With tomorrow marking the first day in December, that means that there is under a month left to play for almost all of the various winter leagues. A slew of Indians players continue to toil around in the Dominican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican and Australian winter leagues, so this next month will be an important one.
This past week also saw a prominent Indians make his winter league debut as Carlos Santana is now playing in the DWL.
The nice thing about winter ball at this point is that most of the Indians players’ statistics now represent a pretty decent sample size. It’s still a small sample size, but it’s much better measuring stick in comparison to where it was the last few weeks.
With that being said, here are some thoughts deep and shallow in regard to the Indians players competing in winter ball this past week…
— For the first time in weeks, right-handed pitcher Danny Salazar started a game in the DWL. Salazar started Sunday’s contest for Tigres del Licey and pitched four innings where he allowed just two hits and one run while striking out four batters. Overall, Salazar has gone 0-3 this winter with an ERA of 3.86 in five games and 14 innings. He’s also struck out 17 while walking just four. The DWL ends its season on Dec. 21. Hopefully before the season’s end, Salazar will be able to get at least a few more starts as he probably has the most upside of any Indians starting pitching prospect in the upper levels of the system right now.
— Like everyone else, I have been pleased to see the recent resurgence of first baseman Jesus Aguilar. As noted in last week’s Winter Ball Notebook, Aguilar himself stated that he felt the pressure at the beginning of the VWL season, which ultimately led to some mediocre results. However, after spending some time on the team’s parallel squad, he said his confidence is renewed, and the results seem to indicate that. Since returning to the main team on Nov. 19, Aguilar has gone 6-for-16 with two home runs and five RBI. The problem with Aguilar remains strikeouts, where he still seems to have made little progress; he has struck out six times and walked only once since returning. Though, beggars can’t be choosers, and it’s still nice to see the big man hitting again.
— There has arguably been no pitcher that has been better this winter than right-hander Hector Rondon. In 17 games and 15 innings, Rondon has an ERA of 3.60 and has 10 strikeouts to go against four walks. Also, the ERA is significantly inflated because of Rondon’s first appearance where he allowed four runs in 1/3 of an inning. But how good has Rondon been since then? Well, for starters, he currently has not allowed a run in his last 12 1/3 innings pitched. Also, over those 12 1/3 innings, Rondon has allowed only three hits and one walk. This is a guy who is clearly in some kind of zone on the mound right now, and it’s been a beautiful thing to follow this winter. Rondon may no longer profile as a starter in the Major Leagues, but he certainly has the stuff and the attitude to become a very solid reliever.
— It was nice to see Carlos Santana make his winter debut in the DWL this past week. So far, Santana has appeared in four games as a designated hitter and gone 4-for-16. It will be interesting to see if Santana is going to get anytime behind the plate or stay primarily at designated hitter. There are certainly positives with him getting some time at catcher, but there is also the risk that there could be an injury. I personally believe Santana to be a much better catcher than Tribe fans give him credit for, so I would rather that he just focus his time and energy on hitting this winter.
— Most of us rarely get excited over an Indians minor league signing, and I am not implying that I am jumping for joy, but it’s hard to not be impressed with what infielder Luis Hernandez has done in the VWL. Overall, Hernandez has gone 17-for-46 in 13 games. Not only that, but he has also gone hitless in only two of the 13 games that he has played. Most expect him to fulfill the Gregorio Petit role this season and serve as organizational depth, primarily at Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron, but there are some other things to like about Hernandez. He’s a switch-hitter, can play around the infield and appears to have some speed, so if he gets off to a hot start in 2013, he may eventually become an option in Cleveland.
— Left-hander Giovanni Soto seems to be coming along nicely in the PWL. Overall, he has appeared in six games and has a 2.35 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings of work. His best performance arguably came Thursday when he pitched three shutout innings, struck out three batters and allowed only one hit. Since he is still just 21 years old and already has a full season at Double-A Akron under his belt, Soto is an intriguing prospect. He has had the tendency to be somewhat inconsistent from start to start in his career, but there’s still a lot to like, especially considering his plus cutter and the simple fact that he is left-handed.
— Speaking of left-handed pitchers, Eric Berger continues to put up impressive numbers in the VWL. In the past week alone, Berger has made two starts and allowed just one run in 11 innings of work. Overall, Berger has a 2.27 ERA in seven starts to go along with 33 strikeouts and just eight walks. Berger is already 27 years old, so it might be a stretch to say that he is still a prospect, but his performance in the VWL certainly is not hurting matters. Because he is left-handed, there is a certain degree of value that Berger will always possess. If his winter success is able to translate into early success next season at Triple-A Columbus, then perhaps there is a chance that Berger could still find himself on the radar of the big league club.
— It would not be a Winter Ball Notebook if second baseman Jose Ramirez were not mentioned. Ramirez had somewhat of a slower week when you consider the standard that he has set for himself as he went hitless in two contests. Though, he also made up for it by having three multi-hit performances. Overall, Ramirez has gone 27-for-79 with 12 RBI, 15 walks and 10 strikeouts. It’s going to be interesting to see how far the Indians decide to push Ramirez this upcoming season. He has shown that he has an advanced feel at the plate, but he’s still a youngster, so they may be cautious. Nonetheless, he remains arguably the best story coming out of this season of winter ball.
Stats as of 11/30/12