WTNYJanuary 03, 2005
Back from Hibernation
By Bryan Smith

With the Dominican Winter League playoffs beginning yesterday, I figure now is as good a time as ever to check on the prospects of the DWL. The League consistently lands more premier players than any of the other winter leagues, with well over five players that will be in my top 75 prospects (read on for more info). I would highly suggest you read Baseball Prospectus' winter league translations when they come out, as they are always a valuable tool in putting these statistics in perspective.

To help, using the statistics available at mlb.com, I calculated that the league average is .255, and the league ERA is 3.81. Looking at each team's average, I can tell you that the league OBP would likely be just above .320, and the SLG a hair above .380. So any player with an OPS very far above .700 is having a better-than-average season. For pitchers, I can tell you that the ERA is a good indicator of the prospect's season, and that his H/9 should be well over 9.00, though few K/9s are that high. Hopefully that will provide some guidance here.

There are six teams in the DWL, and between them I found 20 players worth commenting on. If you want more info on the league, I suggest you head over to the MLB website.

Aguilas Del Cibao

Not a lot here, with Edwin Encarnacion the best prospect to speak of. The Reds third base prospect should have been insulted with the Austin Kearns hot corner expirament, as Dave O'Brien is not showing a lot of confidence in the solid if not spectacular Encarnacion. To remain politically correct, O'Brien said that he thinks Encarnacion is still raw, and needs at least another year in the minors. I wouldn't disagree with this, but I hardly think it necessitates Kearns moving. Instead, sign Joe Randa.

On the other hand, maybe O'Brien is right about Encarnacion. After a less-than-stellar season in the Southern League, Edwin is hitting just .241/.310/.362 in 141 at-bats. These numbers aren't far below league average, but he needed a solid campaign to start changing the minds within the Cincinnati front office. I wouldn't be shocked, nor frown upon, if the Reds offer Encarnacion in a trade for a young starter, someone like Kip Wells. Both teams could do far worse.

Speaking of the Bucs, on the same club is Leo Nunez, who the club just dealt in exchange for Benito Santiago. The last time I commented on Nunez was when I found him in my pack of Bowman cards, basically calling him a poor man's Juan Cruz. Nunez had a real solid season with Hickory this year, showing his Cruz impression with a solid peripherals minus the unsatisfactory HR ratio. He's a nice arm for the Royals to get for a 40-plus catcher, and his Winter League performance (1.98 ERA in 13.2 IP) is making Mr. Baird look like he made another solid acquisition.

Let me stop now and point out that this season, Baird acquired three relatively intriguing players in Nunez, Denny Bautista and Justin Huber, in exchange for Jason Grimsley, Benito Santiago and Jose Bautista. He's doing something right.

Azucareros Del Este

Through December 20, this team had a 16-28 record, likely because their best hitter (Luis Terrero) only had an .811 OPS. Hanging right with Terrero was team star, Andy Marte of the Atlanta Braves. His .801 OPS is pretty solid, well above the league averages across the board. He continued to show the patience and power that makes him a top prospect, but still leaves us waiting for the huge numbers everyone is expecting. You have to wonder if they might not come at all, and Marte will just simply be somewhere between 'average' and 'solid', but I (like everyone else) have a hard time believing it.

The Royal-Pirates connection is not done, as catcher Ronny Paulino played in the league for all of 66 at-bats. Paulino is one of the nine million players that were drafted from the Pirates (by the Royals) in the 2003 Rule 5 draft, but later returned. After a season better than Geovany Soto's, the Pirates added Paulino to the 40-man roster after the season. It's looking like a shaky decision now, after (I know sample-size) his winter league totals will finish with a .152/.233/.197 line. He's just another fringe catching prospect in an organization flush with them, and his recent numbers likely won't help getting noticed between J.R. House or Humberto Cota.

Last but not least, we have the WTNY debut of another Royal, Ambiorix Burgos. The hard-throwing right-hander is picking up right where he left off in the Midwest League, with a 2.21 ERA, along with 11 hits and 24 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. Control is continuing to be the problem (and I don't even have his HR/9 numbers), with 14 so far this winter. Burgos has the chance to follow in the footsteps of Denny Bautista, but even Denny's control isn't quite this erratic.

Gigantes Del Cibao

To paraphrase, in a recent Sporting News, Jim Bowden expressed his surprisement to see the Brewers netting Nelson Cruz for Keith Ginter, whom he was also after. Cruz was just part of a winter of solid returns for Doug Melvin, who acquired Carlos Lee, Cruz, Jose Capellan, and Justin Lehr for Podsednik, Kolb and Ginter. After a real breakout season between the California and Texas Leagues, Cruz is continuing his success in the DWL. Through 75 at-bats, he's hitting .333/.390/.493, with continued struggles in the BB/K department (7/25). He has the chance to provide a lot of power in the outfield, and will likely battle Brad Nelson for a 2006 spot.

