The Re-Emerging Venezuelan Connection

Galvis is one of four Venezuelan-born players on the Phillies 40-man roster. Photo: AP

When Nelson Prada was named manager of the Williamsport Crosscutters on Friday, I surmised that perhaps the Phillies brought Prada on board in hopes of enhancing the development of international players, perhaps specifically so the development of Prada’s native Venezuela.  The Phillies enter 2013 with four Venezuelans on their 40-man roster, including Freddy Galvis, second baseman Cesar Hernandez, Rule 5 draft pick Ender Inciarte, and lefty reliever Mauricio Robles, with Galvis and Inciarte having a pretty good shot of making the club.

Major League Baseball’s first Venezuelan player was the Washington Senators starting pitcher Alex Carrasquel, whose nickname was paton, or bigfoot, because of his large shoe size. Carrasquel made his Major League debut in 1939, retiring Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Bill Dickey, in order, in a relief appearance. Carrasquel was the uncle of  All-Star shortstop Chico Carrasquel, who was among the Latino players that helped desegregate the game for good for both foreign Latinos and Latino Americans.Since the elder Carrasquel’s debut, 2.6% of Major Leaguers have been Venezuelan-born, ranking only behind the United States (84%) and the Dominican Republic (5.1%).

With this in mind, the Phillies have a particularly long list of Venezuelan born players in their history including 1980 NLCS MVP Manny Trillo, Omar Daal, Ugueth Urbina, Miguel Cairo, Bobby Abreu, Freddy Garcia, and the following players who were developed in the Phillies system: Edgar Ramos, Clemente Alvarez, Anderson Machado, Danny Sandoval, Yoel Hernandez, and Sergio Escalona. With Venezuela producing 38 All-Stars, or one out of every seven and a half players who reach the Majors, a renewed commitment to scouting in Venezuela may be in the Phillies’ best interest. Prada’s signing may be a signal that the Phillies may be pursuing to develop a connection to Venezuela like they had in the late 90s, hoping to develop a string of Venezuelan Major Leaguers.

Take, for instance, Willians Astudillo, a former Venezuelan utility player who has seemingly finally found a position at catcher. Astudillo enters his age 21 probably headed to Williamsport after hitting .318/.327/.419, striking out just five times in 149 plate appearances. Or Venezuelan-born infielder Gustavo Gonzalez, who shot through Williamsport last year but may come back for a repeat trip, after hitting .174/.222/.202 across three levels in 2012. Herlis Rordriguez, just 18, played with the Gulf Coast Phillies last year, spending most of his time in center field but hit just .221/.265/.316. Infielder Francisco Silva is a bit of a mystery after hitting .241/.375/.329 for the Gulf Coast Phillies in his age 21 season in only 33 games but is also Venezuelan.

The cream of the crop of Venezuelan Phillies’ prospects, however, is 17 year old Carlos Tocci. Tocci stands at 6’2″ and 160 lbs soaking wet but covers all the field you could ask for in center field. Tocci hit .278/.330/.299 in his age 16 season last year for the Gulf Coast Phillies and will likely open the season in Short Season-A Williamsport, not coincidentally, where Prada is managing. Possibly joining Tocci and Prada in Williamsport could be Venezuelan-born Astudillo, Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Silva, and pitchers Manaure Martinez, Yoel Mecias, Luis Morales, Moises Rivas, and Keive Rojas.

Martinez, 21,  likely will start the year repeating Williamsport after a very strong showing in the Gulf Coast League, while Mecias, 19, has a very good chance of joining his countrymen after posting 7.3 K/9 IP and a 1.032 WHIP in 41.2 IP for the GCL Phillies in 2012. Morales, 19, struggled for the GCL Phils, while Rivas, 21, skipped Williamsport in favor of Lakewood and then Clearwater, and Rojas, 19, made the rare triple-jump to High-A Clearwater after posting a 11.7 K/9 and 0.897 WHIP in 32.1 IP for the GCL Phillies.

This group of Venezuelan-born players the Phillies are developing rivals any in their history and may send more players to the Majors then the group they sent from 2000-2006: Ramos, Alvarez, Machado, Sandoval, and Hernandez. Galvis has shown he has the glove and enough of a bat to stay in the Majors while Inciarte has as good a shot as any to make the big club as a Rule-5 pick. Most of the players listed above a few years away but I believe Prada’s signing as a manager has the makings of something special and a renewed commitment to finding and developing the best Venezuelan players.

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