Welcome to the CCO’s coverage of off-season baseball! In today’s edition we focus on third base and hot starts. Jeimer Candelario is so far taking the Arizona Fall League by storm, while Christian Villanueva has been hard to stop in the Mexican Pacific League. And down in Venezuela, infielder Bryant Flete has not only excelled at the plate, but has demonstrated his versatility.
So welcome back to the world of the Solar Sox, the Navegantes, and those Yaquis as Down on the Farm brings you the Winter Report!
Note: Coverage of the Winter Leagues runs from Sunday to Saturday
Arizona Fall League
It was another opening for the Arizona Fall League last Tuesday as Manager Mark Johnson set the line-up for the Mesa Solar Sox. However, it was a long day for all of the Cubs’ prospects as Mesa lost to Glendale 8-7. Pierce Johnson started for the Solar Sox and allowed three earned runs, including a two-run home run, and struck out a batter in three innings. Rob Zastryzny came on in relief and had three strikeouts, but gave up an earned run in two innings. Corey Black followed and fanned two as he pitched a perfect inning. At the plate, Willson Contreras started at catcher and was 0-for-5, while right fielder Mark Zagunis went 0-for-2 with two walks. Jeimer Candelario was 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter.
Game two on Wednesday was a near repeat of the previous day’s outcome, as the Solar Sox lost 7-6 to Glendale. Jeimer Candelario started at third base and had quite a day, going 3-for-4 with a double, a walk, and a run scored. David Garner pitched a scoreless ninth, giving up two walks but striking out two batters.
On Thursday, Mesa continued to stumble as they were shut out by Surprise 3-0. Willson Contreras started at catcher and was 1-for-3 with a walk, while right fielder Mark Zagunis went 0-for-2 with a walk.
It was a very trying afternoon for manager Mark Johnson on Friday as the Solar Sox pitchers yielded 22 hits in a 20-6 loss to Surprise. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario really came to play as he carried the entire Mesa squad, going 5-for-5 with three doubles, two home runs, and two runs scored. Willson Contreras, playing first base, also got into the act as he was 2-for-4 with a walk, home run, RBI, and run scored. Corey Black contributed to the collapse of the pitching squad, giving up four earned runs on four hits and two walks in an inning.
Dominican Winter League
Opening Night for Cibaenas on Friday resulted in a 5-4 victory over Cibao. Iowa pitcher Frank Batista came on in the sixth inning and worked around two hits for a scoreless frame.
The Dominican Winter League opened on Thursday as Licey dominated Escogido in a 9-3 win. Iowa infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara batted third and played second base for the Tigers, going 1-for-3 with a walk, an RBI, and a run scored.
The Tigers stepped on the accelerator late on Saturday, scoring eight runs in the final three innings to breeze past Este 8-3. Arismendy Alcantara moved up to second in the order but remained at second base, going 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored.
Toros del Este
The action was over early on Friday’s Opening Night, as Este scored three runs in the first three innings and cruised to a 3-0 win over Oriente. Iowa catcher-infielder Taylor Davis played first base and was 1-for-4 in the victory.
The Bulls started out hot again on Saturday, scoring three runs in the first inning, but could not hold Licey as they lost 8-3. Taylor Davis once again played first and was 0-for-4 in the loss.
Mexican Pacific League
Aguilas de Mexicali
Mexicali came out blazing in their opener on Oct. 10 as they defeated Hermosillo 4-1. Iowa pitcher Blake Parker relieved starter Javier Solano in the sixth inning and worked around a hit with a strikeout in a scoreless inning.
The Eagles put up five runs in the seventh inning on Tuesday to get past Obergon 8-7. Blake Parker gave up an earned run in the eighth as he pitched 0.1 innings.
Tomateros de Culiacan
The Tomateros were able to start the season off right on Oct. 9 as they defeater Jalisco 2-0. Iowa pitcher Ryan Buchter started the eighth inning and walked two batters in 0.1 innings.
The game went 10 innings on Tuesday, and when it was over, the Pickers were on the wrong end of an 8-5 loss to Los Mochis. Ryan Buchter came on in the seventh inning and struck out two in a scoreless inning.
Culiacan continued to have a hard time finding their way on Thursday as they lost to Los Mochis 7-2. Ryan Buchter appeared in the eighth inning and worked around a hit with a strikeout.
Yaquis de Obregon
It was a great way to open the season for the Yaquis on Oct. 10 as they beat Navojoa 4-0. Iowa’s Christian Villanueva started at third base and went 1-for-2 with two walks and a three run homer.
Sunday, Oct. 11 saw a come from behind win as Obregon scored three in the final two innings to beat Navojoa 6-5. Christian Villanueva got the Tribe on the board in the second inning with a solo home run. Villanueva went 1-for-3 with two RBI in the win.
