Colombia’s victory in Caribbean Series proves expanded strength in region

The Dominican Republic squad was pretty confident going into the championship game in this year’s Caribbean Series tournament against underdog Colombia. The Cibao Gigantes (Giants) had been there before the last three years, plus they were playing before the home crowd at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. In addition, the Dominicans were stacked with the services of major leaguers like Wilin Rosario, Jose Seri, Marcell Ozuna and Robinson Cano. But their South American opponents weren’t intimated.

The Barranquilla Caimanes (Alligators) swallowed up the Giants for dinner in a 4-1 triumph in this David vs. Goliath battle that shocked everyone, especially since Colombia had never won a game in 10 previous tries in this event. You see, Barranquilla is in the northern part of the country that borders Venezuela and a new hotbed for Latino talent in the region. Former big league star Edgar Renteria is a native of this city, as well as several current players who have made it to “The Show.” That being said, this group of veterans and youngsters who won in Santo Domingo were void of any “name” recognition except perhaps catcher Sandy Leon, who is actually from Venezuela.

The Caimanes drew first blood on back to back doubles from journeymen infielders Mauricio Ramos and Dilson Herrera that scored one run, followed by an RBI single from 20 year old outfielder Brayan Buelvas. That was all the runs Colombia needed thanks to starting pitcher Elkin Alcala, 25, a former Miami Marlins farmhand who scattered four hits over five plus innings to get the win. After that, a bullpen by committee shut down the Gigantes the rest of the way behind some excellent defensive plays by Barranquilla.

It should be noted that the Caribbean Series dates back to the early 1950’s. The only permanent members of the confederation are the D.R., Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico because they are deemed to have the strongest winter league programs. So in order to coordinate a six team round robin event, two other countries are “invited” to play every year. But I’m guessing that due to their strong showing this year, Colombia will be given an elevated status in the future. Since the tournament sites rotate every year, it would be a huge boost if Barranquilla would be given the opportunity to host one of these events in the near future.

As for potential major league prospects on the Colombia club, I predict that Alcala will be picked up by a team this year as an independent free agent, that is if a season actually gets underway. The Cartagena native is not overpowering and pitches to contact. But Elkin is a durable strike-thrower who has a quality assortment of pitches. The real deal though, is Buelvas, an Oakland A’s property projected to make the varsity in 2023. Although a bit on the small side, this kid hits for good power, has an excellent arm and runs like a deer.

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