Monday, February 9, 2009

St. Louis Cardinals In The Venezuelan League 2008-09

Next part of the Cardinals in winter league roundup will cover the Venezuelan League. The Redbirds had five players that are still in the organization participate this winter which included Luke Gregerson, David Freese, Jose Rada, Jose Martinez, and Richard Castillo. One joined the Venezuelan League late in the season and was signed to a minor league contract, that being Katsuhiko Maekawa. Five others I have included that played in the Cardinals system in the last year and were free agents at the time of their start in the VWL, they included Ron Flores, Rico Washington, Juan Lucena, Cesar Izturis, and Gustavo Martinez.

Gregerson and Flores pitched for Bravos de Margarita and also employed St. Louis Cardinals' Minor League Hitting Coordinator Dan Radison as the hitting coach. Margarita finished the winter season with a 23-40 record and dead last in the standings, even firing their manager mid-season.

Izturis joined Cardenales de Lara in November with Castillo getting the call up in December. Lara end the season with a 33-30 record and were eliminated in the semi-finals of the tournament.

Rada and Jose Martinez began the winter season with Tigres de Aragua, with Lucena getting the call up later in October for a short stay. Aragua finished with a 36-27 record but took out Caracas for the Venezuelan league title and as we all know claimed the Caribbean Series crown.

Washington and Freese started the year with Caribes de Anzoategui and both left the team early November. Washington was released and Freese was returned home after suffering an injury to his wrist. After a slow start the team fired their manager and brought in former GCL Cardinals' manager Enrique Brito, who lead the club to a 28-35 finish and missed the playoffs by three games.

Gustavo Martinez was loaned to Lara by the Tigres de Licey of the Dominican Republic League and played for the team for the rest of their season. While Maekawa joined Caribes after being released by Gigantes del Cibao of the Dominican Republic League. He would be one of four players to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, out of winter play, after Caribes MGR Brito scouted him and gave the thumbs up.

Luke Gregerson (Springfield) made 19 relief appearances posting a 3-1 record, 0.82 ERA, and six holds. The 24-year old right-hander allowed 19 hits, two earned runs, one home run, hit two batters, walked eight, and struck out 18 over 22 innings. He had a ground out-tofly out ratio of 34-to-13, let three of nine inherited runners score, and a 1.23 WHIP.

The third-year Cardinal pitcher started off the winter season dominant and finished out on the same note. Gregerson did not give up a run in his first 14 outings (spanning 15.1 innings) and did not give up a hit in seven games total. After his run less streak was up, he started to show a little fatigue giving up ten hit over his next five games. He struck out two or more in six appearances and a season-high three on December 4. Gregerson earned his first win on October 15 and picked up his first hold on October 16. His best game came on November 1 when he pitched three innings (going into extras) and giving up three hits, no runs, and striking out two. Gregerson earned the Venezuelan League 2008-09 Set-Up Man of the Year award

Gregerson should see a promotion to Triple-A Memphis in 2009 and could follow a similar role to what Jason Motte did for the team in 2008. Either he'll be the set-up man Fernando Salas or alternate with him in the closer role. With his performance in winter ball he might of caught some scouts eyes for a future promotion to the big leagues, sooner rather than later.

Ron Flores (Memphis, signed with Cincinnati) made ten relief appearances posting an 0-1 record, 7.36 ERA, and four holds. The 29-year old left-hander allowed six hits, four runs (three earned), one home run, three walks, and struck out four over 3.2 innings. He had a ground out-to-fly out ratio of 2-to-4, let four of nine inherited runners score, and a 2.45 WHIP.

The newly signed Cincinnati Red had a tough season from the start in winter ball as he experimented with a new arm slot, somewhat of a sidearm motion. His first two outings he was on target picking up two holds in both games. Then in his third it starting going downhill, with him not keeping runners on base and by the time November came around he was letting runs score. Flores didn't give up a run in his first five appearances (spanning 2.2 innings) and struck out a season-high two on November 2. He just didn't seem to fit the lefty specialist role for the team so he was released mid-November.

Flores troubles that plagued him during 2008 regular season kind of carried over into the winter season. And the Cardinals didn't seem to interested in bringing him back letting him get picked up by former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty. Two Flores brothers in the system at the beginning of 2008, both gone by the end of the year.

Rico Washington (Memphis-Free Agent) played in 15 games batting .163 (7-for-43) with a .321 OBP, .233 SLG, and .553 OPS. The 30-year old left-handed swinger had one home run, two RBIs, ten total bases, scored three runs, and walked nine times. He was perfect with two stolen bases, struck out 21% (nine) of the time, and committed three errors. Washington played 11 games in left field, two at third base, and two spread across left field, first base, and third base.

