Ten Young Hitters Who Impressed In Latin American Winter Leagues

Image credit: Jeremy Pena (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Player development doesn’t end when the season does. Players continue improving their bodies and refining their skills in the fall and winter months, long after the final out of the World Series.

For many Latin American players—and the occasional American—offseason development means participating in professional winter leagues in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico. 

Playing in those winter leagues is a great way for young Latino players to gain experience in a high-pressure environment where the stakes are high, the competition skews older and playing time is distributed on merit, not simply pedigree.

For many young Latino players, the winter leagues represent a chance to prepare for the upcoming season as they seek to win big league jobs and establish a foothold in MLB.

In this piece, we highlight 10 young players who stood out in Latin American winter leagues. Not all have prospect eligibility remaining, but all have one thing in common: they have not yet established themselves in the majors. 

Note: The OPS+ figures compare each player’s OBP to league average and SLG to league average to produce an index score, where 100 is average. It is not adjusted for ballpark, but with the league run environments ranging from 3.94 runs per nine innings in the Dominican Republic to 5.87 in Venezuela, it is a crucial contextual adjustment.

1. Jesus Sanchez, RF, Marlins
Toros del Este (Dominican Republic)
84 PA: .324/.429/.465 (181 OPS+) | Age: 24

Sanchez shredded Triple-A pitchers early in the 2021 season to earn a May 4 callup to Miami. After initial MLB struggles, he seemed to hit his stride late in the season. Over his final 45 games, he hit .263/.333/.558 with 12 home runs in 45 games, albeit with 56 strikeouts and just 15 walks. 

Sanchez could be coming into his own after leading the Dominican League with 10 doubles this offseason and showing a more balanced 12-to-15 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 18 games. Sometimes it takes longer for the power-over-hit players to click, and Sanchez could be a prime example of that, especially if his plate skills continue to improve.

2. Jeremy Peña, SS, Astros
Estrellas Oriente (Dominican Republic)
132 PA: .291/.364/.410 (143 OPS+) | Age: 24

Peña hasn’t played much minor league ball in 2020 or 2021, but he has been a Dominican League standout the past two years. He was the league’s rookie of the year last year and this year won a gold glove at shortstop while also ranking top 10 in the league with seven stolen bases, 34 hits and 48 total bases. 

That is not to say Peña has no pro experience the past two seasons. He missed 2020 because of the pandemic and most of 2021 after having wrist surgery. But he returned in late August and mashed at Triple-A, hitting .287/.346/.598 with 10 homers and five stolen bases in 30 games. Peña is a strong candidate to play shortstop in Houston every day if the Astros don’t re-sign Carlos Correa or bring in a veteran.


3. Brayan Rocchio, SS, Guardians
Tiburones de La Guaira (Venezuela)
76 PA: .391/.440/.594 (163 OPS+) | Age: 21

Rocchio popped as a prospect in 2021 by reaching Double-A as a 20-year-old and showing newfound power with 15 home runs and 26 doubles. The switch-hitter’s breakout season continued in the Venezuelan League, where he hit .391 with nine extra-base hits in 17 games.

Some caution must be exercised with Rocchio’s raw numbers. Not only is it a small sample, but the Venezuelan League sees a lot of runs scored. The VL run environment is more similar to Triple-A West, Low-A West or the Arizona Fall League than it is the Dominican League, which sees fewer runs than any domestic minor league.

Regardless, Rocchio’s development during the 2021 season and offseason is encouraging for his future.

4. Leody Taveras, CF, Rangers
Aguilas Cibaeñas (Dominican Republic)
175 PA: .274/.379/.363 (133 OPS+) | Age: 23

Taveras began 2021 in the big leagues but played his way to Triple-A with a 4-for-46 April. He collected himself with Round Rock, and over his last 30 Triple-A games hit .264/.375/.538 with six homers, five steals, 20 walks and 25 strikeouts. 

Taveras continued to show improved plate discipline in the Dominican League, drawing a league-leading 24 walks against 23 strikeouts and compiling a .379 OBP in 40 games. He also won a Dominican League gold glove while stealing 11 bases in 12 tries. If the switch-hitting Taveras carries those on-base skills forward to go with his plus wheels and outstanding glove, he could play his way into Texas’ center field picture.

5. Rodolfo Castro, 3B, Pirates
Toros del Este (Dominican Republic)
109 PA: .235/.395/.388 (146 OPS+) | Age: 23

Castro played mostly second base in Pittsburgh while making his MLB debut in 2021, but he focused on third base in the minors and in the Dominican League. The switch-hitter likes to swing the bat and has notable power—his first five big league hits were home runs—but he showed a more discerning eye in winter ball.

