Venezuela’s Diamonds In The Rough

Photo credit Antonio Matheus, @antomatheus on Twitter

The 2021-2022 baseball season in the Venezuelan Winter League saw some return to normalcy in a country that hasn’t been normal for quite a while. In the past and for many years, a normal season in the country has a three month regular season and a little over 60 games (from October to December) and a postseason that’s played in the new year.

This time was an improvement compared to the shortened last season, with a total of 49 regular season games played from the end of October to just before Christmas, so the sample of games would be closer in resemblance to that of a normal season, without a doubt way better than the previous one.

Before we start naming a couple of notable presences in this LVBP season, there’s another nugget to take into account. The league has 8 teams (Leones, Tiburones, Tigres, Caribes, Cardenales, Navegantes, Bravos and Águilas), but MLB has close ties with two of them for fear of sanctions from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Therefore no MLB player or MLB affiliate could play for Navegantes and Tigres (the sanctioned teams), although it is widely expected for this to change, just not in time for the current postseason.

With that out of the way, let’s name a couple of guys that have made a mark in this LVBP season, some of them born this century.

Roberto Chirinos – Caribes de Anzoátegui – Age 21. A member of the New York Yankees organization, Roberto Chirinos played SS for Caribes and was a consistent hitter in the best offensive team in the league. Chirinos finished with a .304 AVG and a .369 OBP, with 17 RBI in 32 games played, solid numbers for the player who was in Rookie, A and A+ during the 2021 Minor League Baseball season.

Kenedy Corona – Aguilas del Zulia – Age 21. Corona played at the end of the regular season for a Zulia team that was basically out of contention, giving him a space to show enough skills to be highlighted in this feature. Considered the fastest player in the league, Corona showcased good defensive skills and put up a .318 batting average that should have the Houston Astros satisfied. Even with his small frame, Kenedy hit a HR in that run of 10 games he was able to participate and made such an impact that he was a starter as soon as they put him in the lineup.

Fabian Blanco – Cardenales de Lara – Age 24. Blanco recently turned 24 and played for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Peoria Chiefs in the summer of 2021. He was a key member of Cardenales’ bullpen this season with 18.2 IP. His stats for the regular season were good, 1.93 ERA and 1.018 WHIP. His K/BB relation was 15/5, a solid piece of the best relief staff in the country.

Romer Cuadrado – Leones del Caracas – Age 24. Cuadrado was the starting CF for Leones in this 2021-2022 regular season, posting a solid .273/.360/.471 slash line, even driving in 25 runs in 37 games and hitting it out of the park five times. His last stint in MiLB was this year with Tulsa Drillers, AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Chirinos, Blanco and Cuadrado will all be taking part in the postseason, while Corona is definitely one of the few good impressions of Aguilas this year.

It’s worth noticing that each season seems harder and harder for the best young talent to play in our winter league. MLB teams are understandable zealous of their prospects and want to avoid anything that might derail their careers, like injuries. Having said that, Venezuela is still a fertile ground for ballplayers, which means that even if the top-ranked players won’t get permits to take part in the season, we still are privileged to witness a considerable batch of talent, some of them, without doubt, will end up making some kind of impact in the big leagues.

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