The two-year Cardinal affiliate just couldn't get the bat going for himself during the winter, much like throughout the 2008 regular season. He started off with one hit in each of his first two games, then two games here without a hit and another two games, throughout the season. Washington had his only multi-hit game on October 30 going 2-for-3 with a solo home run. He had two two-game hitting streaks and drove in his first run on October 15. Washington was released in early November due to his lack of performance. (Runners left in scoring position with 2-outs: 3)

Washington is getting older and the years are starting to add up (12 years in the minor leagues), so I'm not surprised to see his contract not get picked up by the Cardinals. Plus the Redbirds have three up and coming prospects in David Freese, Allen Craig, and Brett Wallace coming along great. I'm not sure he will get signed by a Major League organization this coming season, may have to dabble in the Triple-A Mexican League or any one of the Independent Leagues.

David Freese (Memphis) played in 14 games batting .235 (12-for-51) with a .273 OBP, .451 SLG, and .724 OPS. The 25-year old right-handed swinger had two doubles, three home runs, eight RBIs, 23 total bases, scored five runs, and walked three times. He was caught stealing in his only attempt, struck out 37% (19) of the time, and committed five errors. Freese played all of his games at the hot corner except for one, his last, as the teams designated hitter.

The first-year Cardinals hitter started off pretty well in the first week of winter ball and he started to slide and miss a lot of pitches in the final couple weeks. His power did not leave him during the down period, but he struck out two or more times in the last six games. Freese had three multi-hit games and two multi-RBI games. He legged out his first double on October 15 and clubbed his first home run on October 22. Freese had his best game on October 29 as he connected for his only grand slam. He left the team in early November under advisement of his agent and the St. Louis Cardinals after trying to play through a wrist injury. (Runners left in scoring position with 2-outs: 5)

Freese had a huge opportunity that was dropped in his lap a couple weeks ago, with Troy Glaus going under the knife. Freese will go to camp and compete to earn a spot on the 25-man roster for the regular season. This could be a make or break season for him as Glaus' contract is up at the end of the season and such hot prospects as Brett Wallace and Allen Craig are breathing down his neck for the chance to crack the big leagues. Three talents at the hot corner ready for the bright lights, only one is gonna take over and the other two could end up in trades or as bench players.

Jose Rada (GCL) made 18 appearances (two starts) posting a 2-1 record, 2.30 ERA, and three holds. The 20-year old right-hander allowed 25 hits, eight earned runs, three home runs, hit two batters, walked nine, and struck out 18 over 31.1 innings. He had a ground out-to-fly out ratio of 32-to-42 and let four of six inherited runners score.

The second-year Cardinals pitcher started off on the same path as Gregerson, very explosive out of the bullpen. Rada didn't allow a run in his first six outings (spanning ten innings) and didn't allow a run in a total of 13 games. He struck out two or more in five game including a season-high three on November 21. Rada pitched well enough to earn himself two spot starts, where he combined for six innings and gave up four hits, no runs, one walk, and struck out two. He had only two appearances where he gave up two or more runs and blew one save coming December 19. Rada made one playoff appearance on January 10 and did not pitch for the club in the Caribbean Series, even though he was considered to be one of the top relievers on the team.

Rada has spent the last two seasons on the Gulf Coast Cardinals team and should see a promotion to one of the short-season clubs in 2009. His walks are low, strikeouts are high, he's just leaving the ball out over the plate and not getting the plays behind him. He has also shown a lot of potential the last two winter seasons that I have been paying attention to him and hope to see that carry over into his regular season play.

Jose Martinez (Springfield) played in six games batting .118 (2-for-17) with a .118 OBP, .235 SLG, and .353 OPS. The 24-year old right-handed swinger had two doubles, four total bases, two runs, three strikeouts, and committed one error.

The fourth-year Cardinal affiliate only played for a short time in October before he left to witness his first child being born. Martinez rejoined the team on November 5 to only play one game and leave again as the club already had Ronny Cedeno covering shortstop. On October 18, he picked up his only two hits going 2-for-5 with two doubles and scored two runs.

Martinez could be headed to Triple-A in 2009 even if he missed a lot of time in 2008 with an injury and struggled when he did play. He's still one of the top position players up the middle for the organization and will look to regain that status in 2009.

Juan Lucena (Springfield-Free Agent) played in three games going 0-for-4 with one walk, one strikeout, and a .200 OPB. The 25-year old right-handed swinger got lucky when Jose Martinez and another infielder left the team. Ronny Cedeno was not available so the team called him up to fill the holes for a short time before sending him back to the Parallel League.

