Bonifacio Among Winter League Stars

The pairings for the Caribbean Series are almost set now that two of the three league finals have completed. Obregon beat Mazatlan in the Mexican Pacific League finals while Aguilas topped Licey 5-3 in the best-of-nine Dominican Republic’s championship series.

Licey had reason to be happy however, as they will still attend the Caribbean Series, which begins on Feb. 2 in Santiago, D.R. The D.R. has two representatives in this year’s event due to the Puerto Rican Winter League’s closure for the 2007-2008 season.

Aguilas will rely on holdovers Miguel Tejada (Orioles) and the seemingly ageless Luis Polonia from the 2006-2007 club that won the Series in Carolina last year.

“I will play only for the Dominican Republic, and have no interest in going back to play in the major leagues,” Polonia, who turned 44 in October, said. “I have an academy (in the Dominican), my family is here . . . I would like to play another four, five years, but only for my home country.”

Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal injected the Aguilas lineup with more speed and power during the stretch run, leading the playoff leaders in RBIs (15) and stolen bases (7) while moving over to second base.

Unlike a lot of big leaguers, Furcal was expected to remain with the club through the Caribbean Series.

For Licey, Diamondbacks infielder Emilio Bonifacio finished second in the Dominican postseason in batting, and added to his versatility by playing the outfield. Bonifacio hit .330 during the playoff round-robin for the Tigers.

“They’ve played him a lot in right field and he obviously has the arm strength for that position,” a scout from a National League club said. “He’s been impressive defensively with a lot of carry and accuracy on his throws. At the plate, he’s like a little (Jose) Reyes. He’s a pest who gets on base and can cause you problems.”

In Mexico, Obregon ran away with the series final, defeating Mazatlan 4-1 in the nine-game series.

Obregon first baseman Carlos Rivera, who played in affiliated ball in the States for 11 seasons before playing in Mexico last summer, was the club’s top hitter. The 29-year-old infielder hit .361, but finished second in homers to teammate Jason Botts (Rangers), who had five.

Obregon also features a solid bullpen anchored by Royals’ righthander Joakim Soria.

The Venezuelan League is in the middle of a dogfight between Lara and Aragua, who won the league title last season.

“Every game has been close, so it’s going to come down to pitching,” said one international scouting director. “But with Miguel Cabrera in Aragua’s lineup, anything can happen.”

Cabrera, who is hitting .356, has yet to hit a home run since joining the club for the postseason run. While he remains the club’s top power threat, it’s center fielder Alberto Callaspo (Royals) who makes the Tigers go.

Through 82 at-bats in the playoffs, the leadoff hitter was batting .427 and was third in the league in RBIs (12).