Of the 199 players currently in the Brewers' minor league system, 70 of those players (35%) signed with the Brewers directly out of either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. While the Brewers' major league roster only boasts one of their Latino signees (Valerio De Los Santos), the fruits of their Latin American efforts are growing by leaps and bounds every year.
Every year around the first week of June, baseball fans have their interest piqued by the June Amateur draft. This is a very important way to stock the minor leagues with talent, but the other important way, the signings of young kids out of Latin American countries, is largely overlooked by the casual baseball fan. It is understandable. Most of the signings are hardly, if at all, publicized, except when teams get in trouble for signing someone who was too young. And, the place is so relatively far away from the American baseball community, people hardly know what is going on.
It is a very important to have a strong presence in Latin America, though. The Brewers left their Dominican Academy largely unkempt for years, until the middle 90's,until they hired scout extraordinaire Epy Guerrero (along with scout Elvio Jimenez and Guerrero's son, Mike, who manages the team in the Dominican Summer League) to run their Academy in the Dominican and to start scouting and signing players down there much more aggressively. Obviously, when the young men you are signing may only be 16 (the minimum age that a team can legally sign a player), it takes time for the players to come through the system, and because the Brewers got such a late start on the talent gold mine in the Dominican and Venezuela, players are only now beginning to reach the upper levels of the system. Their most notable prospects from the efforts currently are Cristian Guerrero, Froilan Villanueva, Jose Mieses and Luis Martinez.
What I want to focus on today is about the next group of up and comers from Epy's efforts in Latin America. The following list will cover the top 10 Latino players not on the Power 50, that are playing below Beloit's level. I also am listing 10 more honorable mentions, numbers 11-20. Like The Power 50, these are all my opinions, and in many cases, I am making educated guesses at the potential of these players, because a lot of them play pretty far away. I will probably update this sometime before the end of the season, so stay tuned and watch for these names. I present The Epy Guerrero 10:
1. Mario Mendez, (projected position) RF, (height) 6'0, (weight) 170, (bats/throws) S/R, (current age) 20, (current club) Arizona
Mendez absolutely creamed his DSL competition the past couple seasons. While his frame isn't the biggest in the world, he appears to have plus contact, power and speed potential. He could well be this year's outfield version of Froilan Villanueva, minus the defensive versatility, but plus the speed. He hit a very good number of doubles last season, and while his home run totals weren't anything to shout about, home runs are generally hard to come by in the DSL, so a generous boost could be in the making over the next few season, with a potential of perhaps 20-25 per year at maturity. Like Villanueva, he was a bit old for the league, but if he is does well and is promoted fairly quickly, he could catch up to the competition in terms of age. Has good plate discipline and could be a decent leadoff hitter, in the Johnny Damon mold. He has a strong, compact swing at the plate, but will tend to uppercut from time to time.
2. Manuel Melo, CF, 6'1, 165, S/R, 20, Arizona
Melo possesses what could be the best speed in the organization. He stole an amazing 60 bases last season in the DSL, in only 70 games, which is a pace of about 130 over a full major league season. Obviously, the defensive level in the majors is a bit better than that of the DSL, but it is impressive nonetheless. Melo has middling gap power, but should be able to turn quite a few doubles into triples. He drew a good number of walks in the DSL, but also struck out more than you would like, so his plate discipline is at the questionable level at the moment. He is a decent contact hitter, but tends to get cheated at the plate and will swing at bad pitches or gets the bat knocked out of his hands from time to time. If he can put on some more weight, especially in the upper body, he could be a force to be reckoned with, but like Mendez, is a bit old and needs to progress fairly quickly.
3. Alvaro Martinez, RHS, 6'7, 195, R/R, 16, DSL
The first thing that jumps out about Martinez is that he is 6'7. The second thing that jumps out is that he isn't an overly slender 6'7 - he weighs a relatively hefty 195. The third, and probably biggest thing that jumps out, is that he is 6'7, 195 and he is only 16 (he turns 17 in about a month). Guerrero signed him this past October, and he just screams projection. As a 16 year old, he might only throw in the 70's or 80's right now, but in the next 2-3 year he could easily reach 90 with correct instruction, and he might even grow more, anywhere from an inch to 4-5 inches. Since he isn't that slender, it is almost thinkable he could hit about 6'10 by the time he turns 20. It's hard not get ahead of yourself thinking about the possibilities, and he could never pan out, but this youngster has a chance to be a monster in the making.
