The St. Louis Cardinals have joined the trend among Major League Baseball clubs by suspending their participation in the rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League (VSL) and ceasing their player development operations in the country for 2011. The organization’s Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez disclosed the changes on Tuesday.
The Cardinals have recently played games on a rented field in Bejuma in the state of Carabobo, and participated in the VSL for the last five seasons, starting in 2006. While the Cardinals primarily staffed their maximum 35-man roster with native Venezuelans, almost all of whom were signed as teenagers, players from Colombia and Nicaragua were also active in 2010.
The Cardinals have made no capital investment in Venezuela. The players were housed and fed in a separate rented facility while the Cardinals were working with a Venezuelan businessman who was building a true academy complex at the Bejuma location. That still-uncompleted facility, which the Cardinals had previously hoped to lease, will remain for potential future use by them or another organization.
|2008 VSL Cardinals|
Rodriguez made it clear that the Cardinals are continuing their Venezuelan scouting in a business as usual manner. The organization deploys three area scouts in the country along with the assistance of long-time Cardinals executive Enrique Brito.
“We’re not taking money out of scouting,” Rodriguez explained. “In fact, we are putting more money into scouting… I don’t think we’ve ever had as many people on the ground with the resources that Mr. DeWitt has given us to scout Venezuela.
“We are still going to scout. Nothing is going to change. The only thing is that is going to change is that we are not going to have those 35 additional roster spots,” the international director explained.
Players currently on the VSL roster will be dispersed in one of three ways - sent to extended spring training in the US, released, or transferred to the Cardinals academy in the Dominican Republic. The impact is lessened somewhat since Cardinals added their seventh US minor league club in the Gulf Coast League in 2007. Specifics on player assignments will be disclosed later.
In a signal that changes were coming, the Cardinals had chosen to not sponsor a team in the Venezuelan off-season minor league, Liga Paralela, this winter as they did in past years. Players were dispersed to other teams instead. Johnson City infielder Romulo Ruiz was named Liga Paralela’s Most Valuable Player.
The Cardinals were always challenged in fielding a competitive team of youngsters in the VSL, finishing with a losing record each summer. Their aggregate tally since 2006 was 134-206 (.394).
Of course, any official will point out that player development is the goal of the minor leagues at every level rather than winning games.
To that end, the Venezuelan pipeline has yet to flow freely through the entire system, though progress has been made in recent years. The most prominent graduate of the country is Memphis reliever Eduardo Sanchez, our fourth-ranked prospect in the Cardinals system, yet few others yet have reached Double-A.
During the Winter Warm-Up fan festival two weeks ago, team president Bill DeWitt III provided some insight into the organization’s thought processes behind the then-unannounced decision, contrasting it with their “recommitment” to their Dominican academy.
“Venezuela is a little different in the sense that there is a lot of political turmoil there,” DeWitt said. “There have been a bunch of incidents in baseball that created a pretty alarming situation for all the clubs who are in Venezuela. We are re-evaluating our commitment there.”
Rodriguez added, “It is no secret that it is difficult to operate there. It is no secret that the political climate and the political situation is not something that you are comfortable with. Crime, economics, conducting business – it is the combination of a lot of things that you look at. We felt at least for the upcoming summer, ‘let’s take a step back from a player development standpoint’.
“Our relationships are still there and if anything changes in the near future, we will re-evaluate. It is not a permanent move,” Rodriguez concluded.
That unstable environment has led to considerable churn across the Venezuelan Summer League in recent years.
In 2006, when the Cardinals joined the VSL, they were one of 13 organizations participating. Since then, seven have pulled out - Florida, Baltimore, the White Sox, Toronto, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Houston. In addition, the Cubs entered the league but quickly departed. Since 2006, only Tampa Bay has joined and remained.
The end result is that in each of the last two summers, VSL participation had dropped to just seven teams, including the Cardinals.
Now, it will be six.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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