The World Series and the 2013 Major League Baseball season are approaching their end, an end welcomed by nearly all fans of the Chicago Cubs. As the focus shifts to the winter meetings, manager signings, and the possibility of adding an impact player like Masahiro Tanaka, to many fans it feels as if the game of baseball is gone until the spring.
Fortunately, this isn’t remotely true. Though they receive little fanfare in Chicago, there are a number of winter baseball leagues just now kicking into gear, and they feature plenty of familiar names. From the Arizona Fall League, which is currently being dismantled by Kris Bryant, to the Dominican Winter League’s Arismendy Alcantara and Jeimer Candelario, to even the Venezuelan Winter League’s Yoanner Negrin, there are Cubs prospects and farmhands playing all over the world right now.
For a description of the Dominican Winter League, I am excited to welcome Stan Croussett (@MindofStan on twitter, but you likely knew that already), who sets his Cubs fandom aside in favor of Tigueres del Licey from now until the end of the DWL season.
Dominican Winter League Background
The Dominican Winter League is a professional baseball league in the Dominican Republic that runs from October until early January. The talent level has been equated to something just north of AA ball in the United States, but not quite AAA. The players, however, range from kids in High-A to veterans who were former MLB stars or washouts.
The league is composed of six teams:
- Tigueres del Licey (Santo Domingo, DR)
- Aguilas Cibaeñas (Santiago, DR)
- Leones del Escogido (Santo Domingo, DR)
- Gigantes del Cibao (San Francisco, DR)
- Estrellas Orientales (San Pedro, DR)
- Toros del Este (La Romana, DR)
The regular season runs about fifty games. The top four records then move on an 18-game round robin tournament. These can be considered the playoffs, however, because at the conclusion of the 18 games the top two teams play a best of nine series for the country’s crown.
But it doesn’t end there! The Caribbean World Series starts afterwards, and each winter league’s (DR, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico) champion.
Cubs Players in the DWL
The league features a handful of Cubs every single season. Jake Fox (remember him?) was a monster with Licey. Most recently, Junior Lake and Alberto Cabrera took the league by storm with EO, Lake hitting over .340 and Cabrera having multiple double-digit strikeout games.
This season, 2013 Kane County Cougars third baseman Jeimer Candelario and 2013 Tennesee Smokies second baseman Arismendy Alcantara are the only prospects in the league. Minor leaguers OF Julio Borbon (AAA Iowa) and LHP Jeff Antigua (Pitched at every full-season level in the system) are also on DWL rosters.
Alcantara, with Licey, has gotten the most play time so far – although it has been with a rest the day after the game due to 2013 being his longest season in terms of games played. The second baseman has played four games and amassed 18 plate appearances. However, he has only recorded three hits.
Alcantara hasn’t looked lost at the plate, though. Every time he steps up he posts a strong at bat. By my count (stat-tracking isn’t as advanced for this league), Alcantara has had four or five at bats of seven or more pitches. On Sunday the 20th in his first at bat, batting left handed, the small infielder roped a line drive to deep right field, only to be robbed of a two-run double by Red Sox prospect Bryce Brentz. Wednesday night, as a right-handed hitter, was Alcantara’s breakthrough night, going 2-for-5 with a double, which he hammered to the opposite field warning track with ease.
The rest of the players, Antigua, Candelario, and Borbon have not gotten much play-time, but I expect that to change soon for Candelario at least. Candelario told me on twitter that Luis Polonia is giving him advice on hitting and how to adjust to the sporadic playing time rookies get in the league. Polonia is one of that league’s best players ever, a revered man in the Dominican Republic. I don’t know if I could find a better influence for him.
Antigua has not fared too well, allowing four hits including a homerun by Juan Francisco of the Brewers that was measured at over 420 feet, in only 2.2 innings pitched; Borbon looked bad defensively on Sunday afternoon, misplaying a single to center and then throwing the ball away on a rushed throw.
[Ed. Note: Another Cub farmhand, Marcos Mateo, has thrown four shutout innings with three strikeouts and only one hit allowed. Mateo, you may remember, was hung out to dry by former manager Mike Quade in early 2011, throwing 5 (!!!) innings of no-run, six strikeout in a relief appearance. It would be nice to see him get healthy and content for one of the final bullpen spots in 2014]
Today marks only the completion of one full week of DWL baseball, so the majority of players (including Junior Lake and Manny Ramirez) have not yet reported to their clubs.
The Rest of the Caribbean Winter Leagues
[Edited, thanks to Harry Pavlidis for correcting me on this!]
There are a number of Cubs participating in the Venezuelan Winter League. The best of that group include Yoanner Negrin, Yeiper Castillo, Frank Del Valle, Hector Rondon, and Wilson Contreras.
Negrin was signed out of the Mexican Leagues in 2011, and has posted very solid numbers in his two years in the minors in both a starting and relieving role. Negrin is not a prospect of importance, but has a shot at cracking the 2014 bullpen. Negrin has been just OK in the VWL. He has thrown 20 innings of 2.70 ERA ball, striking out 18 in the process, but he has walked 9 batters in that span.
Castillo has thrown 11 2/3 innings of very effective baseball, striking out twelve while only walking two, which has led to a shiny 2.38 ERA. Former Rule 5 pick and MLB reliever Hector Rondon has been equally effective in his 4 innings of work, striking out four and only walking one, allowing no runs in his three outings.
Wilson Contreras, a favorite of CubsDen’s John Arguello, has been seeing minimal time, playing just 3 games so far. In those games, he is 2 for 6 with no walks and no extra base hits.
The Arizona Fall League
I know everyone has been following the AFL quite closely, so I wont waste too much space here, but I would like to reiterate how crazy-pants unbelievable Kris Bryant has been in Arizona. In just 10 games, he has amassed 11 extra-base hits, including 4 home runs that have had scouts and prospect writers on twitter frothing at the mouth, unable to fit enough superlatives in 140 characters.