8 teams set to begin Caribbean Series in Venezuela

February 2nd, 2023

For the first time in nine years, Venezuela will host the Caribbean Series, the traditional tournament of winter league champions that will kick off Thursday and run through Feb. 10. The unprecedented field of eight teams will compete in two stadiums in “Greater Caracas”: the brand-new Estadio Monumental de Caracas Simón Bolívar -- also known as Estadio de La Rinconada -- and Estadio Jorge Luis García Carneiro, home of the Tiburones de La Guaira.

With the debut of Curaçao in the tournament and the return of Cuba to accompany the champions of Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico (Pacific League), Puerto Rico, Colombia and Panama, there will be two games per day at each venue leading up to the semifinal and championship rounds.

“The important thing about returning to Venezuela is that it was one of the founders of what we know now as the Caribbean Series,” said Juan Francisco Puello Herrera, president of the Caribbean Confederation of Professional Baseball.

Indeed, with the resumption of the event in 1970 after a nine-year hiatus, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico rotated the hosting of the then four-team tournament for over four decades, before the expansion to five clubs in 2015 and eventually eight for this year. Now, nine years after the 2014 edition of the tournament at Margarita Island, Venezuela will once again serve as host country, represented by local champion Leones del Caracas.

“It’s an enthusiastic fan base,” Puello Herrera said, referring to the 20,000-plus attendance recorded for games in the Venezuelan League’s championship series, in which Caracas defeated La Guaira in six contests.

This year’s event will feature a seven-game, single round-robin schedule for each team. The first four clubs in the standings will advance to a single-elimination semifinal, followed by a championship contest on the last night of the tournament. There will also be a third-place game between the two teams eliminated in the semifinals.

Here are the clubs that will represent their countries in the 2023 Caribbean Series:

VENEZUELA: Leones del Caracas
After hitting the first walk-off home run to end a championship series in the history of the Venezuelan League on Monday, Harold Castro (signed to a Minor League deal by the Rockies after parts of five Major League seasons with the Tigers) will not continue with the Leones for the Caribbean Series. However, familiar names for MLB fans will abound on the roster, some from the Caracas club and others serving as “reinforcements” from other teams. Among them are pitchers Jhoulys Chacín, JC Ramírez and Guillermo Moscoso, catcher Wilson Ramos and infielders Orlando Arcia and Hernán Pérez.

With its Venezuelan League championship this year, the Leones have won 21 local titles, most in the country’s history. The club has won two Caribbean Series crowns, the last coming on Venezuelan soil in Maracay-Valencia in 2006.

Factoid: This will be the ninth Caribbean Series held in Caracas. In the previous eight, Venezuelan clubs have won only once, back in 1970 -- the first year of the “Second Stage” of the event after the aforementioned hiatus from 1961 to 1969.

After defeating the Estrellas Orientales in the championship series in the D.R. to become the winningest franchise in the country’s history with 23 titles, Licey will arrive in Caracas as the club with the most Caribbean Series championships, 10, while also representing the nation with the most crowns overall, 21. Manager José Offerman will have a deep starting rotation at his disposal, including right-hander César Valdez (signed to a Minor League deal by the Angels) and lefty Raúl Valdés, both with big league experience.

The club’s offensive attack will be anchored by Mel Rojas Jr., Robinson Canó and team captain Emilio Bonifacio. After hitting just .150/.183/.190 in 104 plate appearances in the 2022 Major League season with the Mets, Padres and Braves, Canó hit .300/.326/.325 in 10 games with the Estrellas in the Dominican League’s regular season and helped his club reach the championship series against Licey, with whom he’ll now serve as a reinforcement. In fact, this will be the third straight Caribbean Series for Canó, who hit .368 for the Águilas Cibaeñas (which won the 2021 tournament in Mexico) and .417 last year in the Dominican Republic for the country’s Gigantes del Cibao.

Factoid: Licey has won three Caribbean Series in Venezuela, in 1973, 1977 and 1994, the first of which was with Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda.

PUERTO RICO: Indios de Mayagüez
The late-season hiring of managing legend Max “Mako” Oliveras sparked the team into the playoffs, where the club eventually defeated the Gigantes de Carolina to capture their 19th Puerto Rican League title. In addition to Indios mainstay and D-backs infielder Emmanuel Rivera, regular-season MVP Edwin Díaz (Criollos de Caguas shortstop, not to be confused with the Mets’ closer), Vimael Machín (Phillies Minor League contract) and Jesmuel Valentín (son of former Major Leaguer José) have been added to the club, which lost catcher Roberto Pérez (signed by the Giants) and right-hander Dereck Rodríguez (son of Hall of Famer Iván Rodríguez, signed to a Minor League deal by the Twins) from the group that just won the championship in Puerto Rico.

