TigsTown Awards: VSL Tigers

Everyone knows about Triple-A Toledo, or even the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers. However, two teams in the organization often overlooked are the Tigers' teams in the Venezuelan and Dominican Summer Leagues. Who exceled this season down in Venezuela?

VSL Tiger Player of the Year: Outfielder Alexis Espinoza
Espinoza had enticed the Tigers even before signing on June 1st of this year, and boy did he put on a show in 2006. Playing for the Tigers joint (with Florida) Venezuelan Summer League affiliate, Alexis put together a campaign worthy of the highest praises. As a very raw 17-year old, he managed to dominate most games at the plate, and flashed enough defensive tools to keep you interested when he was in the field. The only tool Espinoza lacks is top flight speed, but he certainly isn't slow. Through 56 games, Alexis posted a .321/.392/.488 line that included 9 doubles, 2 triples, and 5 home runs. His K:BB ratio was inspiring for a player of his age, and it gives hope that this performance was not a fluke. Espinoza just missed qualifying for the batting race, but his .321 average would have ranked him 3rd in the league, while his .488 slugging average would have also placed him third in the VSL. Alexis was the Tigers top player on the team, and the organization will have a tough decision to make with him this off-season. Do the leave him in the VSL for another year of seasoning, or bring him stateside for a true challenge; a challenge befitting a dominating offensive season?

VSL Tiger Pitcher of the Year: Reliever Lester Oliveros
As yet another young prospect for the VSL Tigers, right-hander Lester Oliveros managed to stem the offensive tide, and put together a very impressive debut campaign. Having also been signed on June 1st of this year, Oliveros debuted as a key cog on the Detroit/Florida pitching staff. Lester served as a long reliever much of the season, but also proved to be the "go to" pitcher in tight situations. The 6-foot, 185 pound hurler logged 39.2 innings, while only allowing 29 hits, and striking out 46 batters. He struggled with his control at times, walking 20 opposing batters, but still managed to finish with a stellar 2.72 ERA and four saves. At only 18 years old, and with a body that projects to mature significantly, Oliveros could add to his 91-93 mph fastball. Lester's 2.72 ERA placed him just outside the league's top ten, while his 20 appearances and 4 saves tied him for 7th and 6th in the VSL, respectively. Oliveros struggled enough with his command in '06 that he could see a return trip to the VSL next season, but don't be shocked if he surfaces in Florida sometime early next year.

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