With Tuesday marking the Christmas holiday, winter action was quite slow this past week, but there are some signs that seem to indicate that things are about to heat up.
For starters, the Dominican Winter League began its round robin playoffs on Thursday night. So now, the four remaining teams (Aguilas, Estrellas, Escogido and Toros) will play 18 games with the top two teams advancing to the best-of-nine League Championship Series.
Additionally, the Puerto Rican Winter League and Venezuelan Winter League will both be entering the postseason soon. The final day of the regular season is Sunday in both leagues.
After that, four teams in the PWL advance to a best-of-seven Divisional Series before a best-of-nine League Championship Series. In the VWL, five teams advance to a round robin-type playoff format where the teams play 16 games. The top two teams then compete in a best-of-seven League Championship Series.
While winter league playoffs may be not bring the same excitement as say an Indians postseason appearance, it still should provide fans with a nice opportunity to follow some players and also serve as a nice appetizer to spring training (which is drawing closer and closer by the day).
So, with that said, here are some thoughts deep and shallow in regard to players competing during this past week in the various winter leagues…
— Carlos Santana unfortunately had a very rough regular season in the DWL. In 20 games with Leones del Escogido, Santana went 14-for-71 (.197) with four doubles, six RBI, 14 walks and 20 strikeouts. He was never really able to find his groove and seemed to be stuck in a major slump that he was never able to break (he endured two four-game hitless streaks during the season). However, there could be some positive news for the switch-hitting catcher. On Thursday, Santana played in a round robin playoff game with Leones del Escogido. Escogido earned an 8-2 win over Aguilas Cibaenas, and Santana played a big part in the win as he went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, a home run, two RBI and two walks. All things considered, Santana’s game was practically perfect and a major step in the right direction. As stated previously, the DWL playoffs last for quite awhile, so Santana may just have some time to recapture his bat magic.
— Speaking of Indians players competing in the DWL playoffs, Jose Ramirez seems to be off to a good start, which makes sense considering his brilliant regular season with Toros del Este. In 38 games with the team, Ramirez went 44-for-141 (.312) with five doubles, one triple, 22 RBI, 18 walks, 23 strikeouts and 10 stolen bases. On Thursday, Ramirez played a part in the Toros 3-1 win over Estrellas as he recorded two singles. Prior to the season, Ramirez was overlooked because of his lack of power, but he continues to get on base, and he seems to be someone who could rapidly move throughout the system. He has remained startlingly consistent all season this year, and his start to the DWL playoffs shows that he has no intentions of slowing down.
— Chun-Hsiu Chen saw his winter league season come to a close last week. The 24-year-old first baseman had spent this winter honing his game in the Asia Winter Baseball League, and the results were impressive. In 16 games, Chen went 14-for-44 with two home runs and 23 RBI. His line of .318/.388/.523 was quite impressive, especially since Chen did not show much power during the 2012 season. As it’s been said before, Chen has to hit for some power to have a chance to break into the Major Leagues and stick as a first baseman. That is probably ultimately very unlikely, but the right-handed hitter has hit wherever he has played, and some might even argue that his advanced bat is already Major League ready. His performance this winter certainly did nothing to hurt his stock, and who knows, perhaps Chen could get a cup of coffee in the Majors this coming season. Stranger things have happened.
— Before he made his debut in the Australian Baseball League this winter, I noted that catcher Ryan Battaglia may be a player to watch for one specific reason: power. In 20 games with the AZL Indians this past season, Battaglia hit .214/.382/.417 and of his 18 total hits, nine went for extra bases. So far, the trend seems to be continuing in the ABL. In 14 games, Battaglia has compiled a .271/.264/.521 line with four doubles, one triple and two home runs. He has a total of 13 hits and seven of them have gone for extra bases. It would be a stretch to even call him a marginal prospect at this point, but no one can deny that the kid has power. Since he does seem to at least have one Major League tool, perhaps there is some hope for the right-handed hitter.
— Right-handed pitcher Joseph Colon has quietly had a solid campaign with Cangrejeros de Santurce of the PWL. In nine games and eight starts, Colon has a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings with 17 walks and 31 strikeouts. The problem with Colon this winter has been control as it has led to some problems, especially in his last two starts where he has walked four batters in both contests. Though walks were not a problem for Colon at all during the 2012 minor league season, so hopefully it is just a minor hiccup. Because of his size and lack of overpowering stuff, Colon is going to need to be a consistent strike thrower to advance through the system and while the overall numbers are good this winter, it would be nice to see some improvement in the walk department.
— It’s hard to figure where Jeanmar Gomez fits into the Indians plans moving forward, but unfortunately, his winter showing in the VWL has done him no favors. In five starts and 14 1/3 innings of work, Gomez has a 5.65 ERA. The right-hander has especially had poor results in his last two outings where he has been lucky to make it through two innings and has allowed four earned runs in both appearances. Provided the Indians do not sign a veteran starting pitcher, one would believe that Gomez might have a legitimate chance to win a spot in the starting rotation this spring. However, Gomez had problems with giving up the big inning this past season, and that problem seems to have followed him to the VWL. You can never buy into winter league stats too much, but there is something very discouraging about Gomez’s last two performances.
— Right-hander Paolo Espino has recovered nicely from his start last week where he allowed seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. Since then, Espino had an outing where he pitched five innings of scoreless ball and he then allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings on Thursday. Espino is essentially a finished product in the minor leagues, but he’s really not a Major League option because of his lack of stuff. Nonetheless, he certainly has performed quite well over the years, so it would be nice to see him finish strong this winter, and maybe, just maybe, he might have a chance to make an appearance for the Indians sometime this season. Obviously, if Espino is pitching for the Indians, it’s likely a sign that things have gone quite sour for the Major League club, but it’d still be nice to see a deserving individual get his shot.
Stats as of December 28, 2012