Tracking Prospects Among Winter Leaders
Leaderboards from the Caribbean winter leagues are always a blast from the past.
Timo Perez is making a strong push to win his second straight Dominican League batting crown. Jackson Melian, John Halama, Hector Luna and Ruben Rivera were among the other league leaders of varying degrees of fame in winter ball.
While Caribbean league clubs are focused on winning moreso than player development, sometimes it's the prospects rather than the veterans who carry their teams. In 2009, Josh Thole led the Venezuelan League in on-base percentage, then turned into a solid big league catcher for the Mets in 2010. The VL leader in slugging in 2008, Pablo Sandoval, followed his winter campaign by becoming one of the National League's best players in 2009 with the Giants.
Here are five prospects plucked from the league leaderboards in winter ball:
Mark Trumbo, 1b, Angels
Trumbo's name is all over the Venezuelan League leaderboards. The Magallanes masher leads the league in slugging (.579) and extra-base hits (15), tied for the lead in doubles (nine) and ranks among the top three in average, home runs and total bases while hitting .336/.405/.579 through 28 games.
The big power numbers are no surprise for Trumbo, whose best tool is his plus-plus raw power. His 36 home runs during the regular season for Triple-A Salt Lake tied him with Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas for the most in the minors. Trumbo, 24, still chases too many pitches, which is why he also whiffed a league-high 37 times in 121 trips to the plate.
Eury Perez, cf, Nationals
With low Class A Hagerstown this season, Perez's excellent speed helped him steal 64 bases—second-most in the minors—and his 13 steals in 15 tries were the most in the Dominican League, where he is also leading the league in average and ranked second in on-base percentage by hitting .371/.411/.427 through 26 games for Escogido.
Perez, 20, is a slap hitter who rarely hits a ball over the fence, but he commands the attention of opposing pitchers and fielders every time he gets on base because of his speed.
Juan Francisco, 3b, Reds
Putting up big numbers in the Dominican League has become commonplace for Francisco. Francisco led the DL in homers, extra-base hits and slugging in 2009, one year after leading the DL in slugging and ranking third in home runs and extra-base hits. Francisco is putting up big numbers again for the Gigantes this year, leading the league in hits (41), ranking second in slugging (.567) and extra-base hits (17) and tying for the third with seven home runs.
Of course, Francisco also leads the league with 31 strikeouts. Despite plus-plus raw power, Francisco has a noisy set-up at the plate and his pitch recognition skills remain rudimentary, which limits his ability to get on base and convert his raw power into usable game power.
Dee Gordon, ss, Dodgers
Gordon had built a formidable MVP résumé in the Puerto Rican League, where he's batting .370/.411/.513 in 130 plate appearances for Carolina and leading the league in hits (44), runs (23) and total bases (61).
Despite well-below-average power, Gordon ranks second in the league in slugging, though much of that is a byproduct of Gordon's speed allowing him to leg out more triples than true over-the-fence power. Gordon, 22, is an outstanding athlete but he's still an error-prone shortstop, and he already committed nine through 27 games in Puerto Rico.
Alex Torres, lhp, Rays
Torres ranks fifth in the Venezuelan League in strikeouts (30) and his 1.91 ERA in 28 1/3 innings through six starts for Aguilas would put him fifth in the league if he had enough innings to qualify. While Torres isn't No. 1 in the league in any category, more important is that he's been one of the most impressive prospects in the Caribbean leagues this winter.
With a low-90s fastball, a plus changeup and a curve that also flashes above-average at times, the 22-year-old Torres could be a breakout prospect in 2011 if he can refine his command.