TigsTown.com - Paul Wezner

GCL Tigers MLN: Stateside Newcomers for 2016

Every year the Tigers bring a group of prospects to the United States for the first time, giving them their first true test of professional ball, all the while testing them in unfamiliar surroundings, and often away from home for the first time in their lives. This year, the Tigers are bringing 16 players over from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, most of which will spend the summer playing in the Gulf Coast League.

Headlining the Dominican players making their stateside debut will be outfielder Julio Martinez, third baseman Randel Alcantara, and right-hander Rusbel Cabrera. Martinez is one of the crown jewels of the Tigers Latin American program, offering nearly unmatched power potential as a corner outfielder with rare skills in today’s game. Martinez will be tested in the GCL, but the growth displayed in the DSL last summer has given many scouts hope that he can put on an impressive display this summer.


Alcantara is coming off a massive second season in the DSL, posting a .305/.415/.488 line that included 21 doubles, six triples, and two home runs in just 60 games. Alcantara needs to improve his defense at third base, but with his developing offensive game and overall offensive potential, Alcantara will be given plenty of opportunity to figure things out with the glove.


After three years in the DSL and having never posted inspiring numbers, novice fans may wonder what exactly excites about Cabrera’s on-field ability. In fact, Cabrera offers the potential for exceptional arm strength and velocity, and according to scouts that saw him last summer in the DSL, he reached 95 mph at times with most believing he has more in the tank as his mechanical profile evolves. Cabrera could be in for a challenging summer in the GCL, but he shouldn’t be ignored because of suspect statistics.


Also coming over from the Dominican, right-handers Jorge Baez, Noel Ovalles, and Malvin Martinez, left-hander Felix Viloria, and infielder Hector Martinez all have the chance to impress talent evaluators and improve their stock in the Tigers system. Hector Martinez is the most heralded of this group, having long been highly thought of for his combination of offensive and defensive tools. Martinez may slide to the keystone more consistently during his GCL debut, but his bat has the potential to work at the position, allowing him to maintain his prospect stock.


From Venezuela, the Tigers are bringing four pitchers and three position players stateside for a taste of stiffer competition. Headlining the newcomers is catcher Elys Escobar, one of the most promising defensive catching prospects in the entire system. Escobar has a strong, physical frame with tantalizing defensive tools and some raw power in his bat. As his offensive game catches up to his glove, Escobar could emerge as a premium catching prospect.


Another catcher, Jheyser Azuaje brings an entirely different package to the table than Escobar. Known more for his athleticism and all-around tool set, Azuaje is an exciting prospect that has made quick strides as a defender, still owns some speed that allows him to impact the game on the bases, and an ability to make consistent hard contact that could lead to big things in his offensive game. The last position player heading to the states is outfielder Hector Hernandez, a potential top of the order hitter with quality defense up the middle.


The hurlers heading over from South America include Ken Figueroa, Jose Fuentes, Daniel Gonzalez, and Jose Vasquez, all right-handers with intriguing potential. Regular readers of TigsTown have likely read about Figueroa previously, having heard of his highly aggressive attitude on the bump, and his burning desire to attack hitters with his low-90s heater and quality breaking ball.


Fuentes and Gonzalez were under the radar signings by the Tigers over the last couple of years, representing the epitome of the Tigers approach to Latin American signings as lower bonus pitchers with loose arms and long-range potential. Signed much later than most prospects, Vasquez pitched well in the VSL last year, posting a 2.52 ERA in 53 2/3 innings and showing surprising raw stuff that could lead to early success as a 20-year old in the GCL.


The lone player not from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, Panamanian outfielder Ariel Serrano will also be making his way to the States after three seasons in the VSL. Serrano has always been considered a glove-first prospect and his bat will need to step forward in order to maintain or enhance his prospect stock.


The Tigers will have a different dynamic in the GCL this summer with thanks to the changing conditions with the Venezuelan Summer League and the influx of extra prospects heading to Lakeland for the GCL season. This crop of players represents the “standard” migration of talent to the States, and while they won’t be the only prospects to make their Stateside debut this summer, they may be the ones most likely to make a significant name for themselves.

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