Winter League Wrap-up
This year’s Winter Leagues saw an increase in the number of players from the organization, but an overall decrease in participation. While 33 players that were affiliated with the Cubs’ system for all or part of the off-season were part of winter baseball, 19 ended up playing less than ten games with their temporary clubs. Movement played a prominent role as fans said goodbye to Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Andrew Cashner, Robert Coello, Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Zambrano while saying hello to Alfredo Amezaga, Juan Apodaca, Anthony Rizzo, Dave Sappelt and Casey Weathers.
Some prospects, such as Junior Lake, Scott Maine, Marcos Mateo, Rebel Ridling, and Chris Rusin were effective in limited appearances. Others, such as Marco Carrillo, Bryan LaHair, Oswaldo Martinez, Blake Parker, Ryan Searle, and Kyle Smit performed well over the course of the season. Organizational Pitcher of the Winter
Marco Carrillo: Prior to the opening of the winter leagues, Marco Carrillo was without a contract. The front office acted quickly to re-sign him, and Carrillo set off for a new role with Yaquis de Obregon: starting pitcher. The just turned 25-year old right-hander had been a jack-of-all-trades in the Cubs’ system, making 40 appearances with nine games started and 11 finished in 2011. Used exclusively as a starter, Carrillo went on to post a 5-3 record with a 2.72 ERA, good for third in the Mexican Pacific League. He kept up the pace in the playoffs, sporting a 2-0 record with a 3.77 ERA, including a six-strikeout series clinching shutout. With strong pitching staffs shaping up in Iowa and Tenessee, what Carrillo’s role will be for the upcoming season is somewhat of a mystery. Wherever he ends up, Carrillo will probably make that pitching staff stronger.
Organizational Player of the Winter
Bryan LaHair: In a somewhat stormy winter, Bryan LaHair went a long way to erase some doubts in his ability. The big left-hander took the Venezuelan League by storm, hitting .290 with seven home runs and 14 RBI in the first five weeks of the season, including taking former Cubs’ starter Carlos Zambrano deep. Shortly afterward, LaHair left Navegantes del Magallanes. While there have been many rumors as to why LaHair left, he returned on November 27.
LaHair struggled in his return, leading to some harsh criticism from local media in Venezuela. He then left Magallanes briefly, only to return again in December. From there, LaHair was a force. He ended up by hitting .272 with 15 home runs to lead Venezuela, including 29 RBI and an on-base percentage of .404. LaHair received nine intentional walks and demonstrated that he can hold his own in left field.
Best Game of the Winter
There were many candidates for this year’s Game of the Winter. Among those were Team USA’s intense 2-1 loss to Team Canada in the Pan-Am Gold Medal game; Marco Carrillo and Yaquis De Obregon rallying twice to defeat Hermosillo 3-2 in a 16 inning marathon; Bryan LaHair’s return to Navagantes de Magallanes and a 2-for-3, 2 home run game; and Ryan Searle’s complete game, five-strikeout performance in Brisbane’s 7-3 victory over Melbourne. However, to spotlight once again was in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican League: Indios de Mayaguez 2 – Criollos de Caguas 0
With the league championship series tied at 1-1, Mayaguez manager Dave Miley made an unusual call and started Boston reliever Justin Thomas. Thomas had appeared in only nine games for the Indians, with no starts. After allowing one hit in two innings, Thomas gave up a double and a walk with two outs in the third inning. Miley summoned Iowa reliever Kyle Smit, who got the Tribe out of the jam. Smit was then staked to a two-run lead as a sacrifice fly by Marlins prospect Jeff Dominguez and a single by Jesus Feliciano to put Mayaguez ahead 2-0. Smit then had his longest outing in nearly two years, eventually tossing 4.1 innings, striking out three, and shutting out the Creoles. White Sox farmhand Ryan Kussmaul recorded an out to earn a hold, while Dodgers pitcher Ramon Troncosco went 1.2 scoreless innings for the save as Kyle Smit got credit for the victory.
Player to Watch
Arismendy Alcantara: The 20 year old switch-hitting infielder played in only four games for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican League, but was able to make his presence felt. Arismendy Alcantara hit .400 in his ten at bats, with a double and an RBI. While that can be considered a small sample size, Alcantara was able to show he belonged with much older and experienced players. Alcantara had a successful 2011, where he batted .271 in 99 games for Single-A Peoria. Perhaps the experience could have a similar effect as it did last year to former Cubs’ prospect Marwin Gonzalez, and be a springboard to greater success.
The Orangemen were next on the list with their striking black-and-orange uniforms, cool logo(left), rabid fans, and the success of Iowa pitcher Blake Parker.
Caribbean World Series
Even with the somewhat balmy winter being experienced in Chicago, 80 degrees in the Dominican Republic is nice to think about.
The Caribbean World Series opened on Thursday with a couple of tight games. In the opener, the Puerto Rico rode the arm of Blue Jays pitcher Nelson Figueroa, as he allowed only an earned run in 6.2 innings as they topped Venezuela 3-1. In the second game, the Dominican Republic pitching staff limited Mexico to three hits and struck out nine in route to a 2-1 victory. Cubs’ infielder Alfredo Amezaga was 0-for-4 in the game.
On Friday, it was Mexico’s turn to come up with a big pitching performance, as Randy Keisler scattered four hits and struck out five to blank Puerto Rico 2-0. The nightcap saw the first offensive explosion of the series, as the Dominican Republic rallied for three runs in the top of the 13th to get past Venezuela 5-2.
With all teams now settled in on Saturday, the offenses started heating up. In the first game, Alfredo Amezaga reached on a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning and later came around to score. Mexico came back from a 2-1 deficit to end up defeating Venezuela 4-2. Amezaga was 1-for-3 with a run scored and a sacrifice.
Game 2 saw the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico locked in a tight 2-1 battle after four innings. However, Puerto Rico’s pitchers couldn’t hold back the Dominicans, as they added four more runs to take home a 6-1 victory.
The standings after the first half of the double round-robin are the Dominican Republic 3-0, Mexico 2-1, Puerto Rico 1-2, and Venezuela 0-3. The tournament concludes on Tuesday, February 7.
Australian Baseball League
The Perth Heat advanced to the Australian championship series by taking the opening round from the Melbourne Aces three games to one. Perth then got a bye for the second round as Melbourne faced the Sydney Blue Sox. The Sox moved into the next round by defeating the Adelaide Bite by winning three in their best-of-five series. The Sydney Blue Sox then had Melbourne on the brink of elimination by going ahead 2-1 in the second round. However, Melbourne took both ends of a doubleheader to end up facing Perth for the championship. The finals will begin on Friday.
Attention CCO Readers
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