Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, MiLB.com will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. Past recaps include the Dominican Winter League, Mexican Pacific League and Puerto Rican League.
Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, MiLB.com will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. Past recaps include the <a href="https://www.milb.com/milb/news/winter-ball-roundup-dominican-republic" target="blank" >Dominican Winter League, Mexican Pacific League and Puerto Rican League._
In August, the Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional issued a statement that suggested staging a season may be impossible in 2020-21 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ordinarily featuring October season openers followed by a campaign of over 60 games, the LVBP couldn’t make its usual Opening Day happen.
By November, the league was back.
In a season that featured just 40 games -- and the league’s eight teams split into two divisions for the first time since 2006-07 to play in “pod” locations -- the Venezuelan circuit survived and even marked new milestones while bringing the country’s beloved sport back.
On a rainy Nov. 27 that forced two postponements, the league embarked on its shortened campaign. Due to economic and travel constraints from the pandemic and other factors, only three clubs hosted games in their home ballparks: the Cardenales de Lara in Barquisimeto, Navegantes del Magallanes in Valencia and the Tigres de Aragua in Maracay with the Aguilas del Zulia, Bravos de Margarita, Caribes de Anzoátegui, Leones del Caracas and Tiburones de la Guaira traveling between the bubbles.
A fourth venue, Estadio Forum de La Guaira, hosted games as a neutral site and dropped jaws around baseball with its seaside backdrop. That ballpark, located on the coast just north of Caracas, eventually will serve as the Tiburones’ home venue and had been under construction since 2013.
Over the next six weeks, the LVBP’s eight teams raced through the compressed schedule and into a tightened playoff structure. Ordinarily a modified format round robin featuring all eight clubs, the postseason was a four-team affair in 2020-21 with the top two squads from each division qualifying.
Both semifinal series went the full seven games with the Eastern Division-champion Caribes outlasting the Western second-place finishers Navegantes on one side of the bracket and Western Division-champion Cardenales doing the same to the Tigres, who finished second in the East.
Despite the drama of the league’s semis, there wasn't much in the championship series -- at least in the final results – despite three one-run ballgames. The Caribes roared to a 2-0 series lead over the Cardenales in the best-of-7 set with a 6-0 victory in the opener and a 1-0 triumph in 11 innings in Game 2. Caribes pitchers allowed just 10 hits through the series’ first two games.
After a 9-6 win in Game 3, Anzoátegui was one victory away from a sweep and a trip to the Caribbean Series. In a roller-coaster affair, Lara knotted the score at 7-7 in the top of the ninth and forced extras, but the home team rallied. In the 10th, former Major Leaguer Niuman Romero singled in former Rays prospect Cristhian Pedroza with the winning run. The walk-off gave the Caribes their fourth league championship since 2011.
Former Rangers prospect Luis Sardiñas was named series MVP after batting .412/.444/.471 in the four-game sweep.
The Caribes advanced to the Caribbean Series in Mazatlan, where they went 1-4, coming one win shy of advancing from the six-team round robin to the four-team knockout round.
Travel restrictions have cut down on Venezuela’s status as a prospect proving ground for winter ball in recent years, but the league wasn't devoid of young talent. Most notably, No. 21 Padres prospect Eguy Rosario excelled for the Bravos de Margarita. In 27 games, Rosario batted .327/.393/.429 with two triples, six doubles, 18 runs scored, 13 RBIs and eight stolen bases in as many attempts.
Rosario last played in the Minors with Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore in 2019, and at just 19 years old for the bulk of his season in the California League, the infielder thrived. While working defensively at second base, third and shortstop, Rosario batted .278/.331/.412 in 122 games for a .742 OPS, 72 points higher than he posted at the same level in one fewer game in 2018.
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.