RailCats projected starting catcher Wilfredo Gimenez and free-agent reliever Felix Carvallo remain in Colombia days after the team started its preseason activities.
It's unclear when either will return. In the meantime, the RailCats are without one of their top players in Gimenez.
Gimenez and Carvallo are Venezuela natives and went home to visit family. Venezuela's past year or so has been marked by violence, political instability and lack of access to food and healthcare that has ratcheted up in 2019. Difficulty obtaining visas to return to the United States delayed Gimenez and Carvallo.
The two arrived in Venezuela about 10 days ago before traveling together to Colombia about five days ago due to the increased ease of obtaining visas there, according to RailCats infielder Andy De Jesus. Gimenez has been in contact with De Jesus and fellow infielder Randy Santiesteban via WhatsApp messaging while the team awaits their return.
“I’m just like anybody else, I see it on the news,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said. “You never quite understand how serious it is until you know some people that are there being involved in it.”
Venezuela is amid political crisis, as President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido struggle for power after a disputed election in 2018. The BBC wrote that just last week, Guaido “launched a failed attempt to spark a military rebellion” against Maduro.
Gimenez's wife and son live in Venezuela. Tagert and De Jesus said they encouraged Gimenez to fly back through Colombia, but De Jesus said he thinks Gimenez wants to check on his family in Venezuela before he leaves.
"Of course I am worried about my family, which is why I am going to work to ensure things don't get worse for them in Venezuela," Gimenez wrote in a message to The Times via De Jesus. "Remember, I have a son and he's my entire life."
Gimenez's and Carvallo's visa applications were approved on Monday by the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. The two plan to travel to Venezuela on Tuesday, according to Gimenez, and hopefully fly back to the United States on Thursday.
As the season approaches, Tagert faces a dilemma: Gimenez is the team's only established catcher, as his backups are converted infielders Gavin Blodgett and Shannon Baker. Gimenez hit .255 last year and started 53 of 100 regular-season games. The RailCats went 33-20 in his starts and 26-21 otherwise.
Tagert said he doesn't expect Gimenez to be back and ready to play in time to join the team on its exhibition road trip to Kansas City this week.
The RailCats placed Carvallo on waivers Monday, as Tagert said he felt the team had to address its lack of depth. Carvallo arrived in a trade with Cleburne in December after posting a 2.44 ERA with the Wichita in 33 appearances for the now-defunct Wichita Wingnuts.
Tagert said he hopes to bring Carvallo back once he is back in the country and ready to pitch competitively. Carvallo cleared waivers, and Tagert said the team won't cut Gimenez due to the likelihood that another team would claim him.
If Gimenez can't return within a couple of days, Tagert said the RailCats will likely have to cut another player to sign a veteran, starting-caliber catcher.
The RailCats didn't bring in additional catchers this offseason, as they couldn't convince top targets to sign due to Gimenez's status as a mainstay, according to Tagert.
"He’s the guy we want," Tagert said. "We think he’s unquestionably going to be the leader of this club. I want him to (be) … the everyday catcher, whatever that number is, 90% of the time, 85 (%).”