In late January, news started leaking that the Venezuelan Summer League would be losing another MLB club, the Chicago Cubs would be pulling out of Venezuela. Their exit left just the Phillies, Rays and Tigers trying to support teams there, a steady decline after years of political turmoil and difficulties running basic operations. With only three teams, the league elected to cancel the 2016 season, leaving those three clubs scrambling.
The Tigers of course have long had a presence in Venezuela. Many of their star players, including Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Anibal Sanchez, are native Venezuelans that generate interest in the nation, and act as a natural attraction for young talent. And while the Tigers will continue to scout and sign players from Venezuela, they’ll have to ship those players elsewhere once they’re ready for game competition.
To accommodate, the Tigers are creating another team that will participate in the Gulf Coast League this summer, based right in Lakeland with the other GCL squad. While this will have a bit of spring training feel with a lot more players in camp, the organization intends to keep the two teams separate and defined, at least on the field.
According to Dan Lunetta, Tigers director of minor league operations, “There will be one team that would have been the team scheduled to be here, and the other team will be the kids that are coming from Venezuela.”
With a number of Latin American players already Stateside and participating in minor league spring training, how many of those players will be included in this new GCL team? None, according to Lunetta. “We have kids that are here from Latin America, but May 15th there will be a 2nd wave of kids coming over, those that are the kids that will be making up the second GCL team.”
So, the Tigers will field an entirely separate team in the GCL, but sharing all of the Lakeland facilities between both groups, in addition to the usual rehabbers. Another 30 players in Lakeland in a facility that will already be under heavy construction could create concern for many. But the dorms in Tigertown are built to host spring training, so the room is there.
The final concern comes up on the ability to get Stateside, and up until the players arrive in Florida, it can always be a concern. But according to Lunetta, they’ve been actively working on it and are prepared. “Avi [Becher] is taking care of the visas now so that there won’t be any issues. It’ll work out fine; it’ll be crowded but it’ll work out fine.”
Finally, to see the tentative list of players expected to come to the States from Latin America, see the link below on the TigsTown Premium Forum: