From El Nacional:
Word is the Cuban national team’s double play combination of SS Eduardo Paret and 2B Yuliesky Gourriel both defected immediately after leading Cuba to a gold medal at the 2006 Central American games in Cartagena, Columbia.
Most baseball fans will remember the 22-year-old Gourriel from the WBC. He was considered Cuba’s top positional talent after the defection of Kendry Morales. According to a Baseball America feature during the WBC, Gourriel was considered unlikely to defect, as his team, Sancti Spirtus, was managed by his father, Lourdes, and also featured his brother, Yuniesky. There’s no guarantee Gourriel will get his visa situation worked out in time to sign this year, but if he does, he immediately becomes the top talent available internationally.
Paret’s prospects for a major league career are significantly less. Already 33, Paret has been an important member of the Cuban national team for years, and won the MVP award at least year’s World Cup in the Netherlands, but he’s not really considered a special talent.
I’m going to wait for confirmation from some additional sources, but if this is true, the international signing period just got a LOT more interesting.
*Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for the Serra interview. It went incredibly well, and I’ll have the report written up in the next couple of days.
*I got the chance to see one of Scott Boras’s Dominican clients in action a couple of times over the last week. RHP Jose Luis Arias is a legit 6’8″. His fastball sits in the 91-93 range and tops out at 95, and he reportedly has a slider in the 89-90mph range. I know, I’m skeptical too, and didn’t have the benefit of watching the gun while he was warming up, but that’s what I’ve been told. I won’t say which team is involved, but a signing may be close.
Arias is an interesting case, not because of his size or his stuff, but because of his age. At 19, Arias is a rare top talent who wasn’t considered noteworthy enough to sign the past few years. Apparently when he was first eligible, he was sitting in the low 70s with his fastball and didn’t generate any interest. He’s been fine-tuning his stuff over the past few years, and looks to be due for a big payday.
*I haven’t gotten confirmation from the Rangers’ camp on this yet, but I’ve heard they were one of the other teams heavily involved in the bidding war for Esmailyn Gonzalez.
*The Brewers will be trying out several top names in the next week, including the two Boras position prospects, Triunfel and Villalona.
*The Cubs have made 2 low-dollar signings, and aren’t in the hunt for any of the top money guys left. The two signings, whose names I don’t have, were given bonuses of $25,000 and $35,000. 6’5″ Venezuelan RHP Larry Suarez was the Cubs’ big addition this summer, and while they’ll probably sign 8-12 more, they’ll all be in the $15-75,000 range. Suarez, 16, is reportedly sitting at 88-92 with his fastball. Definitely one to watch.
I first got the tip that MLB had handed down some more steroid suspensions from an article in the print edition of the Listin Diario. For some reason the Diario prints a couple of articles each day that don’t make it into the online version. The MLB.com press release has a little more info anyways, though, and carries the benefit of being in English. This is an interesting development. I must confess, I completely missed the statement Bud Selig issued to the congressional hearing on steroid use last year. In that statement, Selig announced his plan to expand his steroid testing program to the Venezuelan Summer League, and he’s delivered.
The 4 VSL players, Carlos Fajardo (Reds), Alfredo Martin (Twins), Jonathan Requena (Twins), and Richard Rodriguez (Blue Jays), will serve 50-game suspensions.
While there are some depressing issues involved here – Latin-American players are under particularly strong pressure to make it to the major leagues – summer league testing is good news. In the past, major league baseball has been disturbingly hands-off where clubs’ Latin-American operations are concerned. Any increased involvement is a positive. I’m not sure why they would invest the money in expanding testing to include the VSL and not the DSL, but you have to assume that will be coming in the next couple of years.
This Thursday I will be interviewing Jose Serra, the Chicago Cubs´Latin-American Supervisor and head scout. If anyone has any burning questions they´d like to ask, either about the Cubs´farm system, the academy structure, or about Latin-American baseball in general, post ´em here and I´ll try to work them into the interview.
Courtesy of J. over at Mariner Minors, we learn that MLB has announced the names of participants in its second annual European Academy, to be held from July 27-August 18th in Tirrenia, Italy.
You can find the full list here.
