Caribbean World Series Preview
Three and a half months of baseball in the sunny climes of the Caribbean have reduced the number of teams still playing from 28 to just four. The double round-robin begins on Friday, with the best record winning the series. Here is a preview of the Caribbean World Series.
The Favorite – Leones de Escogido: The defending 2012 champion won the Dominican Winter League for the second straight season and the third time in the last four years. The Lions are short on prospects, but long on experience. Escogido features a veteran rotation headed by Daniel Cabrera and Edward Valedez with Steven Wright (Boston), Randy Keisler, Justin Fitzgerald (San Francisco) and Daniel Corcino (Cincinnati) each getting five starts. The bullpen is chocked full of veterans lead by closer Pedro Strop (Baltimore). Also available are Major Leaguers Nelson Figueroa (Arizona) and Runelvys Hernandez, along with Kris Johnson (Pittsburgh). The only Cubs prospect is pitcher Lendy Castillo, who hasn’t seen any action since December 2.
The best prospect on Leones is centerfielder Starling Marte (Pittsburgh) who hit .304 during the regular season. Right Fielder Roger Keischnick (Boston) supplied some power by belting four home runs. The starting eight is also loaded with vets led by first baseman Mauro Gomez (Boston), who led the team in home runs (8) and RBI (38). Rounding out the infield are third baseman Fernando Tatis, shortstop Julio Lugo, second baseman Ramon Santiago (Detroit) and corner infielder Willy Aybar.
But success has its drawbacks. By sweeping the finals more than a week ago, they can be the best rested, or coldest, team in the finals. Nevertheless, Leones has the pedigree of a champion. And while Escogido neither lead their league in hitting nor pitching, these felines are crafty enough to take it all.
The Dark Horse – Yaquis de Obregon: While a quirk in the rules allowed the Yaquis to advance in the playoffs, they won eight of their last nine games to sweep their way to a third straight Mexican Pacific League championship. The LPM takes six teams into their playoffs and then pairs them off in a seven game series. The three winners plus the loser with the best regular season record advance. While the Tribe lost their opening series to Guasave, they moved on and defeated regular season champ Culiacan in five games … then swept Mexicali in the finals.
Former Cubs prospect Marco Carrillo heads the rotation, which also includes Rolando Valdez and Arturo Lopez. David Reyes and Bobby Cramer each had eight starts, while former Cubs farmhand, swingman Oswaldo Martinez, had six. The bullpen was pretty airtight with Iowa Cubs pitcher Esmailin Caridad leading the league in holds, while Greg Burke (Mets) had 11 saves and Luis Ayala (Baltimore) chipped in four more.
Former Iowa Cubs’ shortstop Alfredo Amezaga (LA Dodgers) led the league in hitting, while first baseman Barbaro Canizeras and second baseman Carlos Valencia each bashed 17 home runs. An “X-factor” could be catcher Iker Franco. Franco didn’t have a great season, but was a hero for the Yaquis when they won the Caribbean World Series in 2011.
Out of all the teams in the tournament, no one may be hotter than the Yaquis. However, their success may have worked against them, as clinching early may have given Obregon time to cool down.
The New Kids – Criollos de Caugas: The Creoles were the first non-repeating champion to qualify for the Caribbean World Series. The Creoles knocked off the defending champs Mayaguez in the new Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League. Unlike Escogido and Obregon, Caugas made it here with a blend of under-30 year old veterans with a few prospects sprinkled in. Some of those prospects are second baseman Rey Navarro (Kansas City), who was third in the league with a .333 batting average. Shortstop Luis Mateo (St. Louis) finished seventh in the league with a .313 batting average and third baseman Andy Gonzalez (White Sox) was eight with a .311 average. Veteran centerfielder Jorge Padilla was tenth in hitting at .310, while DH Johnny Monell (San Francisco) and first baseman Carlos Rivera tied for the league lead with seven home runs. Gonzalez led the league with 27 RBI and Rivera tied for second with 26 RBI.
The pitching staff led the league with a 3.33 ERA. Their rotation is anchored by Kelvin Villa, who tied for the league lead with 41 strikeouts and was fourth with a 2.93 ERA. Fernando Hernandez (Toronto) led the league with five victories and lefty Mark Cahoon (NY Mets) was a solid third starter. The bullpen is among the best in the tournament with Ricardo Gomez leading the way with 14 saves, while Saul Rivera chipped in with another nine saves.
While the level of play in the LBPRC can be considered lower than the rest of the leagues, the Criollos are a balanced enough team to make some noise.
The Powerhouse - Navegantes de Magallanes: No other team in tournament lines up with as much star power as the Nav’s. Whether it’s their top of the batting order in Endy Chavez (Kansas City), Elvis Andrus (Texas) and Pablo Sandoval (San Francisco) or the top of their rotation of Carlos Zambrano and Gustavo Chacin, Magallanes is loaded. A team on a mission, the Pathfinders set out to get the best players in order to win it all. Magallanes was able to bring in other Major Leaguers during their regular season including Jose Altuve (Houston) and Ramon Hernandez (Colorado). However, catcher/first baseman Eliezer Alfonzo (LA Dodgers) tied for the league lead with 16 home runs and was fourth in RBI (43), while catcher Carlos Maldonado (Washington) was fourth in home runs with twelve. The only prospect to crack this line-up was outfielder Ezequiel Carrera (Cleveland).
Along with Zambrano and Chacin the rotation includes Sergio Perez, who led the league with nine victories and was second with 59 strikeouts. Added for the playoffs, former Cubs’ farmhand Austin Bibens-Dirkx (Toronto) was second with a 2.35 ERA and third in strikeouts with 57. The bullpen is solid with Enrique Gonzalez logging 11 saves, while prospect Bruce Rondon (Detroit) provided another nine saves.
Although Navegantes had all of this prestige to their roster, and they had the best record in both the regular season and in the round-robin, there were some concerns. Magallanes neither led the league in pitching or hitting. They struggled mightily with Cardenales de Lara, a much less talented team, in the Venezuelan League finals. They are also dealing with some bad karma from the past with some shabby treatment of their players by management and the media. Will they overcome some of these questions and realize their goal?
The Caribbean World Series begins on Friday, February 1 and ends Wednesday, February 6.