Cesar Izturis (St. Louis, signed with Baltimore) played in 16 games batting .292 (19-for-65) with a .370 OBP, .369 SLG, and .739 OPS. The soon to turn 29-year old switch hitter had three doubles, one triple, three RBIs, 24 total bases, scored nine runs, and walked seven times. He was perfect with five stolen bases, struck out 6% (four) of the time, and committed two errors. Izturis played all of his games at shortstop except for one where he split time between both shortstop and second base.

The one-time Cardinal joined the team after Thanksgiving and was slotted in the leadoff spot of the batting order most of the winter season. Izturis began the season with a seven-game hitting streak going 13-for-32 (.406) with three doubles, three RBIs, scored six runs, and stole three bases. He had his best game on November 27 going 4-for-5 with one double, two RBIs, and one run. Izturis legged out his first triple on December 21 and had four multi-hit games during the regular winter season. During the VWL playoffs he went 27-for-66 (.409) and opened it up with a seven-game hitting streak. Izturis had four doubles, two triples, one RBI, scored 11 runs during the 16 post-season games he played.

Izturis was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles after the Cardinals decided to go in a different direction at shortstop and traded for Khalil Greene from the San Diego Padres. We all hope Greene can turn it around in 2009 and get back to his 2007 season form or else letting Izturis walk will look bad on the Redbirds. The former All-Star had his best season since getting back to full form after suffering an injury in the 2005 season.

Richard Castillo (Quad Cities) made four appearances (one start) posting an 0-0 record and 1.74 ERA. The 19-year old right-hander allowed eight hits, two earned runs, two walks, hit two batters, walked five, and struck out five over 10.1 innings. He had a ground out-to-fly out ratio of 5-to-17, let one of five inherited runners score, and a 1.26 WHIP.

The second-year Cardinals pitcher got the call to the big league Venezuelan League in early December and made his first and only start on December 7. Castillo was moved to the bullpen in a long-relief role for his final three outings. He pitched his best game on Dec 17 going 3.1 innings and giving up three hits and no runs. Castillo didn't give up a run in two of his games and no hits in one game. He struck out a season-high two on December 7 and 27.

Gustavo Martinez (GCL-Free Agent) made three relief appearances posting an 0-0 record, 0.00 ERA, and one hold. The 20-year old right-hander allowed four hits, no runs, one walk, and struck out two over three innings. He had a ground out-to-fly out ratio of 5-to-2 and a 1.67 WHIP.

The former GCL Cardinals was loaned to Lara by Licey of the DWL and joined the team in late-December. Martinez made his VWL debut on December 27 and had his best outing on December 30 striking out two over one hit less and scoreless inning. He accompanied the team into the playoffs and pitched in five games giving up nine hits, five runs (two earned), four walks, and striking out nine over 7.2 innings. Martinez did not allow a run in his final three appearances of 4.2 innings.

Katsuhiko Maekawa (Memphis?) made four starts posting an 0-2 record and 6.39 ERA. The 30-year old left-hander allowed 12 hits, nine earned runs, two home runs, hit two batters, walked 15, and struck out 12 over 12.2 innings. He had a ground out-to-fly out ratio of 18-to-7 and a 2.13 WHIP.

The newly signed minor league free agent joined Caribes after being released by Gigantes of the DWL, where he also was slapped around. Maekawa made his VWL debut on November 26 pitching four innings and giving up one hit, one earned run, one home run, five walks, and striking out a season-high five. He struck out five on two diffeerent occasions, but walked three or more in three of his four starts.

This signing was truly puzzling to myself, but I'm guessing that Brito and various other Cardinals' scouts saw something in person that we all can't see by looking at the stats. If Maekawa is assigned to Triple-A Memphis, he will be one of a possible five lefties on the staff along with Joe Rogers, Brad Furnish, Justin Fiske, and Charlie Manning. He just has to make it through spring camp first.

Others linked to the league:
Blake Hawksworth (Memphis) was a late scratch from the Bravos de Margarita roster after an ankle injury took him off the trip.
Reynier Gonzalez (Johnson City) was sent to the Parallel League after not making the Tigres de Aragua team.
Geney Rios (VSL) and Carlos Oraa (VSL) were sent to Parallel League after not making the Aguilas de Zulia team.
Mark Worrell (St. Louis, traded to San Diego) was rumored to be pitching for Aguilas de Zulia, but that was later scratched and he was shipped out.
Marcos Chavez (VSL-Free Agent) was also in Aguilas de Zulia camp but like the others listed above did not crack the roster.
Henry Guerrero (Springfield-Free Agent) was listed on the preliminary roster for the Caribes de Anzoategui, but never played.

St. Louis Cardinals In The Venezuelan Parallel Leagues 2008
St. Louis Cardinals In The Mexican Pacific League 2008-09

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