There’s a common misconception in the baseball world that when November arrives baseball comes to an end. For us junkies however, there is Winter Ball. For those unfamiliar, winter baseball takes place largely in the Caribbean and Australia. For a more in depth description, I would highly recommend you check out this fantastic HardBall Times article.
This piece will focus on taking a deeper dive into the hottest performers from these four leagues:
- The Dominican Winter League
- The Puerto Rican League
- The Mexican Pacific League
- The Venezuela Winter League
Rather than focusing on pertinent prospects however, I want to shine light on all of the Winter Ball leagues top performers. Guys like Eloy Jimenez and Fernando Tatis Jr. get plenty of coverage but what about Josh Lowey? Diego Goris?
We’ll begin today with the best the Dominican League had to offer, but before we do, I think it important to provide a bit more context.
In terms of talent level, the Winter Ball leagues “Represent the most high-profile baseball outside major league baseball in the United States….These leagues generally are considered to operate at a Triple-A level of play” (taken from above HardBall Times article). While I personally think the range of talent goes from low AA to AAA, to argue such would just be semantics. The important takeaway remains the same: the Winter Ball leagues are a step below Major League Baseball. To provide a bit more context, I’ll list the league averages for each individual league.
You may also notice that I will not be covering two leagues: the Australian Baseball League and the Cuban National League. I’ve done so for two reasons:
- A majority of prospects seem to play in the above four
- The latter two leagues are still finishing up playing their regular season and haven’t amassed enough of a sample size yet
Lastly, a few final caveats that I think it important to reiterate:
- These numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt. A prospect or free agent performing well in the Winter Leagues does not always guarantee success.
- A lot of bigger names – Francisco Mejia, Manuel Margot – aren’t mentioned because they either haven’t played enough games yet or didn’t perform well enough in a small sample size.
- I focused primarily on guys who got more than 100 PA’s/ 40-50 IP
- Statistics are sparse. There is no xwOBA or Hard% for Winter Ball. I was able to figure out BABIP and FIP to the best of my ability but, like everything, they should be taken with a grain of salt. With that said…
- Players can make real changes in the Winter Leagues. While numbers may seem inflated, they are frequently backed up with real changes that a player has made or is working on. Don’t believe me? Ask JD Martinez what he thinks of Winter Ball.
Today, we will focus on…
The Dominican Winter League
The Dominican League began on October 30th and its regular season – which consists of 50 games – came to its end on December 17th. The statistics of all players featured below do not include what is happening in the playoffs as they are currently underway.
Batting League Averages
Pitching League Averages
Hanser Alberto (2B, SS, 3B – New York Yankees) Age: 26, Bats: R
Originally a Rangers prospect, Hanser Alberto had success at AAA with the Rangers in 2018 slashing .330/.346/.452 over 384 PA before batting below the Mendoza line in just 30 PA at the Major League level. Predominantly playing the hot corner in Winter Ball, Alberto is 2nd in the Dominican league in average among qualified batters. The 40 point disparity between Alberto’s average and on-base percentage is actually larger than what we’re used to seeing while the slugging seems about just right. Claimed by the Yankees at the beginning of November, Alberto is a power-sapped, contact guy who constantly puts up below league average K-rates and can provide above average defense. While Alberto’s BABIP may be elevated, it’s in line with his AAA numbers in ‘18 and his average is encouraging to see, especially considering the Dominican league has been more pitcher friendly. His positional versatility should likely land him a spot on the Yankees bench in 2019 – at least until Didi is back – barring a major Yankees acquisition.
Jose Siri (OF – Cincinnati Reds) Age: 23, Bats: R
According to Fangraphs, Jose Siri is the 9th best prospect in the Reds farm system with fantastic speed and a great throwing arm. The knock on Siri has always been his aggressiveness and while he made strides to combat that in High-A last year, his K-rate regressed to 32.2% in AA. The 27% K-rate in the Dominican league doesn’t look too awful until you consider the league average is around 20%. Siri is tied for the 2nd most steals in the Dominican league with 13, his 12 XBH are also tied for 2nd while his .427 SLG and 2 triples lead the league. While Reds fans may be a little discouraged by Siri’s .275 batting average – the 23-year-old’s hit tool grade seems to fluctuate by scout – they can find solace by the speed/power combination he’s showcasing as it more closely resembles his breakout 2017 numbers. Now that Siri has recovered from the thumb injury that plagued him much of 2018, he could make a nice splash in AAA for the Reds in 2019. However, I wouldn’t expect him to see much Major League playing time considering Cincinnati’s too-crowded OF.