Bullpen issues haunted the Yaquis on Tuesday as they lost to Mexicali 8-7. After taking a 6-3 lead in the sixth, Obregon gave up five runs in the seventh inning. Christian Villanueva remained hot, going 1-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored.
On Wednesday, Obregon took on undefeated Mexicali and came away a 5-3 winner. A move to DH did not seem to affect Christian Villanueva, as he was 3-for-3 with a double and three runs scored in the victory.
The traditionally slow-starting Yaquis had another setback on Thursday as they lost to Mexicali 5-1. Christian Villanueva had his second straight start at DH and was 0-for-4 in the loss.
Another loss on Friday brought the Tribes’ record to 3-3 as they bowed to Navojoa 8-2. Christian Villanueva was back at third base and blasted a solo home run, his third of the season, as he went 1-for-4.
It was all Yaquis on Saturday night as Obregon shut out Navojoa 5-0. Christian Villanueva continues to be a one man wrecking crew, as the third baseman clouted a solo home run and went 2-for-4 with two RBI in the contest. Villanueva now leads the MPL with four home runs and is second with eight RBI.
Venezuelan Winter League
Aguilas de Zulia
Zulia came up a little short in their season debut on Oct. 7 in losing to Margarita 2-1. South Bend’s Bryant Flete came on as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and struck out.
The Eagles once again were not able to keep pace on Oct. 10 as the lost to Magallanes 5-3. Bryant Flete got the start at second base and took advantage, going 3-for-4 with a double.
It took 11 innings, but the Aguilas got in the win column on Sunday, Oct. 11 in beating Magallanes 6-5. Bryant Flete had another start at second base and was 2-for-3 with a triple, an RBI, and two walks.
On Tuesday, Zulia dug them self too big of a hole as they lost to Magallanes 5-3. The Aguilas gave up five runs in the second inning but rallied on the hot hitting of Bryant Flete, Flete went 3-for-4 with a run scored in the loss.
The Aguilas scored their second victory of the season on Wednesday as they beat Aragua 10-3. Bryant Flete lined up in left field, but the change of position did not affect him at the plate. Flete once again found a hole as he went 1-for-3 with a run scored.
The Eagles are suddenly on a roll, as the won their second straight on Thursday by beating Caracas 4-1 and improving to 3-4 on the season. Bryant Flete was once again in left field and went 0-for-2 with a walk in the win.
Zulia was not able to sustain an early lead on Friday as they lost to La Guiara 5-1. It was a third straight start for Bryant Flete in left field, and he went 0-for-2 with a walk before exiting in the ninth.
Bravos de Margarita
Margarita was able to hang on in their opener on Oct. 7 to edge Zulia 2-1. Tennessee’s P.J. Francescon came on in the ninth and worked around two hits with a strikeout to nail down his first save.
The Braves were able to chip away at Lara on Oct. 9 and took a 5-4 victory. P.J. Francescon earned his second save as he pitched a scoreless ninth.
It was a big night for the Bravos on Wednesday as they blew away Anzoategui 10-1. Iowa Cubs RHP Felipe Paulino saw his first action as he relieved starter Sergio Perez after four innings. Paulino gave up an earned run and had two strikeouts in two innings to gain the victory.
Friday was a trying night for Margarita as they were shut out by Caracas 7-0. P.J. Francescon was called on in the ninth and delivered a scoreless inning.
Navegantes de Magallanes
It was a back-and-forth affair for Magallanes on Friday with the Navs coming out on top of Lara 8-7. South Bend’s Erick Leal saw his first action and inherited two runners as he came on in the sixth inning. Leal allowed an earned run on two hits in 0.1 innings.
Tigres de Aragua
It was a blowout for Aragua in their opener on Oct. 7 as they defeated Magallanes 11-4. South Bend’s Gioskar Amaya lined up at second base and was 1-for-5 with a walk.
The Tigers were not able to keep pace with La Guaira on Oct. 8 as the lost 6-3. It was another start at second base for Gioskar Amaya, as he went 1-for-3 with a walk.
On Oct. 9, the Tigres had another big night in defeating Caracas 9-1. Moving over to third base, Gioskar Amaya was 0-for-3 with a walk.
The Cats were not able to hold on in the final innings on Sunday, Oct. 11 as they lost to Caracas 8-7. It was back to second base for Gioskar Amaya as he went 1-for-5 with an RBI and a walk.
Aragua continued to stumble on Wednesday as they lost to Zulia 10-3. Gioskar Amaya was back at second base and went 0-for-4 in the loss.
It was a close game on Friday, but the Tigres were edged out by Anzoategui 2-1. Gioskar Amaya lined up at second base and was 0-for-2 before being lifted in the eighth inning.
News and Notes
Iowa INF Chris Valaika announced his retirement and accepted a position as Undergraduate Assistant Baseball Coach at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
The Australian Baseball League opens on Oct. 23.
The Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League gets underway on Oct. 30.