The Venezuelan Summer League Rays, the lowest minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, were hardly inspiring as a whole in 2014, going just 24-43. That said, the VSL Rays squad had plenty of players with potential, and this could actually be one of the more intriguing VSL squads that the Rays have had in the last few years.
On the pitching side of things, Jorman Duarte had a solid year, posting an outstanding 1.99 ERA and 1.7 BB/9, though his 3.1 K/9 was not good. Duarte was actually tied for the Rays’ highest bonus in the 2011-2012 period with German Marquez. At the time of his signing he threw in the upper-80s with the projection to eventually sit in the mid-90s, and he also had an advanced changeup. So far his development has not gone well, but the 19-year-old is not a totally lost cause yet. Also having a nice year in the VSL Rays rotation was Kevin Cazorla, who threw to an outstanding 1.37 ERA with a 2.0 BB/9 and a 5.7 K/9. At 20 years old and still in the VSL, Cazorla needs to improve quickly, but like Duarte his career is not over yet.
Offensively, 18-year-old Anthony Cantillo had a nice pro debut. The utility infielder hit .319/.375/.375 over 50 games while seeing time at second, short, and third. At just 5’10” and 145 pounds, though, Cantillo is going to continue to struggle hitting for power as he moves forward. Also contributing to the offense was 18-year-old first baseman Kevin Barrios, who hit .277/.303/.401. Like Duarte, Barrios signed back in the 2011-2012 period, and the fact he is still in the VSL is concerning. Still, Barrios was below the league average age, and he’s shown nice bat speed in the past, so there is something to work with moving forward.
The biggest letdown on the VSL Rays was, by far, Frehumar Rivas, who was a six-figure signing in the 2012-2013 period. At that time, the left-handed Rivas threw in the 87-89 MPH range, but his 6’1”, 150 pound frame meant he could eventually sit in the mid-90s. After throwing just 6.1 innings in the VSL in 2013, the Rays hoped Rivas could rebound in 2014, but after throwing just 5.1 innings this season, Rivas was released.
The most disappointing position player, meanwhile, was 17-year-old outfielder Randhi Balcazar, who hit just .236/.269/.277 in his first pro season. Balcazar was a six-figure signing in the 2013-2014 period, making him one of the younger players on the team. He is a plus runner and already plays above-average defense in center, with the chance to become a plus defender in the future. As this year showed, though, his bat is well behind his defense and needs significant refinement.
Other Players To Watch
Catcher Alexander Alvarez joined Balcazar in the 2013-2014 signing class, and like Balcazar he did not do well in his pro debut, hitting .231/.281/.328. Still, the 17-year-old only recently converted from third base to catcher, and the added pressure of learning such a technical position could have had an impact on his bat. Alvarez is certainly a name to keep an eye on, but as a catcher it may take a few years before he puts up consistent results.
Fellow catcher Rene Pinto also is a name to watch moving forward. Pinto was marginally better than Alvarez at the plate, hitting .264/.318/.347. The six-figure signing from the 2013-2014 class has shown a nice swing and advanced hitting at points, but he is wildly inconsistent and his defense is rudimentary at this point.
Also making his pro debut from the 2013-2014 class was 17-year-old Luis Serrano, who put up a solid 3.46 ERA in 26.0 innings, though his 4.5 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 were not anything to be excited about. Serrano was a six-figure signing, and he’s already thrown in the 89-91 MPH range with the ability to add muscle to his 6’1”, 180 pound frame. He’s also shown some feel for his mid-70s curveball and low-80s changeup.
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Last but not least is right-handed pitcher Abrahan Rodriguez, who was a six-figure signing from the 2011-2012 signing class. Rodriguez missed 2012 due to injury, and that led to him returning to the VSL as a 19-year-old. He was solid for the VSL Rays, posting a 3.08 ERA, 6.2 K/9, and 1.9 BB/9. The Rays rewarded him for his efforts by sending him stateside at the end of the season for a three-game cameo with the GCL Rays, where he allowed three runs in 6.0 innings. Rodriguez has touched the 90s with his fastball and can add weight at 6’2”, 180 pounds. His breaking ball and changeup are raw, but now that he is healthy he can get working on developing his overall package. He’s also shown a nice feel for pitching so far as a pro.
All in all, despite the underwhelming record, this VSL Rays team features quite a few players that could end up turning into legitimate prospects. Of course, being the Rays lowest affiliate, these players are all many years off from the big leagues. Still, these guys are worth keeping tabs on for the moment, and maybe one or two of them can end up making a big league impact for the Rays in the future.