Brito Brings Cardinals Presence into Mexico

Enrique Brito, long-time Cardinals manager and scout from Venezuela, opens camp as skipper of Tijuana in the Golden Baseball League with the blessing of the organization.

When the Tijuana Cimarrones, the newest entrant in the independent Golden Baseball League open their training camp on Monday, April 26, their manager will be familiar to St. Louis Cardinals prospect watchers. Venezuelan Enrique Brito will be calling the shots from the dugout during Tijuana's inaugural season.

As has been par for the course in recent years, the 48-year-old diamond multi-tasker remains employed by the Cardinals as a special assistant for international operations along with his new in-uniform duties.

With the Cardinals, Brito spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons as the manager of their Gulf Coast League club and the 2009 campaign leading the Venezuelan Summer League Cardinals after having served eight years as the organization's Latin American scouting supervisor.

On Brito's watch, the Cardinals signed a number of top prospects including Donovan Solano, Eduardo Sanchez and Francisco Samuel. His son David was a pitcher in the system from 2006 until 2009.

Enrique Brito first donned a professional uniform in 1978 as an infielder in the Minnesota Twins organization and after two years, began the scouting and coaching phase of his career. Some of his Minnesota discoveries include major leaguers Rich "El Guapo" Garces, Luis Rivas, Luis Rodriguez and Juan Rincon. Brito remained with the Twins until 1999.

I recently asked Cardinals Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez about the unusual arrangement in which Brito serves multiple baseball masters. Rodriguez summed it up simply.

"Brito is a baseball person," Rodriguez articulated with emphasis. "He does a lot in Venezuela. He is the general manager of their World Baseball Classic team and he is also the general manager of the Margarita team in the Venezuelan Winter League."

That is not all. Brito was the long-time director of player development for the Tigres de Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he was key in assembling the three-time league champion and participant in the Caribbean Series. Among the players he helped bring to Aragua is the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera before he signed with his original professional organization, the Florida Marlins.

Last winter, Brito was the general manager of the Venezuelan Winter League Caribes de Anzoategui before being let go and joining the Bravos de Margarita. Both clubs have been recent winter ball destinations for a number of Cardinals prospects.

Given Brito's varied interests, it was not surprising that he is heading to Mexico this spring and summer, a nation where the Cardinals have minimal presence. Rodriguez explains how it came about. It is all about contacts.

"Brito knows members of the front office of the team in Tijuana in the Golden League," Rodriguez noted. "It was something that he wanted to pursue and we thought he would be able to balance that with some of his responsibilities we want him to carry out."

In his Cardinals role, Brito's ongoing assignments are considerable.

"It is a role where he will go to the academies and do player evaluations of our own guys," Rodriguez said. "He will help us crosscheck at tryouts in different countries. It is more using his knowledge outside of Venezuela.

"Since he has so much to offer, we thought spreading him out in different countries and different capacities is the best way to use him. He is a huge part of our international operations," Rodriguez said.

Those international operations now include Mexico.

At a level of play generally considered to be most closely aligned with Double-A, the Tijuana Cimarrones are planning a one-week training camp from April 26 through May 2, with a dozen preseason games starting May 4.

Tijuana's opener will be Friday, May 21 with the 2010 campaign running through the Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of the minor league season. Ironically, in the other dugout for the opener will be former Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton, who serves as manager of the Outlaws from Chico, California.

One of Templeton's players will be 5-foot 2-inch, 115-pound knuckleballer Eri Yoshida. Last summer, the 18-year-old became the first woman to play professional baseball in her homeland of Japan.

The Cimarrones' roster includes several former major leaguers, including a pair of Dominicans, pitcher Victor Santos and infielder Juan Melo and from Brito's homeland of Venezuela, infielder William Bergolla.

To add a Cardinals flavor, former organizational farmhands on the Tijuana roster include pitchers Dennys Abreu and Kristhiam Linares. Both are Venezuelans who not coincidentally played for Margarita last winter.

Having more than a sampling of international players is hardly a new concept for the Golden Baseball League, with current teams in three countries, including the US mainland (plus Hawaii), Canada and Mexico. Past teams even included one exclusively made up of Japanese players.

In 2009, the GBL took globalization to a new level as the Colombian Professional Baseball League signed an agreement with the Yuma Scorpions to supply their entire roster with players sourced from the four CPBL clubs.

That arrangement ended after one year, replaced by a new one with the Venezuelan Baseball Federation. The VBF signed a three-year arrangement with the GBL to provide the players to stock the Scorpions starting this season.

Though the Venezuelan agreement with Yuma is unrelated to Brito's contract with Tijuana, I asked Rodriguez if the Cardinals have considered sending farmhands to the Golden League.

"We've thought about how a working relationship could work, sending players over there," he replied. "But we haven't fully thought it through. There could be some possibilities there."

The biggest challenge isn't distance or culture, it is a potential mismatch in experience levels between the rookie Venezuelan Summer League and the Double-A-level Golden League, where as noted above, a number of players have previous major league time.

"I am not sure how some of our 16 and 17-year-olds could compete in that league," Rodriguez explained. "I am not saying they wouldn't be able to, but from a player development standpoint, there are also concerns about how you keep an eye on them. Those guys are trying to win and not really focused on player development. There is some trickiness there."

Last season's experience in Yuma supports Rodriguez' concern. Though the Colombians are generally not considered to be as advanced as the Venezuelans skills-wise, their players sent to compete in the 2009 Golden League were older. They weren't ready for the step up in competition, however.

The Colombian imports really struggled, as the Scorpions finished 29-47, worst in the league. They started 3-13, but did put together a seven-game winning streak late in the year and finished the season winning 13 of 20. Still, when all was said and done, both sides decided to terminate the agreement for 2010.

Though the Cardinals may not be sending players to Mexico to work under Brito this summer, they are always looking for the next Fernando Salas, the Memphis reliever signed out of the Mexican League three years ago. Rodriguez plans to keep Brito on constant alert this summer.

"This allows him to be in a country where we have minimal scouting coverage. A lot of our scouts have contacts in Mexico and whenever a name pops up, Brito is close," the Cardinals international director concluded.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Brian pens a column each Wednesday at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and selected TCN content appears at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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