The 2020-2021 baseball season in the Venezuelan Winter League was a question mark from the get-go. Like most things in this country, once it starts it seems an astonishing feat of determination. 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.
In this, the most unusual of years, the pandemic (and plenty of other factors all too long and complex for this piece) dictated that the season would start on November 27, with the regular season lasting 40 games until January 10, and a different postseason format altogether. The amount of games is worth mentioning because they represent a particularly small (but not necessarily insignificant) sample to rate players.
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 two of them are currently under sanctions from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which entails amongst other things that, no MLB player or MLB affiliate could play for Navegantes and Tigres (the sanctioned teams).
With that out of the way, let’s name a couple of guys that, even in this short span, have made a mark in this LVBP season. A little heads up, there’s an unusual amount of catchers in it.
Dennis Ortega – Bravos de Margarita – Age 23. Ortega has been the catcher for Bravos most of the games and has been, without a question, one of the best players in the LVBP. The best hitter in a team that has hit a lot. In his first “full season” with Bravos he’s amongst the league leaders with .385 AVG and 1.018 OPS, driving in 19 runs in just 25 games so far. He’s a member of the St. Louis Cardinals who played A+ in Palm Beach in 2019.
Osleivis Basabe – Águilas del Zulia – Age 20. Recently acquired by Tampa Bay, Basabe has a small amount of games this month and only has permission to play in December, but trust me. That’s been enough to show excitement that should send very good news to the Rays. Águilas has turned around in the last two weeks (having the best record in that timeline), since Basabe has been on the field. With a very good glove, he’s also been hitting second in the lineup, driving and scoring important runs, but all in all, being contagious (in a good way) for his team.
Gabriel Moreno – Cardenales de Lara – Age 23. The authorization from the Toronto Blue Jays for Moreno already ran out, but the catcher was putting up numbers to be the MVP of the LVBP. It’s not a minor detail that Moreno was (and still is) the best offensive player in the best team in the league. He’s also the catcher that best handled his team staff while he was on the field. He ended up with a .375 AVG and .980 OPS in 18 games, with 9 assists and no errors behind the plate.
Luis Oviedo – Cardenales de Lara – Age 21. Oviedo has been impressive in the bullpen of Cardenales, certainly good news for the Pittsburgh Pirates considering that his stats were uneven at best in 2019 with the Lake County Captains. In 9 appearances with 14.1 IP, he has a 0.63 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP, with ten strikeouts and no walks, making him a guarantee every time he’s called to pitch.
How about the Mets’ 24-year-old David Rodriguez?
#Mets David Rodriguez has been on another planet this winter.
Came into today among the #LVBP leaders in
2nd | .404 AVG
2nd | 1.098 OPS
1st | 60 Total Bases
T-7th | 4 HRs
T-7th | 19 RBIs
The Mets signed him last year but never got to see him play. They may have something here https://t.co/zWBmMRGuh6
— Christopher Soto (@SotoC803) December 30, 2020
We didn’t want to submit this piece without a special mention. Erick Leal, age 25 is pitching for Navegantes del Magallanes (which means he’s currently unsigned by any MLB organization). Leal’s last stint in the US was with the A+ Myrtle Beach Pelicans (affiliate of the Chicago Cubs) in 2019. He has been by far the best starter this season in the LVBP, starting 6 games with a 4-1 record and leading the league in ERA (0.92) and WHIP (1.06). He’s also second in K’s with 21 and without a doubt deserves at least a look-see from an MLB team.
#Béisbol | Erick Leal, abridor de Navegantes del Magallanes, sostuvo una impecable labor el pasado lunes y reafirmó su candidatura al “Pitcher del Año” de la actual temporada de la LVBP. #Grandevzla pic.twitter.com/siyRziczOQ
— Instituto Nacional de Deportes (@INDeporteVE) December 31, 2020
So, that’s a little window to some names worth mentioning from the LVBP, a league that, as is right now, suits veteran players particularly well but always has sparks of youngsters showing great skills, forever searching for a place in the sun.