Nestor Cortes (SP/RP – New York Yankees) Age:24, Throws: L
I don’t think Nestor Cortes has ever really gotten the chance at the Major League level that he’s deserved. In 2017, Cortes threw 48.1 IP for the Yankees AA affiliate and put up a 1.49 ERA with 10.61 K/9 and a 2.05 BB/9. In 2018, he was selected by the Orioles in the Rule 5 before being returned to the Yankees where he put up a 3.17 ERA with a 7.74 K/9 and 2.98 BB/9 over 111.2 IP. While Cortes doesn’t necessarily light up the radar gun – he usually sits low 90’s with his fastball – he has terrific command over the pitch and his curveball features a lot of nice break to it. Cortes leads the Dominican League in WHIP and is 2nd in ERA; these numbers made more impressive by the fact that the league is pitcher friendly. Yankees fans should be encouraged by the fact that his K/BB numbers more-so reflect his successful AA stint as opposed to his AAA. Overall, Cortes’s success at the Dominican League level only affirms that he can succeed at the minor league level. With the Yankees depth in the bullpen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cortes converted to a full-time LOOGY who rides the shuttle between AAA and the Majors in 2019.
Free Agents / Other Leagues:
Diego Goris (3B/SS/2B – FA) Age: 28, Bats: R
Formerly in the San Diego Padres organization, Diego Goris was suspended 50 games for his second positive drug test in August of 2018. Rather then remain in the Padres organization, Goris elected Free Agency and, should he sign a minor-league contract with a team, would have to serve the remainder of his suspension before playing. While that may be a deterrent for clubs to consider signing Goris, his Dominican League numbers may be impressive enough to assuage concerns. Would Goris’s 107 PA qualify him for the Dominican League leaderboard, he’d currently be 1st in SLG, and 2nd in average and OPS. Never one to talk a walk (his highest BB-rate in the minors is 6%), Goris has usually been more of a contact hitter. With that said, the .340 average is above-and-beyond what we’re used to seeing from him as are the XBH. While it does appear the balls seem to falling in for hits a bit more frequently if Goris continues this success in the playoffs (so far he has), the Padres may take another shot at him.
Enny Romero (SP – Japanese League) Age: 27, Throws: L
After bouncing around the Majors in 2018 with the Nationals, Pirates and Royals, Enny Romero ended up signing a one year deal with the Chunichi Dragons for the 2019 season. If his purpose in doing so is to re-establish his value, Romero is off to a nice start with his Dominican League performance. Romero has frequently been touted as a “stuff” guy: he throws hard and has great swing-and-miss “stuff”. The K/9 numbers aren’t too surprising but the BB/9 certainly are as Romero was frequently putting up 3.50+ BB/9 in his stints in the minors. This could be as a result of the Dominican League players being a bit chase friendly but I don’t want to diminish the results. If Romero can keep his command in check, his 98+ mph “stuff” should lead him to some success overseas.
Jordany Valdespin (OF, Independent League) Age: 31, Bats: L
What sticks out to me about Jordany Valdespin isn’t necessarily the AVG and OBP that lead the Dominican League or the SLG that is 2nd or even the 14 stolen bases. It’s the age. 31-years-old. Valdespin hasn’t played in the Bigs since 2016 where he slashed a meager .239/.292/.321 over 321 PA with the Tigers AAA affiliate. Since then, Valdespin has played in the Mexican league where he raked in 2018 slashing .341/.415/.470 over 248 PA. His success there led him to a deal with the Long Island Ducks, an Independent League team, where he slashed .348/ .399/ .487 over 511 PA. Combine Valdespin’s Independent League dominance with his Mexican League success and recent Dominican League numbers and you may have a guy worthy of a Spring Training invite somewhere. 31-years-old or not, his continued success may be worth another minor-league stint. Whether that’s true or not, I have a soft spot for guys like Valdespin who just grind their hearts out hoping for another shot at the Majors.
