If you’re like me, the AL and NL Championship Series have been excruciating to watch. Granted, there have been a few quality games and all, but what team does an Indian fan root for? Detroit? I think not. New York? Oh, wait they just lost… San Francisco or St. Louis? Didn’t both of those teams just win it all?
Anyhow, you get my point. It’s hard to really root for a team in the Championship Series when all of the remaining playoff teams have either recently went to or won a World Series. Nonetheless, Tribe fans can find some solace in following the various fall and winter leagues that kicked off last week.
Obviously, following fall and winter leagues is a not really an ideal substitute for being able to watch the Indians in the playoffs, but it’s still baseball, and more importantly, it’s Tribe baseball.
Last week we saw the Arizona Fall League and Dominican Winter League kick off, and then this past weekend, the Venezuela Winter League started its season.
As the IPI’s Tony Lastoria has mentioned on a number of occasions, winter leagues such as the DWL or VWL are an entirely different ballgame (pun intended) than the minor leagues. The teams are in it to win it so to speak, and the Indians organization has little to no control in regard to how or how much a player is used.
However, that does not mean that the Tribe’s top brass is not closely monitoring each player that decides to play in one of the winter leagues. Also, a player’s performance in either the winter of fall leagues does indeed play a role in an organization’s outlook going forward on that particular player.
Consider the case of Jesus Aguilar. In 2011, the hulking first baseman compiled a nice season between Single-A Lake County and High-A Kinston (.284/.359/.506 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI). However, Aguilar really solidified his prospect status with his performance last year in the AFL and VWL where he posted a .305/.405/.539 line in 38 games between the two leagues.
Given his performance in the minors in 2011 combined with his stats from winter ball, Aguilar immediately became a name to watch moving forward.
With that being said, some thoughts deep and shallow in regard to some of the fall and winter ball participants…
— Speaking of Jesus Aguilar, the first baseman is among the participants in the VWL where he has played in five games for Leones del Caracas. Though Aguilar has been somewhat underwhelming in those five games as he has just a .200/.273/.300 line with two extra-base hits. While many are quick to label Aguilar as the future first baseman of the big league club, it appears that notion may be somewhat premature. Aguilar’s power numbers took a step back in 2012 (15 home runs as opposed to 23 in 2011), and he has really scuffled out of the gates in winter ball. It’s evident that Aguilar is not going to develop into an MVP caliber Major League first baseman. His strikeout totals are still far too high. However, Aguilar and his player makeup somewhat reminds me of Los Angeles Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo. While in the minors, many of the same criticisms that dog Aguilar also dogged Trumbo. Trumbo was never thought to be an elite prospect, and he still does not walk and strikes out a ton, but he has also proven that he can be a more than serviceable Major League first baseman. Let’s hope Aguilar follows a similar path.
— Another player participating in winter ball is right-handed pitcher Danny Salazar. I’ll make no bones about it: I love Salazar. Like Aguilar, Salazar also played last season in winter ball and posted a 1.74 ERA in 41 1/3 innings in the Panama League. Salazar so far is off to another good start, this time in the DWL, as he has struck out five while allowing four hits and one run in four innings. Salazar is an interesting one to watch. With 2012 being his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, The Indians were very careful with him all season. They really did not take the bubble wrap off until late in the season when he was promoted to Double-A Akron. The fact that he is playing in the DWL is hopefully a sign that his health is good and that there are no lingering elbow issues. He’s already off to a solid start. Let’s hope he maintains it throughout the course of the winter season, and it hopefully carries over to 2013.
— There’s been some good news and some bad news in regard to right-handed pitcher Hector Rondon. The good news is that healthy. The bad news is that he has not exactly performed too well so far in winter ball. So far, Rondon has appeared in three contests in the VWL and allowed five earned runs 1 2/3 innings of work. Given that, his ERA now sits at 27.00. The numbers are really inflated from his first outing on October 12 when he allowed four earned runs in 1/3 of an inning. Since then, Rondon has gotten better as he allowed one run in an inning during his next appearance and then threw just one pitch to record an out this past Wednesday. With his history of injuries, it’s hard to determine exactly what the future holds for Rondon. He certainly has the makeup of a Major Leaguer, but will he hold up to make it that far? There’s also a yin and yang to him pitching in winter ball. While it’s nice to see him performing, one has to still worry that he could get hurt. After all, that’s where he suffered his injury during last season.
— Of the eight players named to the Scottsdale Scorpions roster in the AFL, none excite me more than Ronny Rodriguez. He has struggled a bit so far in the AFL (3-for-16 in four games), but the talent is certainly there. Hopefully he will begin to hit his stride a little bit before the league wraps up. I anticipate Rodriguez spending the majority of next season at Akron, and if all goes right, it really may not be too long before he is on the radar of the Major League club.
— Speaking of the AFL, if Rodriguez is the player that excites me the most, right-handed pitcher Shawn Armstrong is a close second. In three games and 3 2/3 innings of work, Armstrong has allowed zero runs and just one hit while striking out three. It’s easy to see why he was just the recipient of the Reliever of the Year Tony Award. He still struggles a bit with control, but the guy has great stuff. To top it off, he has not missed a beat since beginning play in the AFL. Bold prediction time. Mark my words, Armstrong will be pitching Cleveland by next September.
— Many fans were bummed that outfielder Carlos Moncrief has unfortunately yet to debut in the AFL. The good news is that that is about to change. As most of you probably know, the IPI’s Tony Lastoria was out in Arizona last week covering the AFL and the Instructional League. During that time he was able to speak to Moncrief, who is apparently ahead of schedule in his rehab from his broken hamate bone surgery. Moncrief is now set to make his AFL debut in tomorrow’s contest and should then play four games a week going forward.
— Right-handed pitcher Toru Murata is pitching for Navegantes del Magallanes in the VWL this winter. He made his first appearance on October 14 and it was a dandy as he allowed one run and three hits in five innings. If there is a word to describe Murata, it’s peculiar. Seems like a strange choice, I know, but it’s also applicable because it’s simply peculiar how this guy continues to just get it done. He had a very strong season at Akron after he was stretched out as a starter, and he seems to be carrying that success over to winter ball. Given his stuff, he should not be having such success, and his strikeout rates should not be as high (8.1 K/9 at Akron), but he succeeds regardless. Maybe, just maybe, if the Indians become desperate, he could get a shot next year. He’ll be 28 in May, so time is not on his side, but if he keeps pitching like he did in Akron and has so far in the VWL, the Tribe may have no choice but to give him a look.
— No Indians player has played in more games in fall and winter ball so far than outfielder Tyler Holt. In seven games, Holt has gone 6-for-19 in the AFL. Best case scenario, Holt may profile as a fourth outfielder who can lead off in a pinch, and he has also showcased some of those skills in Arizona as he’s drawn four walks against one strikeout, and he has also stolen two bases.
Stats as of 10/19/2012