Castro finished two off the Dominican League lead with 22 walks while posting a .395 OBP—which was tops among those who batted at least 100 times—and hitting nine extra-base hits in 25 games. Ultimately, Castro probably fits as a multi-position player, but he has a path to playing time at second base in Pittsburgh this season if he can harness his approach.


6. Isaac Paredes, 3B, Tigers
Venados de Mazatlan (Mexico)
181 PA: .282/.437/.409 (142 OPS+) | Age: 23

Paredes reached the big leagues as a 21-year-old in 2020 but has struggled to gain a foothold, batting .215 with a 65 OPS+ in 57 games over two seasons. At Triple-A last season, he drew more walks (56) than strikeouts (47) while producing at a rate more than 30% higher than Triple-A East average, after adjusting for a pitcher-friendly home park in Toledo.

Paredes continued to showcase a patient approach in the Mexican Pacific League, drawing 37 walks against 20 strikeouts in 42 games. As a righthanded-hitting infielder who plays third base, second base and shortstop, his versatility and on-base ability could come in handy to a Tigers team that is beginning to turn the corner in its rebuild. The potential for a multi-position role appears most probable in the short term.  

7. Blaine Crim, 1B, Rangers
Indios de Mayaguez (Puerto Rico)
115 PA: .406/.452/.594 (203 OPS+) | Age: 25

Crim won the short-season Northwest League MVP in 2019 and then lost what would have been his full-season debut to the pandemic in 2020. But he came out swinging in 2021 by hitting .296 with 29 home runs, which was tops in the Rangers system. He spent most of the season with High-A Hickory before finishing with 35 games at Double-A Frisco.

Crim continued to rake in the Puerto Rican League, hitting .406 to win the batting title and finishing first with a 1.046 OPS. The righthanded hitter takes great at-bats and can impact the baseball, making him someone to keep tabs on in 2022 as he tackles the upper levels. Crim was drafted in the 19th round in 2019 out of Division II Mississippi College, and he will go as far as his bat takes him.

8. Jonathan Aranda, 3B, Rays
Yaquis de Obregon (Mexico)
137 PA: .285/.382/.362 (112 OPS+) | Age: 24

Scouts loved Aranda’s hitting ability in Double-A South last season in his coming-out party. It’s easy to see why. Aranda led the league with a .325 batting average, .410 on-base percentage and .540 slugging on his way to MVP honors. He is a patient hitter who has a short, quick lefthanded swing and feel for the barrel. Aranda showed more patience (17 walks, 24 strikeouts in 41 games) than power (five extra-base hits) in the Mexican Pacific League after his breakout season. 

Aranda’s position is a bit more undefined. Last season he focused on first base and second base for Double-A Montgomery. In the Mexican Pacific League he focused his time at third base, with some first base and left field. That could be taken as a good sign for his 2022 outlook, because third base is more unsettled than the middle infield in Tampa Bay. 

9. Diego Rincones, RF, Giants
Bravos de Margarita (Venezuela)
187 PA: .335/.412/.460 (123 OPS+) | Age: 23

Rincones entered the 2021 season without much fanfare but popped after hitting .300 with power for High-A Eugene and then flashing all-around skills at Double-A Richmond in a 51-game sample. His .290/.373/.505 batting line really pops when placed in the context of a tough home park, and when translated his OPS and isolated slugging were both roughly 40% above the Double-A Northeast average.

Rincones continued to rake in the hitter-happy Venezuelan League this winter and will be interesting to monitor in 2022 to see if he can carry his production to Triple-A. Rincones is a corner outfielder with unremarkable plate discipline or speed, so his righthanded bat is his ticket to MLB.

10. Tirso Ornelas, LF, Padres
Mayos de Navojoa (Mexico)
238 PA: .353/.397/.473 (147 OPS+) | Age: 22

The Padres signed Ornelas out of the same Mexican youth academy that produced Luis Urias and Andres Muñoz. He reached High-A as a 19-year-old in 2019 but lost a key development season to the pandemic in 2020. Ornelas returned to High-A in 2021 and led the High-A Central with 31 doubles and drew 52 walks against 98 strikeouts in 107 games, but he has not yet tapped into the over-the-fence power his large frame suggests.

Ornelas returned to the Mexican Pacific League this winter, as he has since he was 18, and showed more of the same plate discipline (15 walks, 30 strikeouts in 60 games) and gap power (16 doubles, two triples) that has defined his pro career. The lefthanded hitter will be 22 this season with time left to bloom. 

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