Starting behind the dish, the Tigers will bring two catchers over to the States for the upcoming season. Dominican catcher Julio Rodriguez and Venezuelan backstop Adolfo Reina will make their stateside debuts this summer. Rodriguez appeared in 48 games for the DSL Tigers, hitting at a .261 clip with 15 walks and only 14 strikeouts. Defensively, Julio has good catch-and-throw skills with improving game calling abilities. The 18-year old (19 when the season starts) Reina ripped twelve doubles and five home runs in his first pro season in the VSL. Though raw both offensively and defensively, he has the tools to be a positive defender and the strength to be a dangerous power hitter. Reina's ability to play all over the infield could get him extra at-bats once stateside. Both players will likely spend time in extended spring training before the short-season leagues begin in June.
On the infield, the Tigers will be pulling three players to the States. After successful debut seasons from each of the three in 2008, the organization has opted to push middle infielders Hernan Perez and Alexander Nunez, along with third baseman Francisco Martinez to the States to challenge them. Though Perez's numbers weren't shiny for the season, he finished seventh in the Venezuelan Summer League in runs scored (38), and ranked third in the circuit in triples (4). The 17-year old may profile better at second base in part due to some limitations in range, but he has good actions and instincts, soft hands, and a strong arm that can play at either up the middle position.
Alexander Nunez came out blazing in his first season, taking home TigsTown's DSL Player of the Month award in June, en route to being named the team's TigsTown Player of the Year. A quick footed, slick fielding second baseman, Alexander has excellent potential in the field, and an ability to make contact and work the gaps when at the plate.
The most promising of the three infielders is third baseman Francisco Martinez. A true five-tool talent that is still seeing significant development in his game, Martinez flashed excellent contact abilities, above-average speed, and good control of the strike zone in 2008. His power has yet to translate to games, but he has wiry strength that projects for at least average power down the road. There are some questions about his ability to remain at third base long term, but his athleticism and gifted arm strength will earn him extra chances. After ranking fourth in the VSL with a .321 average as a 17-year old last season, Martinez made it clear he was prepared for a serious challenge.
Rounding out the position players, the Tigers are bringing Panamanian outfielder Luis Castillo and Venezuelan outfielder Avisail Garcia to Florida for a more serious challenge in 2009. Castillo is a true leadoff type with good defensive abilities and above-average speed. He lacks strength, but knows the strengths of his game and works to accentuate them in every way possible. He should see time in the GCL outfield this season, and could hit at the top of the rookie squad's lineup. Garcia comes to the States after a surprising season in which he burst on the scene as a rookie. His seven home runs tied for fourth in the VSL, and his .449 slugging percentage was good enough for fifth. His plus arm and above-average instincts make him an excellent defender in the outfield, and one that could handle any of the three positions.
On the pitching side of things, the Tigers will bring twelve hurlers to the US for a try in the more advanced leagues here. From the left side, newcomers Robert Diaz, Jose Siso, and Rayni Guichardo will make the trip to spring training in Lakeland. Diaz tied for sixth in the DSL in games started (14) while also striking out 90 batters in just 65 2/3 innings. He will make his stateside debut as a 20-year old, and there is a chance he could challenge for a spot as high as West Michigan. The other veteran lefty to come over, Siso turned in a 5.45 ERA in 34 2/3 innings in the VSL in 2008. His two-year totals on the mound in the VSL amount to a 1-2 record, 7.62 ERA, and only two strikeouts for every walk allowed. A hard-throwing lefty, the Tigers are hopeful they will be able to harness his command and turn him into a true pitcher.
After debuting as a 16-year old in the DSL in 2008, Rayni Guichardo turned in a 3.90 Era in 62 1/3 innings, while striking out79 against just 20 walks. Though still slight of frame, Guichardo can get his fastball up to about 90 mph with some late life, and he backs it up with a strong curveball-slider combination. He has room for projection and added velocity, and should be an interesting player to watch going forward.
Slinging from the right side, a lengthy list of players will make their stateside debut, including Ramon Lebron, Gabriel Herrera, Jose Diaz, Marcos Nunez, Clemente Mendoza, Melvin Mercedes, Jose Ortega, Bruce Rondon, and Michael Torrealba.
Herrera was the only DSL/VSL player to participate in the Tigers' fall instructional league, and his selection to come stateside this season is no surprise. He brings an explosive fastball to the table and he could be pushed aggressively due to his relatively advanced age. Also of little surprise is the decision to bring Jose Diaz to the States. Diaz led the VSL in games started, complete games, shutouts, innings, and WHIP in 2008, and his dominance was evident nearly every time on the mound. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he knows how to pitch and has several solid- or fringe-average pitches.
After only pitching three innings in 2007, the Tigers ran Ramon Lebron out there for 48 innings in 2008; where he turned in a 4.31 ERA and 51 whiffs. At just 19-years old, Lebron's fastball already sits in the 92-93 range, and he can touch 95 once in a while. As he approaches physical maturity, it is likely he could see added velocity and could become a serious flame thrower.
A member of TigsTown's Top 50 prospects, Marcos Nunez has the size and raw stuff that can make scouts drool over his projections and possibilities. Nunez's solid arsenal is highlighted by a low-90s fastball that could grow as his 6-foot-6 frame fills out and adds strength. In 18 games for the DSL Tigers, Nunez posted a 1.78 ERA and 4-2 record; impressive numbers for a youngster that managed only a 5.58 ERA in 2007.
Three other multi-year players will be making the trip to the States this season, as relievers Jose Ortega, Clemente Mendoza, and Michael Torrealba will all be looking for spots in bullpens come spring training. The trio combined to lock down the end of VSL games in 2008, and they could team up to do the same with the GCL Tigers in 2009. Torrealba brings the best stuff to the table, with a low-90s fastball that has sink and potential for more velocity, along with a sharp slider that has plus potential.
Finally, two additional right-handers will make their stateside debuts after just one year in professional baseball. Melvin Mercedes and Bruce Rondon worked in different roles for different teams last season, but both could work in relief once in the States this spring. Mercedes worked at the back end of DSL Tiger games in 2008, and he finished the campaign with a 3.19 ERA in 24 appearances. His arsenal includes a fastball that can get to 92 on occasion, and he has room in his lanky 6-foot-3 frame to add bulk and strength that could lead to increased velocity down the line. Rondon worked in the VSL rotation, making 13 starts. Though he finished with just a 2-6 record, Rondon pitched well with a 3.58 ERA and 1.23 WHIP for the Tigers. He was at his best in June when he earned TigsTown's VSL Pitcher of the Month award, and he has a lightning quick arm with above-average velocity and a very promising curveball-change combination.