Leones Del Escogido

I was down in Florida for winter break and it was alarmingly cold, and while I don't know the weather in D.R., I can say with confidence that there is enough heat to go around in Escogido. With four flame-throwing prospects on the roster, the Lions undoubtedly provided a lot of fun baseball to watch this winter.

Top dog on the list is Jose Capellan, who has probably been talked about as much as any prospect on this site. I'm not really sure why, other than I think I have a real good handle on the kid. The decision for him to pitch in winter ball is one I strongly disagree with (kudos to the Mariners for not letting Felix pitch), and he is showing a bit of wear. His 4.30 ERA is not alarming, but that combined with a subpar H/9 ratio has to at least raise some yellow flags. Two more not pitching so well are Jairo Garcia (6.28 in 14.1) and Merkin Valdez (4.87 in 20.1), though again, neither is pitching too poor.

The surprising best pitcher on the team has been Ezequiel Astacio, another player I don't know has ever been talked about on this site. Coming over from Philadelphia, he did not look like the best player in the Billy Wagner deal, but Taylor Buchholz certainly opened up some doors. Now a competitor with Fernando Nieve for the system's best pitching prospect, Astacio is playing extremely well in the D.R. His 1.47 ERA out of the bullpen has been fantastic, though I would be a little higher on him if he had struck out more than 12 in his 18.1 innings.

A few notes on hitters, though they didn't quite breed prospects here like they did on the mound. Wilson Betemit is officially not a prospect anymore, as his .209/.329/.358 line should justify. I guess that answers the Betemit v. Berroa debate, huh? Brian Myrow is showing why he had such loud supporters in New York, leading the D.R. in walks, and second in OBP. He needs to find a spot on some Major League bench. Finally, Kelly Shoppach is making the Red Sox happy they re-signed Jason Varitek, and angry they didn't already trade him. The no-longer-a-real-prospect just couldn't reach that .500 OPS barrier in 67 at-bats.

Estrellas Del Oriente

Moving from a team flush with pitching to one with hitting. Is there a better up the middle combo in the minors than Robinson Cano and Joel Guzman? I don't think so, which really makes me wish I had seen these two playing together this winter. Both re-affirmed their prospect status, though I can't say I'm too happy with Guzman's .412 OPS. Cano was great with a .788 OPS, making me wonder (again) just why Tony Womack got a two-year deal. Which is more insane, his or Eckstein's?

Brendan Harris was once a favorite prospect of mine, one of those blue collar guys that you would love to see on an All-Star team some day, a nicer Jeff Kent. No more. His OPS was a shade over .600, and I really think the Nationals could have done worse than sign Vinny Castilla.

Denny Bautista is another who shouldn't be pitching in winter ball, and because he is, seems to be laboring a bit. His 6.92 ERA seems a little high when looking at his numbers, though 33 hits in 26 innings is a disastrous total. I still am fairly high on Bautista, though I wonder if he might be a bit injury prone now. Maybe relief will be his calling card after all.

Tigres Del Licey

Another team flush with hitting. I'm not exactly how you fit both Erick Aybar and Hanley Ramirez onto one team, but they managed, presumably moving Aybar over to second where he belongs. In fact, I also think I have the right beat on Aybar, who only had a .336 SLG in his 125 winter league at-bats. I think Aybar was greatly helped by the California League, as Josh Barfield was before him, and will struggle mightily (as Alberto Callaspo did before him) in AA. Hanley was better, his average low at .252, but ISO high at .200.

Felix Pie was the last member of the club, and I think I'm more right every day with calling him overrated. His .238 average was hardly helped by walks, and his ISO was just .137. He also only stole 4 bases, which is his sole calling card these days. That and good defense. Not even Tom Goodwin is a good comp anymore. Sad story.

Official WTNY announcement: My Top 75 prospects list will be released on Friday, January 14. Individual player comments will go through the following week. The list is all but done, though I'm still plugging away on the comments. Stay patient for me guys.


.412 OPS for Joel Guzman? I think you meant SLG. It's not the .412 SLG that alarms me so much as the .114 ISO that it entails, which is a hair below league average. Of course, he's also two years younger than Cano and putting up almost the same numbers.

Your Cano numbers should actually be .313 in 144 at bats with 12 doubles, 2 triples, a home run, 12 walks and 20 strikeouts.

Ronny Paulino was selected by the Royals in the '02 Rule 5 draft, not in '03, although a million players were indeed taken from the Pirates in that draft.