2013 VSL Tigers Preview

With the Venezuelan Summer League under way, the Tigers will yet again field one of the youngest teams in the five-team league. The Tigers focus in the VSL has always been on development and not on winning, and that should be the case again this season.

Starting on the mound, the Tigers have a talented cadre of arms that offer plenty of long-term potential. Right-handers Anthony Castro and Angel Vazquez own two of the highest ceilings on the entire roster and both pitchers are in a position to impress this summer and move stateside for the 2014 campaign. Both pitchers will work as part of a tandem starter system where eleven pitchers will share the bulk of the innings for the club.

Also working in that rotation will be Jose Fuentes and Eduardo Jimenez, two more arms that intrigue scouts with their projectable arsenals. A pitcher looking to join Fuentes and Jimenez in the next tier of pitchers is right-hander Oswaldo Castillo. A priority signing for the club when he turned 16-years old last August, the Tigers were well-acquainted with the youngster after some strong showings at the MLB All-Star Showcase. Castillo has decent stuff across the board, including a quality fastball, curveball and changeup that are all backed up by intriguing pitchability for such a young arm.

The Tigers will give right-hander Adensen Verastegui some innings in a starter's role this summer as well, letting him unleash his low-90s fastball and quality slider. Some scouts I have spoken with project Verastegui as a reliever, but the innings in the rotation this summer could allow him to further develop his changeup and improve his overall feel on the mound.

One of the club's most recent signings (January), right-hander Esmeiro Del Valle is a little older than many of the new Tigers prospects, but he offers a fastball that sits in the 86-87 mph range and has plenty of projection. With his curveball and changeup both projecting as average pitches, Del Valle should be an intriguing arm to watch this summer. Also a fairly recent signing, left-hander Gerbinson Perez is an 18-year old Venezuelan who was actually signed out of the Dominican Republic. A little shorter, but very strong, Perez has a deceptive fastball and advanced feel for his curveball, giving him the potential to carve up complex league hitters.

Also joining the rotation this summer will be Luis Cedeno, Williams Moreno and Eudis Idrogo. Idrogo is arguably the best prospect of the trio, though he profiles better as a situational lefty on the back of a fastball that moves all over the place and no fear on the mound.

Working primarily in middle relief, the Tigers will have Junior Camaripano, Victor Guillen, Jesus Paricaguan, Reinaldo Robles and Jose Rodriguez. The club will rely on fourth-year pitcher Johan Belisario to close out games and this could be the year he finally takes a solid step forward.

"His progress has been slower than we would have expected," said Director of International Operations Tom Moore last week. "I think he fits this role better and he could make some nice strides."

Belisario lacks prototypical size so he has to stay on top of the ball and maintain his angle to the plate, but his fastball works in the average range and his curveball has shown some shorter, sharper break out of the bullpen.

"Overall, we feel pretty good about the pitchers on this roster," noted Moore as we closed our conversation.

The bulk of the innings behind the plate will be shared amongst three receivers, including veteran Jose Ovalles and up and coming prospects Arvincent Perez and Mario Sanjur (pronounced San-Who-Er).

"[Ovalles] gives us that nice veteran presence," added Moore. "He is a good catch-and-throw guy that will see some time at first base as well to get him in the lineup."

Perez made some promising strides both behind and at the plate over the winter and he could be one of the club's more intriguing bats this summer. Similarly, Sanjur is a bat-first guy that is very new to catching after moving from third base when the Tigers signed him.

The final player with some potential to see time behind the plate, but more likely to see action at first base, is veteran Gabriel Tenia.

The infield is a little thin on this year's club and there may be additions to the roster as the season moves along. Adrian Alfaro – one of the club's July 2nd signings last year – and Eliezer Castillo will both see some time at shortstop.

"[Castillo's] body is really coming along nicely," commented Moore. "He has good tools and his power is starting to come. We like the progress he is making.

Also seeing time around the infield will be utility guys David Alvarado and Junnell Ledezma, while outfielders Dilinyer Flores and Victor Padron both have the potential to fill in around the dirt, if necessary.

The outfield defense will be anchored by two legitimate center fielders in Jose Azocar and Ariel Serrano. Both players can go get it on defense and they should do well, chasing things down in the gaps this summer. Carlos Perez will move around a bit in the outfield but he has the raw tools that intrigue scouts and Moore noted that his body made nice strides over the offseason.

The premier outfield prospect on the club is right fielder Victor Cortez, a guy that could really impress this season.

"He has a lot of promise on both sides of the ball," said Moore as we discussed what lays ahead for Cortez. "There's power projection there as he gains weight. He could be an exciting player this year."

When looking this far down the organizational depth chart, it is easy to get caught up in the dream of what these teenaged players could become. It is just as easy to see those dreams quickly dashed when a player with promising tools puts up ugly numbers in the VSL.

The VSL isn't about winning and losing. It is about developmental progress and beginning a career in baseball. As an example, the 2008 VSL Tigers finished dead last in the league, 21-1/2 games out of first place with a 24-43 record and a pedestrian .656 team OPS. That same team featured future big leaguers Avisail Garcia, Hernan Perez, Jose Ortega and Bruce Rondon, as well as a key trade chip in Francisco Martinez.

The moral of the story is, don't get caught up in the numbers or the record. The 2013 VSL Tigers are going to be a young crew that will have on-field success and failure that all leads to positive development. After all, positive development is the name of the game when you're this far away from Detroit.

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