Tuesday, February 03, 2015


After all of the shuffling of rosters that goes on between the individual league championships and the Caribbean Series, I have spotted seven current or former Independent players who are on the 28-man rosters for these climactic winter league games being played now in Puerto Rico. There may be others.

The Camden (NJ) RiverSharks of the Atlantic League should have considerable interest with a trio of their former players involved. Catcher Rene Rivera, expected to carry a significant load with Tampa Bay this season, went 1-for-4 with an RBI in Puerto Rico’s opening 5-2 loss to Venezuela. Jon Velasquez, who will be an invitee in the New York Mets’ spring training camp, is on the Puerto Rican mound staff and first baseman Marquez Smith (Cincinnati farm system) is with Mexico. Velasquez also played for Rockland County in the Can-Am League.

Another Atlantic Leaguer with Mexico is Gary Majewski, a strong part of the Sugar Land, TX bullpen the last three seasons. Venezuela has a trio of Indy players, including catcher Jose Gil (Lincoln, NE, American Association), who played a big role in that opening victory by going 2-for-3 with two runs. He hit .328 during the regular winter league season. Laredo, TX (American Association) right-hander Mark Serrano and first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor (Quebec, Can-Am and recently signed by Kansas City) also play for Venezuela. Fuenmayor was 0-for-4 in the opener.


It was significant news last summer when 32-year-old Yuniesky Gurriel became the first player to receive the Cuban government’s approval to play in North America, and the outfielder joined the Can-Am League’s Quebec Capitales. He likely will be back there this season after hitting .321 in 30 games.

MLB.com did a major feature on the Gurriel family (spelling it Gourriel) timed to the opening of the Caribbean Series because Lourdes Gurriel, Sr., is a baseball hero in Cuba and he has three quality baseball-playing sons. Yuniesky played center field for Havana this winter although he is not on the Caribbean Series roster, while Yulieski and youngest brother Lourdes, Jr. both are infielders on the team. Yulieski is expected to return to Japan for the regular season and Lourdes may join him. Cuba has dropped its first two games, losing 6-1 to the Dominican Republic today (Tuesday).


It is unquestioned that Boston outfielder Daniel Nava has been one of Independent Baseball’s biggest success stories. Now the onetime Golden League Player of the Year (Chico, CA) has his biggest contract at $1.85 million, and the switch-hitter is thinking about trying to bat only from the left side where he has been much stronger.

“Essentially, all I’m doing different is just trying to see how lefty on lefty feels,” he told WEEI Radio in Beantown recently. “But I’m still going to be working as a switch-hitter…I really have to see what lefty-lefty feels like. But I’m open to doing (it) to hopefully get myself on the field more and be more productive.”

THE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL INSIDER will resume in March. Request a free sample column from December in order to be automatically reminded when the column starts for 2015.

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