Liga de Beisbol Dominicano
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?