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Liga de Beisbol Dominicano

Lorenzo Barcelo is currently starring for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League (photo courtesy of Joe Doll)

One final stop on our Caribbean winter tour, the Dominican Winter League, which in talking with players is held in the highest regard of all winter leagues it seems, just ahead of Venezuela.

This is also where Dominican native and Revs righty Lorenzo Barcelo has shined this winter.  In 7 starts for Aguilas Cibaenas, he is 5-1 with a 2.45 ERA and has allowed only 29 hits in 40.1 innings with just 4 walks and 21 strikeouts. Pretty awesome stuff for “The Rooster” who also was recently named Player of the Week.  And former Revs lefty Shane Youman has recently joined him on the team, having allowed just 1 run in 10.0 innings through his first two starts.

And by the way, Barcelo has an unbelievable array of animal noises that he makes, but his best and most popular is a rooster. After he beat Long Island in Game 2 of the Championship Series, he got on the bus microphone to inform the team that he had to leave the next morning to attend to some personal business before winter ball started and gave everyone a full rendition of every animal he could impersonate.  It was incredible.  Just like being at the zoo.

Salvador Paniagua, a real unsung hero with the Revs this season who caught Barcelo quite a bit, is playing in the DR with Toros del Este where he’s 4-for-14 at the plate with two doubles and four RBI.  Paniagua really improved his throwing under Etch’s tutelage and called a great game for the pitching staff.  He and Thurm in particular really built a great rapport.  His teammates with Este include Ozzie Chavez (5-for-14), a shortstop who went from Lancaster to the Phillies organization this year, Riversharks outfielder Ruddy Yan (.273), Camden infielder Danny Richar (.186), and infielder Victor Mercedes (.200) who has played with Bridgeport the last two seasons and Newark the year before that. Mercedes caused a stir in Bridgeport before the Championship Series in 2010 when he left the Bluefish to join his winter league team before the series against York. 

Three names also jump out from Este’s pitching staff including Lancaster lefty Yunior Novoa (three scoreless appearances), Camden righty Humberto Sanchez (1 run in 2.2 IP) who was pretty tough after joining the Sharks late in the year, and 43-year-old Hector Carrasco (2 runs in 1 inning) who’s not done yet after 12 major league seasons and appearances with Long Island, Newark, and Bridgeport in the Atlantic League the last few years.

Other Atlantic League names in the Dominican this winter include lefty Tom Cochran, 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 6 starts for Estrellas de Oriente.  Cochran pitched in Lancaster in 2009 before being signed by Cincinnati.  He was Eric Eymann’s teammate in Louisville this year, and recommended the Atlantic League to Eymann when he was released by the Reds.  In fact, Cochran helped Eymann get in touch with Mark Mason who was Cochran’s pitching coach when he was in the Frontier League with Washington in 2006 and 2007.  Cochran also played a role when Scott Grimes signed with York before the 2010 season, again recommending a former teammate of his to Mase – Cochran and Grimes played together with Worcester in 2008.  Orioles outfielder Felix Pie (.260) is Cochran’s teammate with Oriente.

Some familiar names with Gigantes del Cibao include SS Erick Almonte who’s hitting .333.  He spent 2006 with Long Island, and eventually climbed back to the majors with Milwaukee this past season.  Joining him in Cibao is big league vet D’Angelo Jimenez (.250) who appeared in the Atlantic League with Newark, and former World Series hero Pedro Feliz who was in Camden this season before signing with San Diego.  Feliz is only 2-for-24 this winter, however. 

Cibao’s pitching staff is littered with familiar names including former Revs lefty Justin Hampson (2010) who this past season earned a contract back to affiliated ball pitching at Triple-A Buffalo in the Mets system… he has not allowed a run in two appearances this winter and earned a win in one of those outings.  Familiar foe John Halama is 0-1 through 2 starts but has a 1.54 ERA.  Esteban Yan has also made two relief appearances for that team.  And Lenny DiNardo, who began this season with Long Island before signing with Oakland (in turn allowing Mike Loree to take a spot in the Ducks’ rotation) is having a great winter, sporting a 1.82 ERA through 6 starts despite a 2-3 record.

Atlantic League vet Willis Otanez (4-for-13) is suiting up for Leones del Escogido.  Well-known big league veterans Julio Lugo and Fernando Tatis are on his team but both are hitting under .200 along with southpaw Odalis Perez who has allowed 7 runs in 2.2 innings.  Lefty Sam Narron, who the Revs faced with Camden in early 2010 before he signed with the Brewers, is pitching for the Leones but is 1-3. Jose Cabrera (7 saves, 0.84 ERA) who pitched for Lancaster in 2008 and Bartolome Fortunato (1 run in 3.1 IP) who was in a Bluefish uniform in 2010 are also with Escogido.

