Balentien is One of Many VSL Products (Photo: M's)
InsidethePark.com's Joseph A. Yencich takes a quick look at what's happening in the Venezuelan Summer League. The Mariners are one of the most aggressive and successful organizations in finding and developing talent through the Latin countries, using the VSL. Check out who the standouts have been of late.
The past few weeks have been up and down for the Mariner’s Venezuelan Summer League team in Aguirre. One week they’ve taken six of seven, and the next they’ve lost four straight. Luckily, few of the losses have been by large margins, and if these stretches teach us anything, it’s who can be counted on for their consistency. At just three games out, they still have a chance to take the league title before the season is over.
One of the biggest surprises recently has been the pitching of Edgar Guaramato. Guaramato, 19, was previously a light-hitting infielder that batted .107 in limited time last season. From the mound, however, he’s been making opposing teams feel just as uncomfortable in the batter’s box as he used to feel.
The right-hander recently won the league’s pitcher of the week honor after going eight innings in his start, holding Venoco #1 to two hits and two walks while striking out four. For the season, the kid with the rocket arm has pitched in 45.1 innings, the most on the team, while holding opponents to a .185 average. Guaramato’s 45 strikeouts leads the team.
Another surprise has been the strong return of Juan Fuentes to the lineup. Fuentes, considered a significant signing in the off season, missed some time early on due to an injury to his throwing arm. Though he was hitting around the Mendoza line before he was pulled from the lineup, since returning the 18-year-old has become a powerful force at the plate, bringing his average up to .301/.363/.355 for the year.
Fuentes’ value hasn’t been limited to his offense either, though he has spent a good portion of his time in the designated hitters role. He’s put up a .979 fielding percentage (only one error!) while splitting time between third and behind the plate. Between Fuentes and the emergence of fellow rookie Jair Fernandez, who is batting .307/.400/.409, the catcher position has been far from a black hole in the lineup, with both regularly batting in the middle of the order. Given the M’s recent draft and the performance of these two players, the catcher position looks like it will be a great strength for the organization in the coming years.
No recap of the VSL would be complete without a nod to the performance of Luis Valbuena, though the slump that afflicted the entire team did get to him as well, he is now batting a “paltry” .380/.465/.590. Valbuena currently leads the team in every offensive category except home runs and stolen bases, giving greater credibility to his overall offensive performance and potential. Among the most impressive things about the 18-year-old’s season has been his incredible plate discipline, walking 27 times and striking out on just 15 occasions.
To top it all off, the regular second baseman has also been seeing some time in left field and behind the plate, and still has one of the highest fielding percentages on the team at .988 and leads the roster in assists with 142. Valbuena should start next year no lower than Everett and is likely to have a similar, if not greater impact than Jesus Guzman and Asdrubal Cabrera have had on their teams this season.