The growth of baseball in Europe and Africa will be an interesting development to watch over the next few years. The Seattle Mariners appear to be leading the charge of investment into European scouting and talent development. Two years ago, the Mariners signed Gregory Halman, a Dutch outfielder whose father hailed from Aruba. Two years ago at the age of 16, Halman was named the Dutch Professional League’s MVP, and nearly won the triple crown playing in a league full of guys in their mid-20s. Halman is currently playing in the Northwest league, where he’s the league’s youngest position player.
Last year, the Ms signed Italian infielder Alex Liddi out of the European academy. This year, the Ms have already signed two players on the list, South African Anthony Phillips and Netherlander Kalian Sams.
Liddi in particular, along with fellow Italian and Cubs farmhand Allesandro Maestri, appear to be hard at work popularizing baseball in Italy. Both players have set up blogs giving accounts of their experiences playing in the United States.
You’re probably going to want to run those sites through Babelfish if you want to check them out.
On Monday, I took in a game between the DSL Cubs and the DSL Giants at “Baseball City,” a compound outside the beachfront town of Boca Chica that houses the academies of the Cubs, Twins, Reds, and Diamondbacks.
While I spent a lot of time touring the Cubs’ academy, watching a few amateur tryouts, and interviewing the Cubs’ head scout, I was able to check out a fair amount of the game.
The players don’t have names on the backs of their jerseys, and short of walking into the team’s dugouts, getting a lineup card wasn’t looking too feasible. However, a Cubs’ representative was able to give me a copy of his team’s roster, so I was at least able to attach names to the bodies in blue out on the field.
By far the most impressive player in the game I saw, both offensively and defensively, was 2B Elvis Lara. He didn’t come up with any big hits (an infield single and an RBI chopper were the extent of his contributions), but he covers the plate incredibly well and his 2 outs were scorching line drives. Made 3 incredible plays up the middle, too. He’s already 19, but this is his first year with the organization. I looked up the Cubs’ stats, and they confirmed what I saw with my eyes: he’s easily been the best hitter on the team all year.
A 17-year-old outfielder by the name of Kelvin Soto displayed some solid gap power and the ability to take a walk, but looking at the stats, it looks like I caught him on a good day as he hasn’t performed well consistently.
The defense, as with the other DSL game I’ve seen (Ms vs. Cardinals) was predictably raw, and only Lara even closely resembled a major-league defender. Any time you see a player who has racked up a lot of triples (or even doubles) in the Dominican Summer League, it’s a good bet that half of them were balls that should have been caught by a center fielder who’s still working on learning how to play a ball hit over his head.
As far as local media goes, I’ve been scouring newspapers looking at the way the DSL is covered down here, and with the exception of one daily…it’s not. In general, the Dominican press is more concerned with reporting on the successes of Dominican players in the big leagues than with covering what’s happening locally.
The one exception (so far) was a feature on Washington Nationals’ reliever Atahualpa Severino. Severino’s a 21-year-old working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and has been dominant on a level considered incredible even for the pitching-friendly DSL. It’s rare to see a 21-year-old still hanging around the DSL, but when an organization decides to keep a player around that long, chances are he’s either suffered a setback due to injury, or he’s a lefthanded pitcher. Severino is both. The report, featured in yesterday’s Listin Diario, was concerned primarily with detailing Severino’s success (44 and walked 3 in 18 innings, good for a 0.50 ERA), and repertoire (fastball sitting in the 90-92 range, and a quality curve and slider). While we get precious little in the way of a backstory here, it does say that Severino signed for a $6,000 bonus a few years ago. This is his second season in the DSL, and his first since his surgery last year. Players are only allowed a maximum of 3 years before they’re either released or sent up to their teams’ US system.
Also from the Listin Diario (though not available online for some reason), one of the larger youth leagues down here in the DR released annual honors today.
In the age 13-14 category, a kid named Joel Jimenez was named player of the year, and Amado Pena took home the honor of pitcher of the year.
The other age levels make a distinction between “player of the year” and “most valuable player” (probably to honor more kids, though I hope to get confirmation in the form of an interview with the league’s officials before too long).
The players of the year:
Age 11-12: Erick Peralta
9-10: Joel Gonzalez
7-8: Deiker Beriguete
Most Valuable Players:
11-12: Yeison Pujols
9-10: Joán Martinez
7-8: Victor Estevez
I wonder if I’m alone in being surprised that a national newspaper is publicizing the names of “prospects” as young as 8 years old. Crazy.
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