The Tigres del Licey roster includes Angel Berroa, former A.L. Rookie of the Year who played for Bridgeport this season (currently hitting .273), former Camden catcher Rene Rivera who was with Licey before going on to the Puerto Rican Winter League, longtime big league infielder Pablo Ozuna (2-for-16) who we saw in Newark in 2010, and last but not least, one of the great success stories to come out of the Atlantic League in recent years, Wily Mo Pena, who went from Bridgeport in 2010 to hitting 7 homers in 39 major league games with Arizona and Seattle in 2011. He’s having a tough start to the winter though, going just 4-for-27 in his first 8 games.  Licey’s pitching staff has Oneli Perez (0-1, 4.15 in 13 games) who appeared with Newark in 2009 and Roberto Giron (2 runs in 1/3 of an inning) who was with the Road Warriors this season.

What does all of this mean?  Other than the fact that the Atlantic League and the Revs are well-represented in winter ball again this year, it means that come early February when the Caribbean World Series airs on MLB Network, we have a pretty good chance of seeing some participants that we recognize play in those televised games.  That will occur after each of the four winter leagues has a playoff champion, and those four winners enter into a round-robin tournament against each other.  The team that finishes with the best record in that tournament is the Caribbean World Series champ.  Who says it’s the off-season?



3 responses

  1. Robert Helineva

    Always nice to read your reports on winter ball. It is clear plenty of Atlantic league players are still battling for recognition and roster spots. As a rivershark fan (+York too) nice to see the guys still going at it. Feliz at 2 for 24 – not so good.
    Paniagua impressed me. His gun to 2nd base was on target in the playoffs and a nice bat in the line-up too. Do you think York can resign him for 2012? What about Castro ? He seems like he too, deserves a shot in AAA at least

    November 22, 2011 at 4:58 am

  2. Darrell Henry

    Paniagua could be looked at as a starter and I think Etch and company would certainly be interested in re-signing him provided he’s available and not going to Mexico or something. I would expect to see him back here. Last year he started out as the backup but ended up getting the bulk of the playing time late in the year and in the postseason. First and foremost he called a great game and played a large role in the success of the pitching staff. Working with Etch, he progressively got better with his throwing mechanics, specifically his footwork. And offensively, .251 with 6 homers in only 195 at-bats is not bad at all from your catcher. He of course came up with some very clutch hits in the postseason, and his raw power is unquestioned. The year before, he hit 23 homers in only 88 games in the United League, and given a chance to be a full-time starter, he could be a 15-homerun guy in this league. There are some things they’d probably like to see him do better like hit the ball the other way, but he had as much raw power as anyone on the team. The only other thing he struggled with was catching pop-ups… just never seemed comfortable with those. Something to work on, and his manager has a pretty good brain to pick as a former catcher. Etch really helped turn him into a good thrower.

    With Castro, there’s no question he could be a productive hitter at any level, but his age and defense might keep MLB organizations from signing him at this point. He’s not old at 32, but organizations typically look at guys who are still in their 20s. Defensively, when they moved him to shortstop full-time this season, he really did a solid job there. It was his more natural, comfortable position, and he got better reads and breaks on the ball. He was very smooth and sure-handed on the plays he was supposed to make, but he does lack the range that he probably once had. He was picked up by the Giants out of the Atlantic League in 2009 when he was in Newark, but if he hasn’t gotten a look after what he’s done offensively the last two years, one has to wonder if it would happen again. But then again if an organization has a need at a certain level, it could happen. We’ve heard names of players that we thought wouldn’t garner much interest because they were struggling at the time, yet big league organizations were indeed interested. And Castro is far from struggling offensively. It’s a tough thing to predict.

    As far as a return to York, there’s certainly a chance. He loves it here and said that he wants to begin the season here next year and play a full year rather than starting in Mexico again. But if he did start in Mexico again, would the club want to deal with that again, trying to survive the first month or more without a hitter they were counting on having? Etch has also talked about the need to make changes and infuse the team with new blood next year to avoid complacency on the roster. Not at all saying that would happen with Castro, but based on what Etch said after the season ended, he’s open to changes, so who knows. He is a career .341 hitter in this league, so I would tend to count on him as being a guy who hits every year and doesn’t fall into that complacency trap that can happen to veterans who stay in the Atlantic League for too long, but it will be an interesting hot stove season. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say we’ll see him again in York next year.

    November 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    • Robert helineva

      Hello Darell,
      Thanks for your comments and insight. I like Castro. His numbers with the bat are hard to deny. A 341 hitter is welcome on any team. I hope to see him back with York. It would be interesting to see if he would be signed to AA or AAA – I feel he desrves a shot based on his bat. As you mentioned his age doesn’t make him a ‘prospect’ vs someone coming out of college. I don’t see any motivational weaknesses. He has a smile on his face and is tuned in to the game. I suppose the main thing is to keep battling. These days you can’t rest on your laurels as the next game is the most important one.

      Also Paniagua is another plus. With Etch as a guide he can keep getting help with techniques. When his confidence is up he has overcome the weaknesses and a complete player. I am sure he will keep developing.
      When you mentioned Etch was talking changes to the team roster it came to my attention based what I have read players really like playing in York. It has got to be right up there as a favorite destination in the league. With your teams success I am sure you will have your share of new players willing to play with York. Take Care, Robert

      November 29, 2011 at 8:13 am

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