2010 VSL Tigers Season In Review

As has been the case for each of the last three seasons, the Tigers fielded the youngest team in the Venezuelan Summer League, placing them in a bit of a hole to start the campaign. In 2010, the VSL Tigers started the season with an average age under eighteen years; the only team in the league with at team representing that level of youth.

Such a young offense (average age of 17.7 years old), struggled to plate runs, finishing with a league worst 3.82 runs per game, on the heels of a combined .246/.324/.333 line that just couldn't get things done in the batter's box.

"This was a really challenging year," said Tigers Director of International Operations Tom Moore. "They were so young. So many of the guys were in their first or second year as pros, but that didn't stop them. Those kids worked really hard, and the experience really allowed them to get better as the season went along. "

Despite the offensive struggles, the young Tigers finished the season with 26 home runs, improbably tying for second in the league. First year catcher Gabriel Tenia provided plenty of the team's punch, blasting a team high six home runs in his debut, to go along with a team leading 27 RBI.

"Tenia really showed us some things this year," said Moore. "In his first year at catcher he started to get pretty comfortable behind the plate, and he showed some pop at the plate too."

The Tigers received plenty of power from another very intriguing bat in the lineup, outfielder and supreme athlete Daniel Carranza. Carranza popped four home runs of his own to tie Luis Cortez for second on the squad, and scouts are nearly unanimous in their belief that Carranza will flash plenty of power down the line.

"He's a guy you can dream on," said one scout affiliated with an NL club. "He's such a great athlete that you can project every one of his tools as at least above-average, and possibly plus across the board if everything goes right. He's a long way off, but he could be fun to watch."

Near the season's end, the Tigers promoted Carranza to the Dominican Summer League; a move that was made for a multitude of reasons. Among those reasons were an attempt to gain a greater feel for where he was at in his development, as well as to get him additional at-bats down the stretch (the DSL season lasts about two weeks beyond the VSL season).

The top two bats on the roster for the bulk of the season were Eugenio Suarez and Jose Soledad; two players that provide fairly significant profiles when looking at their projection. Suarez is a speedy, slap hitting utility guy that can plan nearly any position on the diamond, and though he may not project as much of a prospect, he was still a key asset for the team.

"[He] was really the best player on the team for much of the year," said Moore. "He was invaluable for that team this year. He just does so many things on the field."

Soledad may have a bit more projection, and while his numbers don't match those posted by Suarez this season, his bat has loads more potential. At just 17-years old in his second season of pro ball, Soledad drove in 25 runs and smacked eleven extra base hits (out of 62 total). He will have to improve his command of the strike zone to realize the potential in his offensive game, but there is at least some reason for hope.

Two rookies that made impacts and hold promise for the future are Erick Soto and Jesus Ustariz. Soto was the victim of some hard luck through the season's first half, but he really came on late in the year and posted some strong numbers down the stretch. Soto finished with 18 doubles, enough to rank him second in the entire league at just 17-years old, and with just 54 hits on the entire season. He also tied Soledad for second on the team in RBI with 25.

"Soto hit lots of balls at guys early in the year," noted Moore. "He lost some confidence, but then really came back strong in the second half. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does in the Parallel League this winter."

Ustariz is a player that has routinely been noted as an all-around talent with a wealth of skills, and Moore again saw just that throughout the summer.

"He's a young kid with a lot of different tools. They don't all come out at once yet, but you'll see ‘em all over time. He has good plate discipline, he sees pitches, and gets himself in good situations."

Ustariz finished with a solid .281/.372/.363 line while seeing action in 57 games, and though he saw action all over the field, he profiles as a very solid third base defender long term.

On the other side of things, the pitching had its ups and downs all summer long. Thought to have stepped up and been the team ace, right-hander Gino Aguirre was sidelined with an elbow injury that restricted him to just four games all season. The organization took it slow with his rehab and recovery, in hopes that he can put the injury behind him going forward.

Instead of relying heavily on Aguirre, the Tigers were forced to rely on a bevy of pitcher to fill the starting role. Fifteen different pitchers started at least one game for the team this year, with varying levels of success.

Two of the more promising arms on the staff, Endrys Briceno and Johan Belisario, both started nine games and saw action in 14 games total.

"[Those two] really showed some things this summer that give us hope for their future," said Tom Moore. "The numbers won't show it, but we were really pleased with their progress. Belisario just turned 17 earlier this month, so what he did at 16-years old this summer, was really impressive."

A surprise contributor for the Tigers this summer was 19-year old right-hander Angel Nesbitt. Nesbitt worked in 20 games this summer with a sparkling 1.34 ERA and only 26 hits in 33 2/3 innings of work.

"We were really happy with the results from Angel this summer," said Moore. "He got stronger, used his fastball effectively, and at times showed improvement with his control."

Along with Nesbitt, right-hander Leonel Vasquez had some impressive moments throughout the summer. Though his ERA didn't quite match that of Nesbitt, Vasquez finished with a fine 2.88 ERA and only 5.8 hits allowed per nine innings. In 34 1/3 innings, Vasquez managed to walk thirty, but also whiffed the same number; displaying an ability to miss bats at a young age.

"He has some intriguing stuff," noted Moore. "He can get his fastball into the high-80s now, and there's more in the tank we think, but he has to command the strike zone better if he's going to move on to the United States."

Overall, the Tigers finished with a 4.44 ERA, better than only the Cardinals among league participants, and a half run in excess of the league mark of 3.95.

"We had a few injuries that left us a bit short at times," concluded Moore. "We didn't have all the arms we thought we were going to have, but the guys really battled throughout the year. "

"Overall, we're very pleased with the players and staff down there, and we're really looking forward to the Parallel League."

Though the VSL Tigers 20-46 record may not look like something to be proud of, the club's young roster improved as the season progressed, and they could be in line to be a very strong club in 2011. The foreign rookie leagues are all about development, and that's exactly what these young and aspiring Tigers managed this year; lots and lots of development through lots and lots of playing time at a young age.

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