Venezuelan Winter League - Season in Review

Garcia with Tigres Aragua

Seven players from the White Sox organization saw action in the Venezuelan Winter League regular season, which ended last week. That’s more than the Sox had in any other winter league. We previewed the league from a White Sox perspective back in the fall. They are in their playoffs now, but let’s take a look at how the White Sox players (two of whom were with the big club in 2014) did during their time in Venezuela.

The headliner is Avisail Garcia, who the Sox hope will be a powerful asset in the middle of their revamped lineup in 2015. Normally a player at his level wouldn’t need to be playing winter ball, and may only make a cameo appearance. But after injuries wiped out most of his 2014 campaign, he needed the work. After scuffling a bit initially with Tigres de Aragua, the big right fielder turned it on, and finished with a .312/.366/.522 slash line, including 15 of his 39 hits going for XBH in 142 PA. The strikeout rate, which has at times been a concern with Garcia, was a little high at 23.9% for a player like him in this league but nothing alarming. So far in their playoffs he’s hitting .400. In a recent report from the mini-camp in Arizona, Todd Steverson said he’d received positive reports on Garcia as well. He’s healthy and seems to be hitting well, which is a win in this case.

Infielder Carlos Sanchez will be right in the thick of the competition for starting second base and utility infielder roles with the White Sox in 2015. He didn’t hit a ton (.265 AVG, .361 SLG), but he did draw some walks (8%) and made good contact (13.6% K/PA) in 177 PA. His numbers this year are actually a significant step back from last year’s VWL campaign (.348/.428/.443), though of course the sample size in both cases is fairly small and he’s had no full offseason in a few years. He’ll be battling with Micah Johnson for the 2B role and Tyler Saladino and Leury Garcia for the utility infielder role come Spring Training, and his time with the Tiburones is probably as much about staying sharp as anything else.

Cleuluis Rondon is another infielder, but he’s much further back on the developmental curve than Sanchez and it showed in his time with the Lions of Caracas. He only played until mid-November, and posted a .196/.245/.239 line in 20 games. The story hasn’t changed with Rondon – he’s a legitimately plus or even plus-plus defender at both middle infield positions, but his bat has been mediocre at best thus far. He’s still just 20 so there’s no big rush, but it will be important for him to show at least some progress offensively in 2015.

26-year old left-hander Jarrett Casey had an interesting 2014, going up through three levels. After hurling just six strong games with A+ Winston-Salem, he was promoted to AA Birmingham where he posted strong core results (1.98 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, .184 BAA) despite striking out just 26 batters in 41 innings. He was promoted again to AAA Charlotte, where his peripherals went even further south (10 BB, 6 K in 18.1 IP). Looking to make a case as a lefty relief option, Casey pitched sparingly with Tiburones: 9 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. The White Sox left-handed bullpen options look a little more solid for this year, but Casey could serve as LH RP depth in AAA Charlotte.

In one of the more enigmatic minor league moves of the offseason, the White Sox signed right-handed pitcher Junior Guerra from TA San Marino of the Italian national baseball league (nevermind that San Marino is a seperate country, but that’s another story). Guerra was last in US affiliated ball in 2008, released by the Mets in 2009, and spent 2011-2013 in independent and Mexican leagues before landing in Italy. In 25 starts with La Guaira this winter, he posted a 3.46 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and an 82:22 K:BB ratio in 78 innings. It’s hard to tell where he ends up in 2015 as a 29 year old, though Birmingham seems a good guess.

RHP Arcenio Leon is another offseason minor league signee, and he’s already been assigned to AAA Charlotte. This Venezeulan native was ranked the #19 prospect in the Houston system in 2009 by Baseball America, who also tagged him with the best fastball in their system at the time. But he hasn’t ever really put it together since then, and he had mixed results in 2014 split between AA and AAA. With Aguilas de Zulia this winter, Leon posted a 1.66 WHIP, .290 BAA, 11 BB and 13 K in 18.2 innings of work. During both the regular season and winter ball this year he’s posted very strong ground ball rates. Leon is 27 and going into his 11th year of minor league baseball.

RHP Ryan Kussmaul has spent the last three years shuttling between AA and AAA, consistently striking out better than a hitter per inning but never showing enough stuff to be on the prospect radar. In 19 relief appearances in Venezeula, Kussmaul put up a 1.32 WHIP, striking out 25 batters in 22 innings. If the Sox give him a 6th year in the system, he’ll likely be at AAA Charlotte.

1B Andy Wilkins was listed as a reserve for Tiburones, but did not play.

There were three players who started the offseason with the White Sox organization that have since left, who played in VZ: catcher Miguel Gonzalez (signed with DET), RHP Nestor Molina (signed with BOS) and RHP Ronald Belisario (who as of this time appears to remain unsigned).

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