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An impressive new "Latin Trifecta" in Lake County

An impressive new "Latin Trifecta" in Lake County
July 27, 2011
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Jesus Aguilar (Photo: IPI)
A few years back the Indians had a “Latin Trifecta” in right-handed pitchers Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Rondon as well as left-handed pitcher Kelvin De La Cruz. All three pitched well in the lower levels, have been three of the Indians best pitching prospects the past few years, and all three are currently on the 40-man roster.

But things have not materialized as hoped for all three as only Gomez has lived up to the billing and made it to the big leagues. Rondon was on the cusp of the big leagues before an elbow injury resulted in Tommy John surgery last year, and De La Cruz has battled injuries and consistency and was recently went on the disabled list at Double-A Akron with shoulder inflammation.

You win some and lose some, and there is still a chance that all three make it to the big leagues.

Fast forward to today and a new “Latin Trifecta” exists at Low-A Lake County, this time on the position player front with first baseman Jesus Aguilar, third baseman Giovanny Urshela, and catcher Alex Monsalve. They are three of the fastest rising prospects in the Indians system with the talent to keep rising; however, like their predecessors Gomez, Rondon and De La Cruz time will tell what ultimately happens with them.

Aguilar, 21, is enjoying a big breakout season for Lake County hitting .292 with 19 HR, 68 RBI, and a .912 OPS in 94 games. He originally was signed as a third baseman and played first base and outfield his first pro season, but has since been developed solely as a first baseman the last two years. His power has been on display for Captains fans on a nightly basis where he has been a doubles, home run, and RBI machine, and he has also showed some ability as a defender at first base.

“I feel more comfortable and am more patient at the plate trying to hit the pitch that I like,” Aguilar said with the help of trainer Juan Acevedo as interpreter, who also assisted in translating for Urshela and Monsalve. “I am more successful now because I am more patient. Hitting is a big challenge. Pitchers have seen me and are trying to pitch me tougher by mixing their pitches. I am trying to be patient until I see the pitch that I can hit and if not I will take the walk.”

Urshela, 19, is having another solid season hitting .236 with 7 HR, 38 RBI, and a .607 OPS in 92 games. His numbers are solid because he is playing in a league where he is roughly two to three years below the league average age. He flashes very good defensive ability at the hot corner, and his offensive game continues to improve.

“So far my season is no better or worse, but I am maintaining my daily work to be successful,” Urshela said. “Early in the season I felt a little uncomfortable defensively, but now I feel very comfortable out there. I feel pretty good right now because I have been working hard on my lower body and with my core so I can get more quickness to the groundballs to my left and right.”

Monsalve, 19, is even younger than Urshela and he has shown a lot of growth this season, particularly as a hitter where in 90 games he is hitting .281 with 5 HR, 37 RBI, and a .710 OPS. He is an aggressive hitter with some thunder in his bat that is still growing and making strides both offensively and defensively.

“So far the season is going pretty well,” Monsalve said. “I am trying to improve every single day and I feel like everything is going well for me. The main challenge for me is I am trying to focus more on blocking balls and get in front of balls better.”

All three players are making adjustments and growing as players.

Aguilar is showing an ability to hit a breaking ball as about half of his home runs have been off a breaking pitch and a lot of his homers have been to the opposite field. Urshela is showing improvement hitting balls on the outer half of the plate. Monsalve is improving as a catcher and hitter.

Even with all the progress each has made, they are still working on getting better.

Giovanny Urshela (Photo: IPI)
“I feel comfortable now as I have been doing the same thing I have been doing since spring training at first base,” Aguilar said. “I have not many problems as I have been confident and making the routine play. The main thing I need to work on is my footwork, and I believe that when I get better quickness that I will be more successful as a first baseman.”

All three players have different stories on how they came into the Indians system. Aguilar was signed out of Venezuela in November of 2007 with little fanfare as he was more of an under the radar signing. On the flipside both Urshela and Monsalve were high profile six figure signings in July of 2008.

The signing process was a long and hard process to go through. The transition to pro ball was also tough, which is something Urshela is happy to be done with.

“When I signed it was tough for me,” Urshela said. “I signed as a shortstop but when I went to the Dominican I had to learn to play a new position at third base. And then when I came here to the United States I had a culture shock. So it took some time to get accustomed to things.”

Being from Columbia it can be hard to get noticed, but if you can play the scouts will find you. The Indians had a scout covering Columbia and saw Urshela play in a tournament, worked him out privately, and after several more tryouts for more Indians personnel the rest is history.

“There are not many scouts in Columbia,” Urshela said. “What the Indians did is they got a scout in Columbia who I did a tryout for, and he then brought me to Venezuela and Lino Diaz saw me, and then he brought me to the Dominican to make another tryout and then I signed.”

The tryout process for Aguilar and Monsalve was much the same, though since they both come from Venezuela it was easier for them to get noticed since it is a country that Major League Baseball has a very strong scouting presence.

In fact, Monsalve worked out and signed at the same time Urshela did, and ever since they have been roommates and good friends.

“It has been a very long and hard adjustment since signing, but I am trying to improve,” Monsalve said. “I did several tryouts with the Indians in Venezuela and the Dominican, and I did the same tryout with Urshela in the Dominican and signed.”

All three players are learning how to live and “survive” in a foreign country since they know very little English. All of the Indians’ Latin players take English classes two times a week, but it can be harder for some to pick it up than others.

For a player like Monsalve it is very important for him to pick up the English language since he is a catcher and needs to lead the defense and most importantly needs to be able to effectively communicate with his pitchers. For a player like Urshela and Aguilar who are corner infielders, it is not as important, but they still view it as important so they can communicate with their teammates and it would also make their every day life much easier.

“Compared to the first year I was here it is a lot different,” Urshela said. “I had a lot of trouble with getting something to eat and flying. I didn’t know how to speak to anybody and was just trying to survive. Right now so far I feel different as I can communicate with everyone around here and am understanding a lot more. The main thing is to be able to communicate with everyone so I can buy something to eat (laughter).”

Alex Monsalve (Photo: IPI)
In addition to learning a new language and how to fit into a new culture, they have to deal with being thousands of miles away from home. Being away from friends and family for so long and so far away is tough. They keep in touch with their families throughout the season with their cell phones, texts, e-mails, and also through Facebook and Skype.

“With baseball it is no different playing here or in Venezuela,” Aguilar said. “But on the personal side it is tough as I don’t have my family around, and I need to learn how to get around, how to go eat, and how to survive.”

Baseball is king in all the Latin countries. Everyone grows up loving the game by playing it daily from about the time they can walk, and are exposed to the professional side of the game on a nightly basis with all the winter league teams and even Major League Baseball games which air regularly.

Over the years Urshela grew fond of fellow countrymen Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera, two players he looked up to as a young shortstop.

“When I was a third baseman the player I always kept my eye on was Alex Rodriguez, but now that I am a catcher I always keep my eye on Victor Martinez because I love his hitting,” Monsalve said about the players who have influenced him the most.

With the season winding down all three players hope to continue the success they have had so far this season and make improvements in the areas they have struggled.

“The expectation for me is to finish the season healthy and maintain what I have been doing,” Aguilar said. “I am not worried about trying to move up or doing anything extra as I can’t control that.”

“One thing I am getting more confident with is my body,” Urshela said. “I have been working with the strength and conditioning department every day to improve my body strength so I am not tired in games. I am just trying to learn from the past. When the season is over I want to judge myself on what I did not improve and what I need to work on for next season.”

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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