn't had an impact from a player exposure point of view," Rodriguez concluded.
Note: For another look at Cardinals minor league news happenings, be sure to check out my weekly Minor League Notebook, appearing every Wednesday in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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