9 Prospects Who Impressed During Winter Ball
The Caribbean winter leagues are an opportunity for players to perform in their home countries and test their skills against players from all different levels of professional baseball. These games are intense, and provide a unique experience whether a player is a former big leaguer looking for a job or a prospect trying to improve his game.
With the 2018-19 winter ball season and postseason concluded in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, we reflect on a handful of up-and-coming players who stood out. Since winter league seasons are roughly 50-60 games long, this list emphasizes players who left impressions on scouts during their time in winter ball.
1. FERNANDO TATIS JR., SS, PADRES
“El Niño” won over the hearts of Estrellas Orientales fans with his impressive approach at the plate. The 20-year-old worked deep counts (.379 on-base percentage) and provided power (.488 slugging, 11 extra-base hits in 23 games). In addition to timely offense, Tatis showed excellent body control and played a plus defensive shortstop all season long. One of the top prospects in baseball, Tatis should be called to the big leagues at some point in 2019.
2. GENESIS CABRERA, LHP, CARDINALS
The league’s rookie of the year cruised to a 1.26 ERA in 20 relief appearances. Sparkling command and a mid-90s fastball led to 21 strikeouts against just two walks in 14 innings for Cabrera, who helped Licey advance to the round-robin Dominican League tournament. The Cardinals have big plans for the 22-year-old Cabrera, who could potentially complement free agent pickup Andrew Miller as a lefthander in the St. Louis bullpen.
3. MOISES GOMEZ, OF, RAYS
Gomez’s offensive impact was felt immediately with the Magallanes. He hit six home runs and five doubles in a 35-game stint. His plus bat speed works well with his leg kick, allowing him to wait back on pitches and ultimately drive them to all fields. In addition, Gomez played an average left field defensively with an accurate arm. The 20-year-old is ready to advance to the high Class A Florida State League in 2019.
4. JORGE MATEO, SS, ATHLETICS
While he hit a paltry .169 for Toros del Este, Mateo did show some improvement as a player. Scouts noticed that he was letting the game come to him, and not rushing to make poor decisions. The 23-year-old showed signs of maturing and proved there is still promise in his overall tool set, headlined by elite speed. He is poised to repeat Triple-A this season.
5. EDWARD OLIVARES, OF, PADRES
Olivares is an athletic, 22-year-old center fielder who shows five-tool potential. He showed good bat speed in Venezuela and should develop more pop in the future. Olivares hit .340 and got on base at a .404 clip for the Tigres de Aragua, while showing good defensive skills in the outfield. The Padres acquired Olivares from the Blue Jays for Yangervis Solarte prior to the 2018 season and he is ready to tackle Double-A after joining the 40-man roster in the offseason.
6. JASSON ATONDO, SS/2B, UNAFFILIATED
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE
The 23-year-old Atondo hit .349 in the MPL, losing the batting title to Francisco Peguero by one percentage point. Atondo has drawn the attention of scouts for his solid defensive play and ability to battle during at-bats. He doesn’t show much power or run particularly well, but he has a feel to hit and good knowledge of the strike zone. He has played four seasons in the Mexican League as a utility infielder for Campeche.
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7. GERARDO REYES, RHP, PADRES
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE
Reyes shined for Ciudad Obregon, striking out 20 batters across 18 relief innings without yielding an earned run. The 25-year-old righthander throws from a lower three-quarters arm slot with a slinging arm action, making him particularly effective against righthanded batters.
8. EDUARDO VERA, RHP, PIRATES
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE
Vera spent the bulk of the 2018 season at Double-A and then was a pitching standout in the MPL. He registered a 1.46 ERA across five starts and 24 innings for Mazatlan while issuing just two walks and allowing no home runs. He can work his fastball up to 97 mph while flashing an above-average curveball and solid command of his pitches.
9. JOSE SIRI, OF, REDS
After a rough Double-A debut in which he hit .229/.300/.474, the tooled-up Siri appeared in 37 games for Gigantes del Cibao, mostly patrolling center field. His aggressiveness gets him in trouble from time to time, but during the league playoffs, he was exceptional. Siri hit .591/.625/.864 in the championship series and he had 12 steals and 13 runs scored in the playoffs after joining Estrellas and helping them win the league title.
- The Estrellas Orientales chose wisely during the 2017-18 Dominican League rookie draft, opting to select shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. over third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with the first pick. The organization’s front office was leaning towards selecting Guerrero. Then assistant general manager Raul Gonzalez pushed for them to consider position scarcity and the future of the organization. Tatis would be a quality shortstop for years to come, and someone Estrellas fans could be excited to watch. The dearth of shortstops projected in future draft classes, combined with Tatis’ hometown roots in San Pedro de Macoris, made Estrellas select the homegrown rising star. Guerrero did not play in the league this season, while Tatis led all hitters with four home runs in the playoffs to help Estrellas win the Dominican League title, the club’s first since 1968.
- Versatile 27-year-old Willians Astudillo had a nice showing in the Venezuelan League, hitting eight home runs in 55 games and finishing runner-up to Delmon Young in MVP voting. Praised for his intelligence and work ethic, Astudillo has been described as the perfect 25th man on a roster who can move around and provide solid at-bats late in a game. Astudillo, who is on the Twins’ 40-man roster after making his major league debut in 2018, plays catcher, left field and both corner infield positions.
- Pirates 25-year-old minor leaguer Alfredo Reyes was one of the Dominican League’s top candidates for rookie of the year. His athleticism and versatility helped Estrellas Orientales on a daily basis. Reyes’ contact-oriented bat and ability to play both middle infield positions plus third base were an important component of his team’s winning season. Given his age, Reyes needs a big season at Triple-A to jump on the Pirates’ radar. Pittsburgh snagged him in the minor league Rule 5 draft after the 2015 season.