A Review of the Venezuelan and Dominican Leagues

Most of the teams in the Mariners farm system are winding down their seasons, maybe looking forward to the playoffs, but for the Aguirre M's in the Venezuelan Summer League, the season is already over. Aguirre finished their year at the top of the league with a 37-23-3 record, but got swept out of the playoffs, losing both playoff games to Venoco No. 1, an Astros affiliate.

In the end, it was the old story of how the hottest team come playoff time takes home the trophy, as the Astros had won their past six and an amazing 13 of their past 14 coming into the series, and the M's had dropped three straight (though they had a nice 12-game streak before that). In the end, a two-game series between them at the end of the season was a sign of what was to come, as the Astros came out on top.

The M's were the top pitching team in the league, posting a 2.50 ERA as a group and having the league's best closer on their side, 20-year-old RHP Diomny Gaetano, who had a 0.61 ERA and 24 strikeouts to eight walks along with a .212 opponent's batting average in 29.2 innings of work. But the Astros staff kept coming on down the stretch, and scoring was kept to a minimum for both games with only three runs scored in the entire series.

For the first game, Aguirre sent out LHP Jose Escalona, their ace and one of the most likely candidates to be promoted to the U.S. for next season. The 19-year-old, who will turn 20 in the offseason, had a 1.16 ERA, the lowest of any starter on the team, and had racked up 59 strikeouts in 53.1 innings while allowing just 40 hits, 17 walks and six extra-base hits for the whole season. Escalona didn't disappoint either, giving up four hits and five walks but keeping the game scoreless and striking out five in seven innings of work.

Unfortunately, after that, RHP Jorge Acosta gave up a run in the eighth after a hit, a hit batter, and a walk. The M's offense had only scratched out four hits and one walk to that point in the game, and when the ninth came, they couldn't put anything together.

The second game was much of the same, albeit with less offense (only two hits, as the opposing pitcher threw a complete game) and worse pitching. This time it was RHP Alfredo Venegas on the mound, and he came into the game with a 1.96 ERA in 55 innings, and 47 hits and 12 walks against 43 strikeouts. But the 19-year-old Ecuadorian wasn't quite up to the task, and ended up allowing two runs on eight hits (HR) and a walk with four strikeouts in seven innings of work.

The eighth went to RHP Ronald Uviedo, another one of the team's top right-handers who will turn 19 in October, and with a 2.76 ERA in 62 innings, a 0.95 WHIP, and 52 strikeouts to his name, he could've easily taken it further. But even though he allowed just one hit in the eighth, the M's couldn't rally back to take the game into extra innings, and were again left sitting in the dugout looking at a string of zeroes on the scoreboard.

Simply put, the pitching kept the Aguirre team in contention towards the end, but the once powerful offense trailed off and ended the season with a .234/.334/.318 average, which was fourth-worst in a league skewed heavily towards pitching. To put things into perspective, one only need look at the key offensive contributors in the early part of the season and compare those numbers to the final results.

At the end of June, C Jair Fernandez was batting .333, 2B Humberto Espinoza, .313, C Franklin Tua, .286, LF William Ortiz, .276, and RF Greysom Berroterran, .304. By the end of the season, Fernandez' average had dropped to .250/.354/.304, Espinoza's to .286/.372/.354, Tua's to .235/.303/.303, Ortiz' to .264/.461/.397, and Berroterran's to .255/.343/.319.

It's still a team with a very young core - the average age in that group at just 18.6 - and of that group, Espinoza and Ortiz seem like likely candidates for promotions, but like all players in the VSL they wouldn't be there if they didn't need more seasoning.

Additional Names to Watch For Next Season:

LHP Kervin Montbrum
5-11, 175 lbs
D.O.B. 6/3/88

In his first year with the organization, Montbrum was immediately thrown into the three spot in the rotation and flourished in a way few starters have their first year, save Escalona. Montrbum made 12 appearances on the season, 10 of them starts, and had a 2.16 in 50 innings, allowing 40 hits and 24 walks while striking out 54. Compared to Escalona's debut last year, that's a slightly better ERA and K rate, but his WHIP and opposing batting average was slightly worse. Montbrum could be on pace for a similar breakout, taking over as the staff ace next season.

LHP Edlando Seco
6-3, 178 lbs
D.O.B. 7/23/88

Going into the end of the season, there was a question as to whether or not Seco would manage to do the unthinkable: get to the end of the year with a perfect 0.00 earned-run average. Well, long story shortened, the last game of the regular season, he gave up a couple runs, one of them earned, during a four-inning relief stint in which he gave up three hits, walked five, and struck out two. For the most part, that performance was indicative of why there hadn't been more buzz about him. While he held opposing teams to an unbelievable .150 average over 25.2 innings, he also had 20 walks in that span to bring their OBP up to .346. Still, he struck out 29 and only allowed one double all season.

