The actual value of the winter leagues is certainly a topic that’s up for debate. For many, they’re nothing more than a continuation of the minor leagues, so there’s no need to put much thought into the numbers and performances that come out each year.
However, last year seemed to prove that notion wrong. As you may remember, it was last season that infielder Jose Ramirez was just outstanding in the Dominican Winter League as he compiled a .303/.384/.380 line in 60 games and 234 at-bats. It was a very impressive performance and really seemed to lay the groundwork for Ramirez becoming such a widely talked about player.
The Indians obviously thought a lot about Ramirez’s performance as they chose to have him skip the High-A level entirely this past season. Plain and simple, if Ramirez does not have that type of performance last year, he starts the year off at High-A Carolina.
So, with that being said, does any player this winter season have a chance to become this year’s Jose Ramirez?
That will hopefully be a question that’s answered these next few months. With that being said, here are some thoughts both deep and shallow in regard to this past week of winter ball action…
Player of the Week
Jesus Aguilar — 1B, Leones del Caracas
6 G, 8-for-22, 6 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K.
If there is anyone who is the early favorite to leave a Ramirez-like impression this season, it’s Aguilar. In 16 games so far, Aguilar has gone 25-for-64 with six home runs and 19 RBI. Time and time again, it’s been pointed out that RBI are not necessarily an ideal statistic to use when measuring a player’s chance for future success, but the bottom line is that Aguilar continues to pile them up wherever he goes. The big first baseman has also done a solid job of limiting his strikeouts so far as he has 12 in 16 games to go along with seven walks. We have to hope that Aguilar continues to perform well throughout the rest of the winter season. We all know how the Indians have struggled mightily when it comes to producing power hitters, so Aguilar may really be the best chance that this organization has. We all saw Aguilar’s numbers take a turn for the better after a swing adjustment in June, and so far, it looks as if that success has carried over to Venezuela.
News & Notes
— Joe Wendle has long been one of my favorite prospects in the entire Indians organization, so you can imagine how excited I was once I heard that he would be getting a chance to play in the Arizona Fall League. So far, Wendle has looked solid as he has gone 8-for-27 in eight games with the Surprise Saguaros. He’s also shown some nice extra-base pop as two doubles and two triples are included in his eight hits. Perhaps the only negative with Wendle’s placement in the AFL is the fact that there are so many other players that join him. In other words, it’s difficult for a player to get everyday playing time and really get into any kind of a rhythm at the plate. Knowing that, it’s hard to draw any hard conclusions about what Wendle’s numbers may be once the AFL season comes to a close. The most important thing about his designation to the AFL is that it shows that he is clearly on the radar of the Indians, and that can only be considered a good thing.
— He has only made two appearances so far, but I am intrigued by the fact that Elvis Araujo is playing for Aguilas del Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League. Araujo made his debut on Friday night where he faced just one batter and allowed a hit before leaving the contest. It’s certainly not an ideal debut, but it is nice to see Araujo on the mound again, especially since he pitched just a mere 9 2/3 innings at High-A Carolina this year. The big left-hander dealt with elbow injuries all season, which is never a good sign for a player who has already undergone Tommy John surgery like Araujo did in 2009. Yet, if he’s on the mound, it obviously means he’s healthy, and a healthy Araujo could mean a lot to this organization. He has the size, stuff, and is left-handed. Now, all we need are some results, so maybe this winter can be the start of that.
— While Aguilar has drawn most of the early winter headlines for Indians’ players, it can be argued that outfielderTyler Naquin has been just as impressive. The 2012 first round pick has gotten off to a scorching start with Surprise and has gone 20-for-54 in 13 games. He’s also shown good patience as he’s drawn six walks and struck out only eight times. This is nice to see as we all know how plate discipline problems plagued Naquin this past season. The one negative with Naquin’s performance so far is the fact that just one of his 20 base hits has gone for extra bases. From the moment he was drafted, we knew that Naquin was not going to be a major contributor in terms of power, but it would still be nice to see at least a little production in that area.
— One of the other intriguing players to follow so far has been catcher Tony Wolters. Wolters is playing for Surprise this fall, and he’s gotten off to a bit of a rough start as he’s gone just 3-for-22 in seven games. However, the one thing that should be noted is that Wolters has been splitting his time between catcher and shortstop, which certainly cannot be an easy task. It will be interesting to see how Wolters performs down the stretch while basically handling two positions. Does the fact that he’s still playing some shortstop indicate that the Indians have not completely abandoned the idea of him playing there in the future? Could it be that Wolters is now being groomed to be some kind of super utility player? Here’s what I know. Wolters has shown that he can play both second base and shortstop at a more than adequate level. Also, in his first season as a catcher, he made great strides, and has shown that he could indeed have a future behind the plate. Knowing that, it seems fair to conclude that Wolters could probably one day make the adjustment to left field as well. While it’s still early and he does have a long ways to go, the Indians could have somewhat of a diamond in the rough on their hands in Wolters. Plain and simple, all teams like pure “baseball” players, and that’s exactly what Wolters is.
Stats through October 27th: