Getting into August, we are going to start to see some of the rookie and short-season leagues winding down for the season. The first of the Tigers minor league teams to be finished is the Venezuelan Summer League team. While the league itself has dwindled to just four teams, with two of them making the playoffs, the Tigers found themselves outside of the playoff picture looking in this season. The VSL Tigers finished the season in 3rd place with a 30-40 record on the season, but more importantly saw some strong performances from some of it’s youngsters.
We could see quite a few of these guys appear stateside next year for the Tigers. Let’s take a look at some guys we could see in Lakeland for fall and next season.
Jose Zambrano– SS/2B
Zambrano is an 18 year old switch hitting middle infielder, who long term is likely to be more of a 2B. His diminutive stature won’t allow him to hit for much power going forward, but he does an excellent job of controlling the strike zone, and using the whole field. Zambrano has good speed and is reminiscent at this point of an Alexi Amarista type.
Betancourt is a 17 year old right handed hitter who currently plays SS. He has a chance to stick at SS, however, as his body develops, he could be a 3B down the road. He already shows some pop in the batters box and is a good athlete. He hit .333 for the VSL Tigers this season while showing a strong BB/K ratio of 10/16. He might spend another year in the VSL, but the Tigers could be aggressive with him.
Navarro is a switch hitting 17 year old catcher, who made a strong impression with the bat in 2012. Navarro hit .315 this season, posting a very respectable OPS of .812 on the season. The Tigers could be aggressive with Navarro, however, he might spend another year in the VSL honing his defensive skills a little bit further before appearing stateside.
Orvin Tovar– OF
Tovar, who turned 19 years old today I think is the most likely candidate to appear stateside this fall off of this squad in my opinion. A right handed hitter, Tovar displays a good set of tools, flashing good power, and also runs well. There is some swing and miss here, but he also isn’t afraid to take a walk. He has walked and struck out 28 times in 2012, while hitting .283 and posting an OPS of .827.
Victor Padron– OF
The Tigers signed Padron to a deal a little bit before the July 2nd international signing period so it didn’t count against their cap. Padron has some quality skills, though he only got 44 at-bats in the VSL before having trouble with what looks like injury. Likely to return, but depending on how highly the Tigers think of Padron, I figured I would put him on this list.
Steven Fuentes– SS
Fuentes is a guy I have heard the Tigers like, so there is some potential here for him to come stateside. However, he doesn’t turn 18 until October, and struggled compared to some of his VSL teammates. Fuentes has an athletic build, who needs a lot of refinement of his skills. He is strong, so he can hit for pop, and runs pretty well also. There are strike zone issues, but has a long time to develop.
Tenia is another guy that the Tigers have liked. So much so, this is his 3rd season in the VSL already. However, he is still just 19 years old, and could see himself in Lakeland soon. The good news? Tenia has improved his OPS offensively every year, so there is improvement. The bad news? That improvement is somewhat relative, as he has yet to OPS over .700. He has a sturdy frame, and some potential defensively behind the dish.
Anthony Castro– SP
Castro is the big name from the VSL staff to follow as we head into next season. At 17 years old, and 6’1 and 160 lbs, there is some projection on Castro remaining. In 13 starts with the VSL team this season, Castro posted an ERA of 3.38 while holding opponents to a .212 batting average. In 53 innings, Castro struck out 46 batters, but did walk 30.
Eduardo Jimenez– SP
Jimenez is also a righty with some projection on him, and also is just 17 years old as well. He bounced back and forth between starting and relieving this season, but is likely a rotation candidate down the road. In 42 innings this season, Jimenez struck out 30 batters and walked 16. He kept the ball in the park however, only allowing one home run, and finished the season with an ERA of 3.61.
Eudis Idrogo– RP/SP
Idrogo is the third of the trio of young 17 year olds that were impressive for the VSL Tigers this season. Idrogo, however, spent almost all of his time in relief, and made 11 appearances total on the season. Idrogo is a big kid already at 6’1″ and 198 lbs, so we could see some further growth here in the next couple of years. Statistically, Idrogo was impressive in his relief role, posting an ERA of 1.33 on the season, and striking out 26 batters in his 27 innings.
*It’s really hard to tell who the Tigers will bring stateside from this roster, as stats don’t mean a whole lot in that regard, but they do tell us who had a strong year for the VSL squad. When trying to predict guys that might come over I look for age appropriate guys who perform well and projectable guys in the pitching department. I’ve only heard a few things about a couple of these players, mainly Betancourt, Fuentes, and Castro. The rest is purely speculation on my part given the factors that I have mentioned. It doesn’t mean that for instance, that Angel Vasquez won’t be brought over for instance. Vasquez is a 6’5″ right hander who turns 19 in October and has above average fastball velocity potential. However, he did struggle this season, so he didn’t make this “highlight” of players to watch.