With a few graduations from the 2007 VSL squad, and some recent signings, this year's teams could take on a bit different makeup. With an emerging program in Venezuela and some higher profile signings, there should be some serious excitement around the Tigers' complex. On the hill, newcomers Bruce Rondon, Josue Cerrano, Carlos Alvarez, and Gino Aguirre will all look to establish their roles in their first seasons. None of the four will enter this season at more than 17-years old, and all will be watched closely as they debut in professional baseball.
Carlos Cachutt returns for their third season in Venezuela, and will look to continue refining his command and control to become the prospect many suspect he is capable of developing into. Cachutt is still only 19-years old, despite entering his third pro season. Joining Cachutt in the rotation will be control artist Jose Diaz. While Diaz projects to add velocity down the line, as a teenager he still has some maturing to do, and will have to rely on his ability to mix pitches and hit the corners to improve on his 5.26 ERA in 2007. Several other pitchers will see their roles up in the air, including Wilsen Palacios, Clemente Mendoza, Jose Siso, and Michael Torrealba. All four pitchers have seen time both in the rotation and in the bullpen, and their performance throughout spring practices will dictate where they fall this year.
Whoever takes on the closer's role for the VSL squad will have big shoes to fill after two-time TigsTown VSL Pitcher of the Year Lester Oliveros graduated to the states. Fernando Celis was one of the leading candidates early this spring, but reports have other pitchers pushing hard for the job. Filling out the bullpen will be Guillermo Lozano, Jose Ortega, Eduardo Gonzalez, and another newcomer, Frank Penalver.
Up the middle, the VSL Tigers should have plenty of new names, with catchers Luis Sanz and Wilfredo Hoyer joining returnees Gilbert Gomez and Raul Leiva. The new guys bring opposite skill sets to the table as Sanz is a catch-and-throw whiz with exceptional defensive talent, while Hoyer is a strong catcher with good raw power and a strong arm. Both players figure to get significant time behind the dish, particularly with the struggles of Gomez and Leiva in their debut 2007 seasons.
Wondy De Los Santos returns at second base, and is joined at the keystone by the recently signed Adolfo Reina. Reina has a higher ceiling than Wondy, but expect the Tigers to work him in slowly considering how new he is to the professional game. Both of the second basemen's double play partners are new to the system, as Hernan Perez and Oscar Gomez will both vie for time at shortstop. Perez is the better defender now, though he lacks range at this time, and his bat has been suspect in early workouts. Gomez brings a much more advanced offensive game to the table, but his defensive deficiencies could be a stumbling block to him seeing time on the field.
At the hot corner, pay attention to the top current VSL prospect, 17-year old Francisco Martinez. With a strong spring showing, Martinez was poised to steal playing time from incumbent Dick Guanipa and hopeful Ronald Torrealba. Marintez's all-around potential is the highest on the team, and he could be in line to fill the shoes vacated by outfielder Alexis Espinoza. The first base duties in the VSL will be shared among a litany of players, including catchers like Gilbert Gomez, as well as the additional third basemen, and possibly shortstop Oscar Gomez.
With the defection of outfielder Zuriel Stephenson to the pitcher's mound and the DSL, the VSL Tigers are left with only two true outfielders, though several other players could see time out there. The only returning outfielder is Ivan Espinoza, coming off a .280/.348/.357 line last year with ten steals and solid defense. He is joined by 16-year old Avisail Garcia. Garcia is an excellent athlete with a plethora of tools that should play well off the bat. If he can gain the trust of the VSL coaching staff quickly, Garcia could establish himself as one of the better players on this team, despite his youth.
Despite the defection of several prospects to the States to further advance their careers, the 2008 VSL Tigers squad remains very talented, thanks to an influx of highly touted teenagers in the field and on the hill. Keep an eye on the VSL and check back with TigsTown for updated scouting reports and news on how these youngsters are progressing.