4. Carlos Ramirez, LHS, 6'3, 165, L/L, 17, Arizona
There aren't too many 16 year olds playing pro baseball in the U.S., but last year, Ramirez was one of them, for the first part of short season ball. He performed admirably against competition usually 2-3 years, and sometimes 5-6 year, older than himself. Ramirez has a very projectable and athletic frame. He is actually athletic enough where as he could play SS on the days he doesn't pitch, and hit pretty decently. However, the Brewers see him as a pitcher, because he has the arm strength to perhaps get into the middle 90's some day. He was impressively polished for a pitcher so young last season, as he walked only 9 in 37 innings, while hitting three and throwing no wild pitches. He'll probably be given another year in Maryvale to work on learning the fine points of being a pitcher, but this is a nice ballplayer whose future could be very bright.
5. Ales Correa, LHS, 6'4, 170, L/L, 19, Arizona
Correa is a pretty big guy himself, though he is a bit lanky for his height. This season will be his 4th in the organization and he has made good progress every year. He graduated from the DSL to the Arizona team last season, and really made strides in tacking down his control. While he had a 40/59 BB:K ratio in 2000 (63 innings pitched) , he responded to being in the States by posting a much more respectable 13:29 ratio in 32 innings pitched. He isn't even that overly wild - unlike a lot of lanky Latino tossers, Correa has never had a problem with wild pitches, as he has just 5 in 106 career innings, along with 5 hit batsmen. He turns 20 right around the time short season ball starts, so if he could jump to Ogden this season, we might have ourselves a good lefty prospect.
6. Jose Ventura, RHS, 6'5, 180, R/R, 19, DSL
A member of the starting rotation that single-handedly won the DSL Championship for the Brewers last season, it was a fairly big surprise he wasn't brought to Arizona's roster so far this spring. He has a very nice frame on paper, although it appears that he doesn't throw all that hard, yet. He turned 19 before the season, so if the Brewers do bring him over this season yet, he will still be fairly young for the league. Ventura has a career 1.86 ERA in 67.2 innings pitched (2000-2001), probably a result of good control - he has struck out 48 and walked only 12 in that time span. Even if he doesn't throw that hard now, with his size, there is a good chance for him to add some MPH, so he could really step up in the next year or so.
7. Domingo Heredia, RHS, 6'6, 185, R/R, 18, Arizona
Like Martinez, Heredia is another big project for the Brewers' staff. Signed this past offseason, Heredia is an inch shorter and a year and a half older than Martinez, but he still must make the scouts drool, especially since he is also pretty heftily built, at 185. It is also telling that the Brewers are starting him out right away in Arizona, so they must see something there. Because he has never pitched professionally, it is impossible to expect much of out of him right away, but in 2-3 years down the road, he could be a pretty imposing force on the mound.
8. Wilfrido Laureano, RHS, 6'6, 175, R/R, 18, DSL
Do you see a running theme here with the pitchers on the list? The Brewers and Epy Guerrero really seem to be going after tall, lanky, projectable pitchers in hopes of finding a stud, and Laureano fits that mold. He is about a month younger than Heredia and turned 18 in March. Once again, you look at his frame size, and that has to have scouts drooling. He isn't quite as bulky as Heredia or Martinez, but in order to become successful, they will all have to gain some weight anyways. Laureano pitched in 3 games last season in the DSL, and results were mixed in his 2.2 innings pitched, but that is obviously not something you can read into. He will be in line for a lot more innings this season, and may even get a shot in the DSL rotation.
9. Andri Gomez, 3B, 5'11, 165, S/R, 20, Arizona
Finally, another position player. Gomez had a solid year in the DSL in 2001, and that earned him a promotion to Arizona. Fairly slightly built at 5'11, 165, Gomez still has decent gap power, and runs the bases well. He has never really made very consistent contact, but he has good control of the strike zone and will take some walks. He may have the power to play third base on up the chain, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him tried out at second base or shortstop. He should be quick enough and have a strong enough arm for either. Andri is going to be 21 on Halloween, so he has to make his move pretty quickly, and this year would be a good year to start.
