In a year when few high-profile prospects headed south to play in Latin American winter leagues, one who not only played but excelled was Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon, making him a clear choice for our Winter Player of the Year award.
The winter leagues can be a difficult proposition for prospects. While the domestic minor leagues are more about player development than winning ballgames, the winter leagues are just the opposite—meaning young players can lose precious playing time if they don’t perform.
Gordon never had that problem.
Serving as the Gigantes de Carolina’s leadoff hitter in the Puerto Rican League, the 22-year-old opened his winter season with six consecutive multi-hit games and rarely slowed down, ending the season with a .361/.396/.493 line in 144 at-bats.
“It used to be players always went to winter ball, and now a lot of kids don’t want to go,” Dodgers assistant general manager and scouting director Logan White said. “He certainly wanted to go down there and get better.”
The top prospect in the Dodgers organization, Gordon’s career has taken off quickly since he was a fourth-round pick in 2008 out of Seminole (Fla.) CC. He won MVP honors in the low Class A Midwest League in 2009 and skipped a level to Double-A Chattanooga in 2010, a meteoric rise considering he didn’t start playing baseball until his senior year of high school.
Gordon hit .277/.332/.355 during the regular season for Chattanooga and was voted the Southern League’s most exciting player by its managers. The son of longtime major league pitcher Tom Gordon, he possesses electrifying athleticism and has developed his approach to take advantage of it.
With a slight 5-foot-11, 150-pound frame, Gordon lacks any significant home run power, but that’s his only tool that doesn’t project to be at least average if not above.
“Our development people have done a real good job with him as far as understanding the type of player he is and how to use his skills towards that,” White said. “Keep the ball out of the air more, keep it on a line drive, gap-to-gap, use your speed.”
Finishing With A Flourish
Gordon finished the winter season tied for the Puerto Rican League batting title, while also leading the league in triples (six), tying for the lead in runs (26) and ranking second in slugging percentage despite hitting only one home run. He still has a few things work on, as he needs to be more efficient stealing bases after going just 8-for-15 over the winter, and continue to clean up his defense. Gordon has a strong arm and his athletic ability gives him outstanding range, but his inexperience leads to mistakes, and he made 13 errors with Carolina after making 37 for Chattanooga.
Still, the Dodgers were impressed by his willingness to go down to Puerto Rico and how he recognizes where his game needs improvement. The organization values the experience hitters get in winter ball facing crafty, tough pitchers. Although Gordon walked only five times during the winter, he also had just 15 strikeouts and otherwise passed the test with flying colors.
“Winter ball, for certain guys, is definitely a great learning experience for them because they’re going to run into veteran pitchers that know how to pitch and how to set them up,” White said. “They may not throw as hard as the guy in Double-A, but they certainly know how to pitch.”
Then there’s the off-the-field aspect, which can be a challenge for young players unaccustomed to traveling abroad, getting out of their comfort zone and living amidst a different culture. The fact that Gordon was able to handle all those potential obstacles away from the ballpark and maintain his performance between the lines was definitely an encouraging sign for the organization.
“I think the thing that helps him is the fact that he has a father that was a major league player,” White said. “So through osmosis and genetics he’s learned that a little bit, but still he has to be the one to go do it and he did.
“I think it was just a real plus for him. He’s come back with a real sense of what he has to do, what he has to work on.”
Gordon, a non-roster invitee to the Dodgers’ big league spring training, is expected to move up to Triple-A Albuquerque once the regular season starts. If he carries his momentum from the winter into the spring as the Dodgers hope he can, he could be following in his father’s big league footsteps before long.
Mexico Wins Caribbean Series
The final day of the Caribbean Series in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, began with a chance all four teams could have ended the round-robin format tied, sending the tournament into a playoff.
Instead, Mexico defeated Venezuela and got help from the Dominican Republic to finish alone atop the standings and win the country’s first title since 2005.
The Obregon Yaquis went 4-2 in the tournament, finishing a game ahead of the Dominican Republic’s Toros del Este and Puerto Rico’s Caguas. Venezuela’s Caribes finished in last at 2-4.
First baseman Jorge Vazquez led Mexico to a 3-2 victory in its final game, going 2-for-4 with a home run. Righthander Luis Ayala closed the game with a perfect final 12/3 innings to earn his second save of the series. The Yankees later rewarded Ayala for his five shutout innings in the tournament with a minor league contract and spring training invitation.
Vazquez, a Yankee farmhand, led Mexico offensively through the series. He hit .310/.310/.552 with a tournament-high six RBIs. Vazquez and former big leaguer Karim Garcia each hit two home runs in the tournament. The only other player to hit two home runs in the series was Venezuelan first baseman Luis Antonio Jimenez.
Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera hit just .238/.304/.238 in the series, but did score a run in Mexico’s last-day victory.
This year’s tournament was dedicated to Roberto Alomar, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in January and was also inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame with fellow Puerto Ricans Carlos Baerga and Candy Maldonado.
Mexico got off to a good start in the tournament, defeating the Dominican Republic 4-3 in 15 innings in the opening game. After losing to Puerto Rico on the tournament’s second day, Mexico won back-to-back games to regain control of the series.
Attempting a comeback for the island’s first Caribbean Series title since 2000, Puerto Rico defeated Mexico 7-6 on the fifth day of the tournament, pulling into a first-place tie with Mexico to set up the tournament’s final day.
In the first game of the final day, Mexico’s victory eliminated Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, which meant Puerto Rico would need a win to force a one-game playoff. But the Dominican Republic closed the Caribbean Series with a 3-0 win, setting off Mexico’s celebration.
This year was the second time in four years Obregon represented Mexico in the Caribbean Series. Its last appearance came in 2008, but it finished 2-4.
Though this year’s Caribbean Series didn’t include any top prospects, Cabrera was one of a few players competing for big league jobs this spring. The Dominican Republic featured three players ranked among their organization’s top 20 prospects— righthander Aneury Rodriguez (No. 11 Astros), lefthander Fernando Abad (No. 16 Astros) and catcher Welington Castillo (No. 17 Cubs)—all of whom are expected to be in the mix to open the season in the majors.