As much as any franchise in the game, the Detroit Tigers have benefited from the Venezuelan player pipeline. That development path to the major leagues got a major crimp in it this weekend, as it was announced that the Venezuelan Summer League would be shut down for 2016 due to the violence and instability in the region.
Ben Badler of Baseball America has the details of the league's cancellation, and teams' plans to adjust to the turbulent conditions affecting the country, which has proved one of the most reliable sources of major league talent over the past 20 years. Collapsing oil prices and the country's unmanageable debt load have led to soaring inflation and shortages in basic goods in recent years, which, combined with the nation's political instability has led to a terrifying spike in violence. Venezuela currently has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Several teams had already left the league in recent years, and the Chicago Cubs' decision to shut down their club left the league with only three teams for 2016, precipitating the cancellation of the league this year. It's a tough situation that will force teenage prospects from Venezuelan to travel away from home for the first time to begin their dreams of a career in baseball.
Chris McCosky of the Detroit News reports that the Tigers will maintain their baseball academy in Venezuela. In recent years, Eugenio Suarez, Dixon Machado, and Bruce Rondon, among others, have all begun their pro careers in the VSL. Young players trying to follow in their footsteps will now have a bit more difficult road, although getting out of the country is likely the best thing for them considering the current climate. Tigers general manager, Al Avila was disappointed at the necessity of the move.
"It is disappointing because it was a good league and it served a real important purpose," Avila said Saturday. "But because of the political situation, a lot of teams have moved out. You can’t have a league with only two or three teams."
Teams will either add a team in the Dominican Summer League, or in the Tigers' case, the Gulf Coast League, alongside the Lakeland Flying Tigers, in order to create room for their young prospects to have regular playing time against comparable competition. More experienced players in the Tigers' system may be switched to the Dominican Summer League team this summer.
Cubans on display in the Caribbean Series
With the Tigers' payroll now stretched to the absolute max (we think?), the impetus will now be on Al Avila to regenerate the organization's farm system. The Tigers will have an important decision with the ninth pick in 2016's major league draft. The surest way to immediately bolster a mediocre farm system may be through the signing of international free agents, particularly more polished players from Cuba who haven't had the opportunity to showcase their skills for major league scouting departments.
Per Baseball America, Cuban players will be drawing a serious look for major league teams during the upcoming Caribbean Series. It remains to be seen, however, if owner Mike Ilitch's largesse will extend to the future of the organization with the enormous level of commitment he's shown in the present.
Justin Verlander took questions from radio callers, and had strong opinions on bringing the gospel of the DH to the National League.
Links for further consumption
- Building on what is becoming a more popular model for non-profit organizations, Justin Verlander intends to move his Wins for Warriors charity away from grassroots donations, and toward targeting wealthy donors to raise money to benefit veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Miguel Cabrera feels great, and with that return to good health after several seasons of injuries building on each other, that's music to the ears of Tigers' fans. Cabrera spoke at length about getting the power back in his lower half, and expressed a lot of optimism about the season ahead of him.
- White Sox fans have not had the offseason they hoped for. The team has the potential to compete, but the Todd Frazier window is a short one. Their franchise's failure to address the outfield is vexing them greatly.
- Sports Illustrated's staff released their offseason grades for all 30 major league teams.