TigsTown Preview: VSL Tigers

Though the VSL Tigers were just 20-46 in 2010, they were also one of the youngest teams in the league, with their hitters averaging just under 18 years old and their pitchers averaging just over that mark. The 2011 season is likely to see much of the same for the Tigers, with lots of youth and plenty of tools and talent.

Starting behind the plate, the VSL Tigers will feature one second year catcher and two rookies. Gabriel Tenia projects to get many of the innings behind the dish as he continues to learn his craft and develop his skills.

After a red hot start in 2010, Tenia cooled off to a .202/.284/.333 line in 56 games, but his tools were evident. Tenia will share time behind the plate with rookies Jose Ovalles and Jhosua Montero. Both Ovalles and Montero have some present defensive skills with projection and some strength in their swings, but will need time to develop offensively.

Firing the ball at that trio of catchers will be a talented crop of pitchers led by two talented first-year players in Vijandrick Jacobs and Eduardo Rojas.

According to Tigers Director of International Operations Tom Moore, Jacobs is a "strongly built left-hander with projection on his fastball and an ability to spin a breaking ball."

Rojas doesn't have the present strength of Jacobs, being dubbed "just a baby" by Moore, but he has plenty of growth projection.

"[He] could end up with a plus fastball when its all said and done," said one Venezuelan scout who saw Rojas before he signed with the Tigers.

Another promising young arm that will factor into the tandem starter role is right-hander Johan Belisario. After pitching the 2010 season as a 16-year old, Belisario will pitch much of this year at just 17-years old with a year of experience under his belt.

"There's a lot to like," said Moore. "He has a potential plus curveball and fastball projection. That curveball is a true 12-6 hammer."

Another member of the rotation who figures to be an important piece is experienced righty Carlos Alvarado. Alvarado posted a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings with the DSL Tigers in 2010, after returning from a 50-game suspension. He returns to the VSL as a 21-year old to help fortify the rotation as he awaits an opportunity to come to the states.

"He has the stuff to pitch in the United States right now," noted Moore. "We're trying to work through some visa issues with him, and we think he can help the VSL team while we take care of that."

Another potentially exciting right-hander in the rotation mix is 17-year old Angel Vasquez. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has loads of projection and he could have a plus fastball by the time the summer is over.

"We are still waiting for his contract to be approved by MLB," commented Moore. "When he's ready to go, we're really excited to see what he can do."

Also factoring into the VSL tandem starting rotation mix will be guys like Jose Mendoza, Yorfrank Lopez, Danny Hernandez, Angel Nesbitt, Luis Rodriguez, Yonny Mosquera, and Jose Rodriguez.

In the bullpen, the Tigers will have a mix of experience and youth. Newcomers Junior Camaripano and Cruz Cedeno will work mostly in a long relief role as they get their feet wet in pro ball, but could see some action in tandem situations.

Jairo Sanchez and Jose Tablante will provide an experienced left-right duo that can work the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings, while Angel Carreno projects to be the team's real back end relief ace.

Backing up that pitching staff will be an infield that is in a great deal of flux as the season gets underway. Originally projected to have the defensive wizardry of shortstop David Lizardo, the team will be without the slick fielder as he continues to work with the Tigers to diagnose an illness that has plagued him since the close of the 2010 season.

Also missing from the infield mix will be shortstop/second baseman Erick Soto. Soto's career may be completely sidetracked after he was in a severe car accident during the off-season. The incident left him in a coma for an extended period. Now awake again, Soto has begun the long recovery toward having a normal life again.

With Soto and Lizardo out of the lineup, the VSL Tigers will turn to third-year pro Luis Cortez as their everyday shortstop.

"I still like his defensive potential," said a scout for an NL team. "He can flash a nice glove, and the bat has some potential."

Joining Cortez up the middle will be first-year players Harold Castro and David Gonzalez. Both just 17-years old, Castro will likely be the primary second baseman while Gonzalez should fill in at both up the middle positions.

On the corners the Tigers may have their most talented infielders. Jesus Ustariz and Jose Soledad both have solid offensive and defensive tools that could help lead the club.

"I think they are candidates for big offensive years," said Moore confidently. "They both have good offensive tools, including some pop in their bats. They're going to be an important part of the offense."

Soledad was one of the team's offensive leaders in 2010 as he posted a .295/.344/.362 in 57 games. Playing this summer as just an 18-year old, Soledad could breakout as an offensive force worth reckoning.

Rounding out the Tigers offense will be the outfielders that include a talented mix of players, but they will not have bonus baby Danry Vasquez. Once thought to be headed back to the VSL for his true pro debut, Vasquez will remain in extended spring training until the GCL season starts.

The leader of the outfield crew will be Panama native Daniel Carranza. Carranza finished the 2010 year in the DSL after posting a .252/.293/.391 line in 36 games with the VSL Tigers. He returns to the VSL due to a crowded outfield picture in the DSL.

Three rookies will spend time filling in around Carranza, including Orvin Tovar, Anderson Yance, and Carlos Perez.

Yance and Perez are the higher level prospects of the group, and Yance could make an impact right away in the VSL.

"[He's] the most advanced of those three," said Moore. "He is a left-handed hitter with more offensive upside. I think he could have a nice year."

The final outfielder that will be looking for some time on the field will be 19-year old third-year pro Jesus Alvarado.

As is always the case, the Tigers will consistently run out one of the youngest teams in the league and they should be expected to be much improved in the second half of the season.

"The loss of Soto, Lizardo, and Danry Vasquez could really hurt," said Moore in closing. "I don't think they will be a bad team though. This team may not have the names like Avisail Garcia and Francisco Martinez as it has in the past, but there are some good prospects. I think we could see a good group of position players come Stateside out of this team."

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