10. Melvin Perez, RHR, 6'5, 175, R/R, 20, Arizona
Perez played catcher for 2 years in the DSL before switching over to pitcher last season, and the results were dynamite. The DSL team's closer, Perez carved out a minuscule 1.18 ERA in 38 innings of work. He allowed just 23 hits and 18 walks, while striking out 56. He has a big build, and since he was signed as a catcher, he must have a pretty decent arm. It was impressive how well he took to the mound, and maybe being a catcher helped him to learn some things about pitching before he even got there. He will be 21 in July, so he's not young by any means, but relievers tend to move more quickly through the lower reaches of a system, so if he keeps up his pace, he could be on par with age level very soon.
11. Adolfo Cacimiro, LHP , 6'4, 175, L/L, 20, DSL; 12. Fausto Mejia, LF, 6'1, 160, R/R, 18, DSL; 13. Jose Valera, RHP, 6'3, 165, R/R, 19, DSL; 14. Luis Pena, RHP, 6'5, 160, R/R, 19, Arizona; 15. Yeison Franco, 2B/SS, 6'2, 158, S/R, 18, DSL; 16. Wandel Nova, LHP, 6'4, 158, L/L, 19, DSL; 17. Jesus Querales, 2B/SS, 6'0, 146, S/R, 18, VSL; 18. Erick Gori, RHP, 6'4, 190, R/R, 17, VSL; 19. Wington Flandes, RHP, 6'4, 175, R/R, 19, DSL; 20. Jose Leon, C, 6'2, 180, R/R, 19, VSL.
Offensive Player Of The Week:
The chain of High Desert players has finally been broken, as Beloit Snapper Brad Nelson takes home the honors this week for Offensive Player Of The Week. Brad continued to do what he has been doing all season: mashing the ball. It just so happens that this past week he was doing it even better than his cohorts in California. In 21 at-bats, Nelson hit .429/.455/1.000. He jacked 3 home runs, added 3 more doubles and hit 3 other singles. He also knocked in 12 runs. Brad was drafted in the 4th round of last year's June draft out of an Iowa high school. The 19-year-old firstbaseman bats left, throws right, is 6'2 and weighs 220 pounds.
Last Week: DJ Clark, 3B, High Desert
May 6th: Pete Zoccolillo, OF, High Desert
April 29th: Corey Hart, 1B, High Desert
April 22nd: Ryan Thompson, OF, Indianapolis
April 15th: Ryan Knox, OF, High Desert
Pitcher Of The Week:
The chain of High Desert players breaks again with our Pitcher Of The Week. Derek Lee takes home the first award for Huntsville in either player category, despite the fact the Stars have won Team Of The Week the past two weeks. Lee is a veteran of the team, as he has been there for the better part of 4 seasons now. This past week was one of his better ones. He made 2 starts, pitched 10 innings and allowed only 1 run, on 11 hits and 6 walks, while striking out 9. He had just been moved into the rotation from the bullpen, so that makes his week all the more impressive. Derek is a 27 year old Texan who was drafted in the 26th round, way back in the 1996 June draft out of TCU. He is a 6'4, 185 pound lefty.
Last Week: Ryan Miller, SP, High Desert
May 6th: Doug Dent, SP, High Desert
April 29th: Justin Gordon, SP, High Desert
April 22nd: Brian Nielsen, SP, Beloit
April 15th: Andrew Lorraine, SP, Indianapolis
Team Of The Week:
Not to be shut out, this week's Team Of The Week award goes to the High Desert Mavericks. The Mavs went 5-2 last week and continued to hold onto first place in the Cal League's South Division. They had, by their accounts, a light-hitting week at the plate, as the team only managed to hit 4 home runs. However, they did still manage 4 triples and 13 doubles, which made up for a large part of the homer failure. The team also drew 26 walks, including 7 from Pete Zoccolillo, 6 from Dave Krynzel and 5 from Corey Hart. The pitching staff also had a good week, as 6 pitchers posted ERAs under 3.00, a good feat for the league. This included rotation members Ben Hendrickson (1.64 ERA in 2 starts, 11 innings) and Pete Smart (1.13 ERA in 1 start, 8 innings).
Last Week: Huntsville Stars
May 6th: Huntsville Stars
April 29th: None
April 22nd: High Desert Mavericks
April 15th: Indianapolis Indians.