By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
The 2023 Caribbean Series starts on Thursday, and for the first time in the history of the tournament, eight teams will appear in the historic event, including Curacao, who will be playing for the first time, and Cuba, returning for the first time since 2019. The four invitees to the 2023 Caribbean Series are the Liga Profesional de Beisbol Colombiano’s Vaqueros de Monteria, Panama’s Probeis Federales De Chiriquri, Curacao, who will bring a team of professional players, and Cuba’s Elite League champion Agricultores.
Venezuela is set to mark the 65th Caribbean Series by opening up a new ballpark, Estadio De La Rinconada, in Caracas. La Rinconada will be sharing the event with Estadio Forum La Guaira. This is the first time Venezuela has hosted the Caribbean Series since 2014, when Margarita Island hosted the event at Estadio Nueva Esparta.
Team Curacao drew the majority of its players from their professional league, other international professional leagues, and Major League Baseball organizations. Curacao manager Hainley Statia will have a carefully curated roster for the Caribbean Series.
Pitchers such as Jordan Lucas, Jair Jurrjens and Shairon Martis will need to be in control of their mechanics and get ahead of their opponent’s offenses with first pitch strikes and working efficiently. The offense of Curacao will have notable players including Major League free agent Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop, and Jurickson Profar to round out their prolific lineup. Curacao will open up the Caribbean Series against Cuba at Estadio Forum La Guiara at 10:30 a.m. ET Thursday, with the game streaming on ESPN Deportes.
Colombia’s Vaqueros de Monteria will be making their second appearance in the Caribbean Series. Their first appearance came during their first season of existence, the 2019-2020 winter ball season. Vaqueros manager Ronald Ramirez will have a lot of eyes upon him, as Colombia will look to repeat as champions after Caimanes De Barranquilla won the nation’s first title last year.
Colombia will have to rely on pitching once again during the Caribbean Series. Returning Caribbean Series pitcher Eduar Perez will have to bring a veteran presence to the Vaqueros’ pitching staff. The offense of Vaqueros can also give them a spark, with guys Daniel Vellojin, Brayan Buelvas, and Dilson Herrera, all of whom could string great at-bats to help Colombia possibly edge their way into the semifinals. Colombia’s first game of the Caribbean Series will be against Puerto Rico on Thursday at 3 p.m. in Estadio Forum La Guaira. The game will be streaming on ESPN Deportes.
Panama’s Probeis Federales De Chiriquri will look to help their nation win their third championship in the Caribbean Series. Chirirquri manager Jose Mayorga will look to help his team win their first championship in their second appearance at the Caribbean Series. They had previously appeared in the 2021 Caribbean Series.
Pitching will be the biggest concern for Panama, since they just played in a 24 game regular season. Starting pitcher Steven Funtes will have to lead the pitching staff during the Caribbean Series, along with key pitchers Harold Arauz and Yusniel Padron expected to contribute with quality innings. Panama World Baseball Classic starting catcher Ivan Herrera and Probeis MVP Jhonny Santos will have to step up for Chiriquri’s offense against the powerhouse pitching of Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Panama’s first game of the Caribbean Series will be against Venezuela on Thursday at Estadio La Rinconada at 8:30 p.m. streaming on ESPN Deportes.
The first-ever champion of Cuba’s Elite League, Agricultores, came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Portuarios in the final series to march their way into Caracas for the Caribbean Series. Cuba’s last appearance in the series was in 2019, when Lenadores De Las Tunas, the winner of the 2018-2019 Cuba Serie Nacional season, lost to Panama’s Toros de Herrera in the championship game.
Cuba has eight championships in the Caribbean Series. It will be an uphill battle for Agricultores manager Carlos Marti to get into the win column with the likes of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela’s pitching staff during the opening round of the Caribbean Series. Osvaldo Abreu, the hero in game seven of the Elite League final with his game-ending single in the bottom of the ninth, will have to dial in on top pitching that more than likely exceeds the talent that he is seeing in the Serie Nacional and Elite League in Cuba.
Raico Santos will provide a veteran presence for the offense of Agricultores, especially having played in Mexico during the winter league season, splitting time with Venados de Mazatlan and Mayos de Navojoa. For Cuba, pitching will be the biggest question during the tournament, as Yoel Mogena, Yunior Castillo, and Andy Vargas will be filling some huge roles for both ends of the pitching staff. Cuba will face a big test for the group of Serie Nacional and Elite League players going up against key MLB free agents and players playing in the high minor leagues with MLB organizations. It could inpact their ability to come out with a lot of wins in the 2023 Gran Caracas Caribbean Series.
All Caribbean Series Games will be streamed on ESPN Deportes from Feb. 2-10.