Factoid: Oliveras, 76, will be seeking his third Caribbean Series championship as a manager, having won in 1993 and 2000 with Cangrejeros de Santurce.

MEXICO: Cañeros de Los Mochis
After winning its first Mexican Pacific League championship in 20 years, the Cañeros will play in Venezuela with a total of 18 reinforcements, since only 10 of the players that helped them defeat Algodoneros de Guasave in the Pacific League championship series will continue with the club for the Caribbean Series.

Among the Cañeros who will play out this stage of the season with the team is a familiar name: Yasmany Tomás, signed by the D-backs out of Cuba in 2014 and a veteran of parts of four Major League seasons with Arizona. In the 2022-23 winter league season, Tomás hit .328/.383/.510 (.893 OPS) with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and 57 RBIs in 66 games, winning league MVP honors.

Factoid: The Cañeros will be seeking their first Caribbean Series championship in three tries, and the 10th for Mexican teams overall.

CUBA: Agricultores
The 2022-23 campaign was the inaugural season of the Cuban Elite League, a consolidation of teams from the country’s traditional National Series. Agricultores, composed of personnel from the Granma and Las Tunas clubs in the National Series, defeated Portuarios in a seven-game championship series last month that went the distance.

This year also marks a return to the Caribbean Series for Cuba, which hadn’t had a representative in the tournament since 2018. After not participating in the event in its Second Stage starting in 1970, Cuba was included as a “guest country” in 2014 and played in five consecutive tournaments, winning the 2015 edition in Puerto Rico with Pinar del Río.

Factoid: In addition to the aforementioned championship in 2015, Cuban clubs won seven of 12 Caribbean Series played in the “First Stage” of the event from 1949 to 1960.

PANAMA: Federales de Chiquirí
Although this will be the Federales’ second participation in the Caribbean Series -- having been designated Panama’s representative in the 2021 edition after the country’s winter league was canceled due to COVID-19 -- the club just won its first local championship, sweeping Atlánticos in their best-of-five series.

Catcher Iván Herrera, the Cardinals’ No. 7 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s list, heads a roster that includes former Major League pitchers Severino González and Davis Romero.

Factoid: After stepping in at the last minute to replace Venezuela as host country in 2019, Panama returned to the Caribbean Series for the first time since the First Stage of the event (1949-60) and pulled off a huge upset in Panama City, winning the championship with Toros de Herrera.

COLOMBIA: Vaqueros de Montería
The Vaqueros will try to ride the momentum created by last year’s Caribbean Series champion, Caimanes de Barranquilla, who brought home Colombia’s first ever title.

Colombia celebrates winning the 2022 Caribbean Series (Fernando Llano/AP)

Although the club will not bring its most prominent power hitter, Reynaldo Rodríguez, to Caracas, he was replaced by Jordan Díaz, the A’s No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline. Dilson Herrera, another mainstay for Colombia as a reinforcement, is a former Mets top prospect and veteran of parts of four Major League seasons.

Factoid: After Colombian squads Vaqueros and Caimanes went a combined 0-10 in the country’s first two Caribbean Series in 2020 and 2021, the latter club staged one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history last year in the Dominican Republic with a victory in the championship game over the home country’s Gigantes del Cibao -- who were managed by Colombia native Luis “Pipe” Urueta.

CURAÇAO: Wildcats KJ74
Curaçao’s debut in the Caribbean Series will include familiar names to MLB fans, such as Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop and Andrelton Simmons, in addition to Wladimir Balentien, who 10 years ago set the record for most home runs in a single season in Japan with 60.

Factoid: After a 20-year championship drought, the Wildcats KJ74 club has won the last two titles in Curaçao.

MIAMI 2024
Next year, the Caribbean Series will be played in Miami’s loanDepot park, with a field of six winter league champions. It will be only the third time the tournament is held in the United States. In 1990 and 1991, the event was also in Miami, both times at the Orange Bowl.

“The excitement level is through the roof, because the idea is to be able to have a Caribbean Series every few years in other big league stadiums,” Puello Herrera said while discussing plans for next year. “We’re really high on that one.”