Junior Lake (OF – Mexican League) Age: 28, Bats: R
If Junior Lake’s name sounds familiar to you, you aren’t crazy. Lake had success with the Chicago Cubs in 2013 putting up a 112 wRC+ over 254 PA before falling back to earth in 2014 and spending the next few years bouncing around the Majors before heading to the Mexican League in 2017. Lake’s K/BB numbers in the Dominican League echo what he’s been doing for the past two years in the Mexican League as he’s had more success being patient at the plate. While Lake’s OBP caught my eye, I don’t know if his AVG and SLG would be enough to get him an ST invite or out of the Mexican League at all. The 13 SB (tied for 2nd in the league) are nice but speed is a tool Lake already had at the big league level.
Ruben Sosa (2B/OF – Mexican League) Age: 28, Bats: S
Ruben Sosa seems to be having a cyclical career. If his Dominican League numbers are any indication, he may be in for another turn around the bend. Sosa bounced between the Angels and Astros minor league affiliates before heading to the Mexican League where he hit .371/ .458 / .517 over 314 PA. His success there led him to another minor league stint, this time with the Royals, where he reached AAA but floundered a bit in 2017. 2018 saw him once again return to the Mexican League where he recently slashed .347 / .484 / .514. Add that to his Dominican League success and he could be headed for another minor league stint. That said, his numbers haven’t been up to par with what he’s done in Mexico as his power has decreased along with his average. While the speed is still there, Sosa may need a strong playoffs if he wants another shot at the Bigs.
Tommy Milone (SP – Seattle Mariners) Age: 31, Throws: L
That’s right my friends. Tommy Milone. Milone was going to need to be pretty successful for me to include him in this article but I mean, come on. 0 ER in 34.1! A 0.67 WHIP! I don’t want to imply that Tommy Milone went down to the Dominican League, figured it all out, and is now going to burn through the Seattle Mariners minor league affiliates before leading them to a WC but these are the exact sort of things you want to see. These numbers could be indicative of some step in the right direction or they could be indicative of the Dominican League players struggling against LHP. Remove context from it. If a pitcher did this in the AAA (the equivalent of the Dominican League) your eyebrow would be raised. Will I be drafting Milone? Absolutely not. Will his 32/2 K/BB ratio and 1.47 FIP make me double check what he’s doing in Spring Training? 100%.
Tyler Alexander (SP – Mexican League) Age: 27, Throws: L
Tyler Alexander is a former Brewers prospect who never rose above A ball. Alexander pursued Independent League baseball between 2015-2017 before playing in the Mexican League for the past year where he put up an average 3.81 ERA over 54.1. The southpaw’s success could certainly be attributed to the Dominican League hitters struggling a bit more against lefties but I would be remiss if I excluded Alexander from this list as his ERA is 4th best in the league, his WHIP tied for 2nd and his 48/10 K/BB certainly above average. I don’t think Alexander’s track record paired with these numbers have purchased him a ticket away from the Mexican League per se, but if he continues to put up a sub 3 ERA in Mexico, that may lead to a minor league contract.
Josh Lowey (SP – Mexican League) Age: 34, Throws: R
*There seems to be some discrepancy as to what Lowey’s actual ERA is with MLB’s website listing him at 2.10 and BRef listing him at 2.26. I’ve listed the MLB’s option above as they seem to update these stats more frequently. All other stats are similar across both websites.
If you’ve listened to On The Corner with Nick and I, then you already know about Alex “Think” Fast. You know I love this game because of the narratives, because of the untold stories of guys who are chasing a dream no matter what the cost. Guys like 34-year-old Josh Lowey who have never pitched outside of the Mexican League but refuse to give up. I live and breath for these dudes. In the past four years, Lowey has a 2.19 ERA over 517.2 IP. He’s frequently putting up 9+ K/9 and sub 3 BB/9 seasons and his 2.10 ERA is 3rd in the Dominican League amongst qualified starters. Are Major League clubs going to take a shot at a 34 year old guy with a 1.29 WHIP? More than likely not. But I will never, ever stop rooting for guys like Josh Lowey to get their shot.