Venezuela will lean on D-backs trio in Classic
Montero, Parra and Prado will join fellow countrymen in Puerto Rico next week
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's 8:10 a.m. on Tuesday morning in the D-backs' clubhouse, and the card game in the middle of the room is already in full swing.
A trio of young prospects wave Gerardo Parra in, showing him how they've already dealt him a hand, but the outfielder gives them the palm, the universal stop sign, then points at his bat and shuffles off to the batting cages.
Parra had just wrapped up a few sets in the weight room, but there was still work to do before the team hit the field for the daily stretching routine, so he disappears almost as quickly as he had appeared.
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Third baseman Martin Prado walks in from the weight room a few minutes later. The prospects give him a respectful nod and watch the veteran pick up a bat and depart for the cages to join Parra.
It's still early in camp, and you don't have to speak Spanish to understand that nobody disturbs Prado while he works. Nobody. And definitely not for an early morning card game.
The same treatment goes for Miguel Montero. This is his team, so, not surprisingly, the catcher is among the first players in the weight room each morning and the first in line for extra batting practice before breakfast.
Montero and Prado are leading by example, and both are hoping Parra is paying close attention. So far, so good.
Next week, the trio will join their Venezuelan countrymen in Puerto Rico in the first round of the World Baseball Classic. Their ultimate goal is to win the title. They are also using the tournament as a springboard for a division race that few outside the clubhouse think the D-backs can win, and that's fine with them, too.
"I don't care what it is -- we want to win it all," Montero said. "We don't believe in second place. For me, second place is the first loser, and I don't like losing."
Montero never minces words, and that's part of the reason his teammates love him. Whether he's talking about a pitching prospect that shook off his signs too many times or squaring off against the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Spain in Pool C at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Montero speaks his mind, and he doesn't apologize for it.
"Venezuela, we're a good team and we have a good chance to win it all," Montero said. "It's about the timing. If we are all on the same page, we can compete with anybody and beat anybody. I don't care who it is."
It's hard to blame Montero for feeling confident. The Venezuela roster is made up of stars like Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera, Texas' Elvis Andrus, Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez, San Francisco's Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval, along with Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player Award winner.
Venezuela finished 3-3 and was eliminated in the second round in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. Three years later, the country was eliminated by South Korea in the semifinals and finished with a 6-2 record.
"There are a lot of emotions in my mind right now and it's hard to describe," Prado said. "This is going to be my first one, and it means a lot to me to represent my team and my country. I watched the first two on television. I was excited and I wasn't even playing."
Prado said he turned down an invitation to play for Venezuela in 2006 because it coincided with his first invitation to big league camp with the Braves. He declined again in '09 because he didn't want to lose his job as the club's super-utility player. This year, Prado, who was acquired by Arizona from the Braves in the Justin Upton deal, is penciled in as the D-backs' everyday third baseman, and the timing is just right.
Parra, who played for Venezuela in 2009 a few months before making his big league debut, is the only player among the three to have played in a previous World Baseball Classic.
"Unbelievable experience," Parra said. "It was amazing. It's a tough group this year, but we have a good team, and hopefully we'll have some good luck and play united. [If] we do that, we can win it."
There is a lot at stake for Parra this spring. He is currently competing with Adam Eaton for the starting spot in center field. And with Jason Kubel back in left field and Cody Ross in penciled in right field, there's a chance Parra could once again start the season as the club's fourth outfielder.
Parra, who won a Gold Glove in left field in 2011, was replaced at the position last year, when the club signed Kubel. There is speculation that Parra, who will be 26 on May 6, could still receive as many as 500 at-bats this season because he plays all three outfield positions, but there are no guarantees.
"I'm not thinking about my role right now," Parra said. "I just have to work hard, and when they call my name, I'll give them the best I have. I really don't feel any pressure. I am just asking God to give me health and patience. The rest will work out."
It's no secret that Montero is Parra's most vocal fan and that Montero believes his countryman deserves a chance to be an everyday outfielder. Prado is also a staunch supporter.
"Parra is getting into that zone that it takes to compete every day at this level," Prado said. "He listens and asks a lot of questions. He's starting to execute the answers he is getting. The thing with Parra is that he is very aggressive, and what I try to tell him is that he has to control his emotions. 'Sometimes, you get too excited. Calm down. Start thinking about the play before it happens and you will be a good baseball player for a long, long time.'"
Prado's words are not lost on Parra. Montero is never at a loss for words with anyone, especially Parra, who he views as a little brother.
"Everyone knows who Miguel Montero is and Martin Prado is," Parra said. "Me? I'm just a guy that's going to keep working hard, concentrating on the positive and maybe one day I can be like them. I'm not going to let anything negative get in my head, ever."
For now, the card game will have to wait. The World Baseball Classic starts next week, and Venezuela, like Parra, wants to show it can compete with the best in the world.