It’s hard to believe, but the end of the winter league season is in sight. Today marks the final day of the regular season of the Dominican Winter League while the Venezuelan Winter League and Puerto Rican Winter League come to a close on Dec. 30.
While the DWL’s regular season comes to a close now, the league will actually continue playing but will just reduce its number of teams from six to four.
The current four top teams are: Aguilas Cibaenas, Estrellas de Oriente, Gigantes del Cibao and Toros del Este. However, no more than one game separates the bottom four teams, so a lot could still change tonight.
There are two ways to look at this in regard to the Indians players still playing in the DWL. On one hand, it would be nice to see them get some more winter ball experience, but on the other hand, it would also be nice for them to get some rest they have essentially been playing baseball nonstop for a year.
We’ll have to wait until tonight to see exactly what happens though.
So, with that being said, here are some thoughts deep and shallow in regard to winter ball participants this past week…
— Call me crazy, but I’ve been really excited over the performance of Andrew Campbell in the Australian Baseball League. The ABL is clearly not the steepest level of competition, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers that Campbell is putting up. In 19 games, the left-handed hitter has gone 19-for-65 with two doubles, two home runs, five RBI, eight walks and 11 strikeouts. The numbers are certainly impressive and essentially a 180-degree turnaround from the .172/.248/.224 line that Campbell hit in 33 games this past year in the Tribe’s minor league system. Campbell’s performance this past season and in the ABL are both small sample sizes, so perhaps his normal performance might fall somewhere in between. Though, unfortunately, even the ABL is considered much easier competition than the Arizona Rookie League and the New York-Penn League, so it’s probably too early to draw any conclusions. He’s sure put together a solid winter though.
— Carlos Santana has been a frustrating player to follow this winter. So far, the switch-hitter has played in 18 games, yet he’s gone hitless in half of those games. Overall, Santana has gone 13-for-65 (.200) with four doubles, five RBI, 12 walks and 16 strikeouts. The only thing that Santana has really consistently done this winter is strikeout and draw walks. His struggles are even more discouraging because he is a Major League hitter, who has had success at every level. While 18 games is a small sample size, it’s not that small that a Major League hitter should be barely hitting .200. Santana’s winter season could continue or come to a close, depending upon whether Leones del Escogido makes the next round in the DWL, but at this point, it may just be better for Santana to go rest up and get ready for the coming season. It seems as if he could be tiring, and unfortunately his statistics have become quite tiring to look at.
— Jose Ramirez is such an iron man. The switch-hitting second baseman has now played 37 games this winter and gone 43-for-137 (.314). His average has taken a bit of a hit, but it’s still quite impressive, especially when you consider that Ramirez is barely 20 years old. He spent much of the season as a 19-year-old playing in the Midwest League, and he certainly more than held his own. It’s been encouraging to see such a young player work so hard and put in so much time this winter. It could be argued that no single Indians player saw his stock increase more this year than Ramirez, and some of that can be attributed to his fabulous winter season. Ramirez’s team, Toros del Este, is on the bubble in regard to making the DWL’s next round, and while he certainly deserves a break, he will likely continue to work just as hard if his team does advance.
— Mike McDade has started to heat up a bit recently at the plate. In his last five games, the switch-hitting first baseman has gone 6-for-17. Overall, he’s gone 22-for-74 (.297) in 23 games this winter. If there has been an area that McDade has struggled, it’s been plate discipline as he has just five walks and has struck out 17 times. McDade seemed to make great strides in that area during the 2012 season as he drew 50 walks and struck out 96 times. Previously, plate discipline has been a major area of concern for the big first baseman as evidenced by his previous minor league walk and strikeout totals (2009: 32 BB/109 K, 2010: 27 BB/141 K, 2011: 28 BB/ 104 K). Like I always say, it’s hard to buy into winter statistics too much, but McDade’s performance this year seems to at least suggest that his plate discipline may not have improved as much as the 2012 season indicates.
— Has any Indians pitcher been more dominant this winter than left-handed pitcher Giovanni Soto? Aside from his second appearance in which he allowed two earned runs, Soto has been nearly perfect, and his ERA now sits at 1.29 in 10 games and 14 innings of work. What’s been most exciting about Soto this winter is the fact that he has been used in numerous ways. He’s pitched as many as three innings at a time, but he’s also been used as a situational lefty. For example, last Friday, Soto entered a game in the top of the eighth inning to face the right-handed hitting Randy Ruiz with two outs and the bases loaded. Soto has been especially tough on right-handed hitters this winter as they have just a .083 average against him in 36 at-bats. The move was the right one on Friday too as Soto proceeded to get Ruiz to strikeout to strand the bases loaded. With the loss of Tony Sipp, the Indians are certainly in need of left-handed relief pitchers, and believe it or not, Soto could fit the bill. It would not be totally shocking to see him in Cleveland sometime this year, provided the Indians do indeed need relief help.
— Right-handed pitcher Matt Langwell had a rare slipup this past week as he allowed two runs, one earned, in a game last Saturday. However, Langwell recovered nicely and has since pitched 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Overall, Langwell now has a 1.13 ERA in 13 games and 16 innings of work. Langwell often gets overlooked because of his lack of overpowering stuff, but he’s another guy who just continues to perform at every level, and winter ball is no exception. It would be nice to see Langwell get the call to Cleveland sometime this year as his performance certainly qualifies himself as someone who is more than deserving,
— First baseman Jesus Aguilar made a rare appearance this past week as he was brought in to pinch-hit in Wednesday’s game, and he proceeded to rip a single in his only at-bat. It was Aguilar’s first appearance in a winter ball contest since Dec. 5. Overall, Aguilar has gone 15-for-56 with seven doubles, three home runs, three walks and 24 strikeouts. The power is definitely there as Aguilar’s slugging percentage of .554 indicates, but he unfortunately has not gotten consistent playing time. On two occasions this winter, Aguilar missed at least two weeks of the season, so he’s never really been able to settle into a groove. It’s unfortunate too as a lot of Indians fans were probably looking forward to watching the hulking right-handed hitter do his thing.
— No Indians player has played in more games this winter than switch-hitting shortstop Juan Diaz. In 39 games, Diaz has gone 30-for-116 with five doubles, one triple, two home runs, 13 RBI, five BB and 26 strikeouts. What’s crazy is that Diaz, who is currently riding a five-game hit streak, is probably not done either as Estrellas de Oriente has already clinched a spot in the next round of the DWL. Like Ramirez, Diaz has also been an iron man this season. Unfortunately, iron man status likely won’t be enough to get Diaz to the Major Leagues to stay. The defense is there, but the bat still has to come around.
Stats as of December 21, 2012