As the winter leagues completed the championships last week, it is now onto the Caribbean World Series, where the four winter leagues are joined by their powerful neighbor Cuba.
But talent alone won’t guarantee a championship, as experience and cohesion have played a big part in deciding the tournament in recent years. A preview of all five national teams, along with the Cubs connections is included in this week’s report.
As winter baseball enters its exciting final week, there is plenty to see in the Down on the Farm Report.
Dominican Winter League
Estrellas de Oriente
Oriente lost its bid to represent the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean World Series, but went down swinging in 12-5 loss to Cibao on Sunday. Junior Lake belted a two run home run in the eighth inning, and was 2-for-4 in the loss.
Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League
Cangrejeros de Santurce
Santurce secured its spot in the Caribbean World Series last Monday with a 5-3 victory over Mayaguez. The Cangrejeros got four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to put the game away. Javier Baez was 0-for-4 while playing second base.
Caribbean World Series Preview
Baseball America’s Ben Badler has a detailed look at the roster the Cubans will be bringing to the Caribbean World Series. The highlights include an infield that will consist of the Gourriel brothers and Luis Yander La O. Thirty-year old third baseman Yulieski Gourriel remains Cuba’s top rated player, and is hitting .322 this season. Younger brother Lourdes Gourriel is 21 years old and a big shortstop at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds. Badler reports that Lourdes Gourriel may project to third base and has been even used at first while batting .326 with above-average power. Twenty-three year old Yander La O has been playing third base, but Badler feels he has the skill set to move to short as he has the range and arm to make the transition. Yander La O is considered one of the fastest players in Cuba and has gone .311 at the plate.
Heading the pitching staff will be Norge Ruiz and Freddy Alvarez. At 25 years old, Alvarez is probably the best known pitcher on the staff and was the second player taken in Cuba’s reinforcement draft. Alvarez led Cuba with a 1.63 ERA and is known as a polished pitcher. Scouts will be interested in how the 20-year old Ruiz performs as he sports a solid fastball and secondary pitches.
Cubs’ connection: None at this time, but watch and hope.
Representative Gigantes del Cibao finished the winter regular season in third place, four games behind Estrellas de Oriente. However, the Giants led the league in team hitting at .273, and had league leaders in outfielders Carlos Peguero (Texas) and Moises Sierra (Kansas City) in home runs and RBI respectively. In the round-robin playoffs, third baseman Maikel Franco (Philadelphia), shortstop Jean Segura (Milwaukee), and second baseman Alexi Castilla were second, third, and fourth in hitting. Franco showed why he is considered a top prospect as he also led the playoffs in RBI and tied teammate Peguero in home runs. Pitching wasn’t the strong suit for Cibao, who ended up fourth out of six teams in regular season ERA.
Cubs’ connection: Carlos Pimentel, RHP. Pimentel was brought in by the Giants for the playoffs after his Escogido team was eliminated in regular season play. The 25-year old had some good starts for the Giants before seeing his ERA balloon to 5.03 in five starts. Pimentel was recently re-signed by the Cubs and is expected to be used in middle relief by the Dominican Republic.
A team that second seemed to be the buzz word for during the regular season, the Tomateros de Culiacan became the upset winner over leader Jalisco in the Mexican Pacific League. The Tomato-men had the second best overall record, were second in runs scored, and second in team ERA. Culiacan boasts probably the most experienced lineup in the tournament. Thirty-five year old second baseman Carlos Valencia tied for the league lead in home runs and was fourth in RBI, while 30-year old outfielder Maxwell Leon’s .333 batting average was third in the league. But 24-year old lefty Juan Pablo Oramas was one of the most dominant pitchers in Mexico this winter. Oramas led the league in strikeouts while ending up third in WHIP and fourth in ERA. Joining Oramas in the rotation are 32-year old Salvador Valdez and 27-year old Arnold Leon (Oakland), both of whom came up big in the playoffs.
Cubs’ connection: Dave Sappelt, OF. A former Cubs and Reds prospect, the 28-year old was a beast in the Mexican League playoffs. Sappelt led all hitters with seven home runs and 17 RBI while batting .214 with a .854 OPS in 19 games.
Roberto Clemente League Champions, Santurce comes into the Caribbean Series with perhaps the most momentum. After finishing only 19-19 in the regular season, the Cangrejeros rode a strong pitching staff through the playoffs, defeating Mayaguez four games to two in the championship. Thirty four-year old Ivan Maldonado dominated Puerto Rican batters, leading the league in victories, ERA, and WHIP. Maldonado was joined by 31-year old Jorge Martinez among the league leaders, as he was third in WHIP, fourth in ERA, and tied for sixth in strikeouts. On offense, 23-year old outfielder Anthony Garcia (St. Louis) came close to winning the league triple crown, leading in home runs and RBI while finishing third in batting average. The anemic regular season offense came alive in the playoffs, as outfielder Ruben Sosa (Houston) led in hitting, second baseman Ruben Gotay in home runs, and third baseman Neftali Soto (Cincinnati) in RBI.
Cubs’ connection: Joel Pineiro, RHP. With infielder Javier Baez shut down by the Cubs in order to prepare for Spring Training, the focus turns to the 36-year old Pineiro. Signed by the Cubs in 2014, Pineiro started four games for Double-A Tennessee and had a 4.43 ERA before being released. Pineiro was fifth in the league in strikeouts during the regular season and came alive in the playoffs, winning three games and posting a 1.80 ERA.
Leading from wire to wire, Caribes de Anzoategui romped through Venezuela both in the regular season and the playoffs. The Caribes probably have the most balanced team in the series, finishing second in pitching and third in hitting during the regular season. The team added the league’s second leading hitter in outfielder Felix Perez (Cincinnati) from Caracas while first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor (Kansas City) was second in home runs and tied for fifth (with Perez) in RBI. Thirty four-year old outfielder Jose Castillo got extremely hot in the playoffs and led everyone with a .439 average. The pitching staff is led by 25-year old lefty Jose Alvarez (Angels), who was tops in the league in victories, ERA, and WHIP. Joining Alvarez is 30-year old Junior Guerra (White Sox) who led the league in strikeouts while 30-year old Daryl Thompson finished second to Guerra. Anzoategui also can make a case for the best bullpen, with Cody Hall (San Francisco) and Pedro Rodriguez placing second and fourth in saves.
Cubs’ connection: Paolo Espino, RHP. The Cubs signed the 28-year old to a minor league contract last off-season, but released him in spring training. Now a member of the Washington organization, Espino was 3-0 with a 3.74 ERA in eight starts for the Caribes. Espino gives Anzoategui a four-deep rotation.
After not fielding its best team last year and getting blown out, Cuba seems to be taking the series a bit more seriously. Mexico has won three of the last four series and has the most experience. The Dominican Republic is a hitting machine which can cause teams a lot of trouble, while Venezuela is the most balanced and has had the shortest lay-off. Puerto Rico seems to lack the star power to compete.
In the end, the talented Cubans and experienced Mexicans should square off in the finals, with Cuba walking away with the crown.
Attention CCO Readers
It’s time for the Down on the Farm preliminary reader’s poll. Please post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow next season. The CCO will then take the top 20 vote-getters and run a special poll for the final month of preseason. The CCO will track the progress of top ten players throughout the entire season. A representative sample of positions and levels of play is optimal. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only ten will eventually be chosen. Last year, readers nominated 98 separate players and cast 618 votes. So from Tyler Alamo to Rob Zastryzny, all nominations will be accepted and given equal weight.