IF Jetsy Extrano
6-1, 175 lbs
D.O.B. 8/13/88

Possessing one of the best baseball names out there, Extrano was the youngest player on the Aguirre roster, remaining just 16 for the duration of the season. It's a bit unusual for any team to seek out and sign a player so young, and for the first games, he showed flashes of that talent. He had a pinch-hit single in the season opener, hit a two-run shot that ended up being the difference-maker in the second game of the season, and had another two-run bomb in a 9-5 victory two days later. But the rest of the season, there were no more home runs for him and only one more RBI. After 89 at-bats, he was hitting only .135/.257/.225 while making 10 errors on the field. He's a raw player all-around, but almost all of the former VSL position players in the system bombed their first year there, and most of them as a year or two older.


A bit to the north in the Dominican, the Santo Domingo M's have already seen their playoff chances slip by them, going instead to the Oakland Athletics No. 2 affiliate, who took a lead of more than five games in the Northern Division. But for a while, there were two things that set them apart from the competition and put them on top of the division: a powerful offensive threat in OF Wellington Dotel and the incredible pitching performances of LHP Eddy Fernandez.

Though Dotel will turn 20 in the offseason, his first year in the organization has been an incredible one, and he still has a decent chance of walking away with a league MVP to his credit. Through 240 at-bats, Dotel was hitting .375/.416/.633, with his average periodically climbing above the .400 mark. In terms of overall production, he's been in the top three in the league in hits (90), triples (9), and home runs (10) for quite some time now, and has regularly been among the leaders in doubles (14).

One of the few things keeping his numbers from looking even better is a lackluster offense surrounding him, which has contributed to comparatively low run and RBI totals at 46 and 39, respectively. The only other consistent batter in the lineup has been 19-year-old IF Ogui Diaz, who will also be turning 20 in the offseason. Diaz has also been in the top 10 in batting average within the division, and is currently hitting .277/.322/.399 in 188 at-bats.

The recent demotion of 20-year-old OF Jairo Hernandez, who was the team's top hitter last season, helped take the edge off, as he's hit .314/.363/.434 in 102 at-bats so far, but the rest of the group is either raw or has taken a step back from last season's totals.

Pitching has been less of one-man show, but if they had to pick a frontman for the band, they'd have to go with 18-year-old Eddy Fernandez, who has been rocking opposing lineups all season long.

Repeating the level despite a similar performance last season, Fernandez is the proud owner of a 1.44 ERA (taking into account a "poor" outing which put him above one), and he's leading the division in strikeouts with 80 Ks in 81.1 innings of work. Batters are only hitting .178 off of him, and working him for a walk hasn't been any easier as he's only given out 13 free passes all season. Unfortunately, with the offense flaking out on him (save for the aforementioned), his record shows just six wins to four losses.

But like in Aguirre, the Santo Domingo staff has a team ERA right around two and a half, and you can't fault the pitchers for their performances. RHP Gregorio Rosario has one of the league's last remaining perfect records at 7-0, a 2.50 earned run average, and 50 strikeouts in 54 innings. Carlos Javier has the second-lowest ERA among the starters at 2.33, has been holding bats to a .179 average, and has as many strikeouts as innings pitched. Richard Ortiz is roughly in between the two of them, with a 2.44 ERA and a .233 opposing average, and is second in innings pitched at with 59 thus far. All three of them began the season under the age of 18, so the team could be turning out some good pitching in the years to come.

Additional Names to Watch For Next Season:

P Edwards Paredes
6-0, 175 lbs
D.O.B. 9/30/86

Of all the relievers on the team, all the pitchers snubbed from the rotation, Paredes might have the best numbers of the group. He's pitched for 26.2 innings so far, and he has a 2.02 ERA, a .160 average against, and 28 strikeouts to his name. It could just be the small sample size; there are more heralded guys who ended up in the same situation this season, such as RHPs Felix Bautista and Tony Bremon, but neither saw as much playing time or put up the kind of numbers that Paredes did. If the numbers aren't lying…

OF Maximo Mendez
6-2, 150 lbs
D.O.B. 11/24/86

Mendez has been around the league a few times already, so it's reasonable to assume that he's a bit bigger than his signing weight currently lists him as. If you're looking for evidence on that one, you don't need to look much further than his home run totals, seven on the season, and a recent surge has him hitting one out of the park every 22 at-bats to Dotel's 24 at-bats (though he's also been striking out more often). Still, Mendez hasn't been getting nearly as much playing time, and he's hitting .266/.372/.467 in just 154 at-bats. He could be the next big bat to come out of the M's DSL program, and if that distinction doesn't go to him, then it could go to…

OF Carlos Peguero
6-5, 210 lbs
D.O.B. 2/22/87

The top three in the division's home run race are all M's and Peguero's the one bringing up the third spot. But unlike Mendez and Dotel, who are better all-around offensive threats, Peguero's approach is pretty much "grip and rip". He has six home runs, and made up for the gap between him and Mendez with two additional doubles and triples, but he's walked away from the plate empty-handed more than a third of the time he's gone up there. His line says .249/.335/.441 in 177 at-bats, but it's hard to tell how much of that on-base ability stems from pitchers being scared to throw him anything, and he definitely needs some work in terms of his batting average.

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