With the Arizona Fall League and Hawaii Winter Baseball seasons finished—and in the HWB’s case, permanently—the Caribbean leagues take the over the winter ball spotlight.
Those leagues can be extremely competitive with major leaguers, former big leaguers and advanced minor league prospects playing every day. But for some of the less advanced players, there is the Liga Paralela, which is essentially a minor league for the Venezuelan League, giving some of the younger Venezuelan players an opportunity to play in their home country during the winter.
The most interesting players in the league are the players who signed during the 2008 international signing period. Those players don’t play in the Dominican Summer League or the Venezuelan Summer League, so the Liga Paralela can provide a first glimpse at some of the year’s top Venezuelan signings, as it did last year with Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores.
International scouts say the quality of the league has improved over the last few years to become an indicator of whether players are ready to make the leap to a rookie league in the United States the following year.
"You get a lot of A-ball and a couple of Double-A players who are not able to play with their winter counterparts, so they go down and pitch in these leagues," said one international scouting director. "So when guys perform well in the Paralel league, we use that as a barometer to see if they are able to handle the next step."
A few international bonus babies pitched in the league this year, though they did so sparingly, so let’s look at some of the notable international hitter signings from 2008. For context, these players are all among the league’s youngest players. The league averaged 4.9 runs per nine innings, with a league OPS of approximately .715.
The top name in the group is Rodriguez, who signed with the Reds on his 16th birthday on Aug. 15 for $2.5 million, the largest signing bonus ever for a Venezuelan amateur player. Even in limited playing time, Rodriguez’s performance managed to fit the scouting reports: he’s an outstanding athlete with raw tools but still lacks feel for hitting, as he struck out in approximately one third of his trips to the plate.
Another big-money player in the league was Cayones, who signed with the Pirates for $400,000. Cayones, who turned 17 in October, has a strong feel for hitting and a patient approach, which he showed this winter by hitting .281 and drawing 15 walks in 24 games. He has a quick, short stroke to the ball, though he doesn’t have much present power. At around 6-foot, 175 pounds, he could still grow another inch or two and fill out, but right now he’s more of a line-drive hitter who does well by using the entire field.
One player to keep an eye on is Guevara, who signed with the Rays for $200,000 and turned 17 in October. Guevara made a strong impression this winter by showing off what he does best: hit. Guevara should be a power hitter in the future, but he displayed excellent hands at the plate and contact-hitting skills in the Liga Paralela, giving him an intriguing package of a player who could hit for both batting average and power. Guevara signed as a shortstop and is a 55 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, but his defense is raw and he could end up sliding down the defensive spectrum. He gave a preview of his defense this winter by committing 17 errors in 47 games mixed between shortstop, third base and second base, but it’s his bat that the Rays are banking on carrying him to the big leagues.