Category Archives: Winter Hot Stove
Although baseball season has come to a close here in the United States, there is still plenty of news and action on the diamond around the world. Several Ducks alumni have been featured and spotlighted in various other leagues throughout the Far East and the Caribbean. Regular seasons have recently wrapped up over in Korea and Taiwan, while winter leagues are getting underway in countries such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Let’s catch up on what some former Ducks players have been up to in recent weeks:
KERN WINS THE CROWN
Long Island native Bruce Kern spent the 2018 season in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, marking his second full season and third year overall in Taiwan. The right-handed pitcher turned in outstanding numbers with the Flock in 2015 and 2016, combining to go 13-7 with a 3.02 ERA in 58 appearances (24 starts). In 170 innings of work, he struck out 163 batters and walked just 49. That performance earned him the opportunity to pitch in Taiwan with Brothers Baseball Club. He struggled initially in two starts at the end of 2016 and then battled injury in 2017 to go 8-5 with a 5.16 ERA. He returned to Long Island late last year but was limited to just one and two-thirds innings due to arm troubles.
Looking to bounce back in a big way during the 2018 season, Kern was signed by the Lamigo Monkeys, a club that has been home to several Ducks alumni in recent years. The Yaphank native did not disappoint, making 25 starts during the regular season and putting together a dazzling 13-3 record, ranking second in the league in wins, with a 3.28 ERA, good for third in the league. In 156.1 innings of work, a career-high, he struck out 110 batters. Kern’s efforts helped lead Lamigo all the way to the CPBL title, earning a 4-2 series victory over the Uni-President Lions. The championship marked Lamigo’s second title in a row and fourth in the past five years.
He also played some stellar defense:
Kern pitched Game One of the Taiwan Series against the Uni-President Lions, with his team leading 1-0 from the get-go after they won both halves of the regular season. Lamigo earned a 15-6 victory in a high-scoring series opener, with Kern tossing the first four innings of the game, yielding three earned runs on seven hits and two walks with three strikeouts. The Lions were able to even up the series, thanks in part to two scoreless innings in Game Two by former New Britain Bees pitcher Andy Van Hekken. One of Kern’s teammates was former Sugar Land Skeeters pitcher Michael Nix, who threw six scoreless innings in Game Two but could not get the win. Lamigo would go on to win the series with victories in Games Four and Five, with Nix giving up just two runs (one earned) in five and two-thirds innings, picking up the win. Van Hekken contributed to the Lions’ loss, surrendering four runs in one-third of an inning out of the bullpen.
Here was Bruce addressing the fans after Lamigo’s win:
Congratulations to Bruce and the rest of the Lamigo Monkeys! Included in the group was former Duck Darin Downs, who made 10 starts with the club earlier in the season but struggled, going 4-3 with a 7.08 ERA. However…
DOWNS AND STRUCK CLAIM MEXICAN TITLE
Downs would come away with a title of his own after he signed south of the border with Sultanes de Monterrey in the Mexican League. The southpaw joined the team during the second half of their season and turned in a 3.42 ERA along with one save in 12 appearances (five starts). He pitched 26.1 innings, striking out 28 batters while walking seven. He was reunited on the team with another former Ducks pitcher in right-hander Nick Struck. The two hurlers were teammates together with the Flock in 2015 and 2016 and now had the opportunity to pitch together once again in Mexico. Struck posted a phenomenal season in 2018, making 41 appearances out of the bullpen for Monterrey. The righty compiled a miniscule 1.50 ERA, striking out 45 batters in 42 innings, walking just 14 and conceding only seven earned runs.
Despite a strong first half of the season, Monterrey would lose the first half championship to Leones de Yucatan in a thrilling seven-game series. However, Monterrey came back with a 4-2 series victory in the second half championship over Guerreros de Oaxaca. After dropping the series opener, the pair of Downs and Struck helped even the series in Game Two. Downs pitched two and one-third innings of one-run ball in relief, while Struck tossed back-to-back scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth innings. Struck threw another scoreless inning in the eighth of Game Three along with an inning and two-thirds of scoreless baseball in Game Four to put Monterrey up 3-1 in the series. The pair dazzled again in Game Five, with Downs pitching two and two-thirds hitless and scoreless innings before Struck threw two more innings of shutout ball, but Monterrey would drop the game in 10 innings. The series ended one game later with a walk-off victory at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey.
VALDESPIN TAKES MOUND IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
After an MVP season and a Liberty Division Championship in his first year with the Flock, Jordany Valdespin is not taking any time to sit back and catch his breath. The infielder is right back on the baseball diamond in his native country of the Dominican Republic, playing with Toros del Este in the Caribbean Winter Leagues. His bat remains hot, as Valdespin has posted a .333 batting average through 19 games. After leading the Atlantic League in hits (154) and runs scored (94) during the 2018 regular season, he is doing the same in winter ball, collecting 25 hits and 15 runs thus far to go along with a homer, eight RBIs, eight stolen bases and a .405 on-base percentage.
However, one of his more bizarre moments came early on in the winter season. In the team’s fourth game, they played an epic 19-inning contest against Tigres del Licey that saw Licey come away with a 7-5 victory. The game, which lasted eight hours and seven minutes, saw neither team score from the eighth inning through the 18th inning. Valdespin started the game in right field and went 2-for-5 at the plate with a double, an RBI and two walks. However, after his club had used 12 pitchers without being able to secure the win, Valdespin took the mound for the start of the 15th inning. Having pitched just one before in his professional career, allowing a run in two-thirds of an inning with Triple-A Toledo in 2016, no one knew what to expect.
All the right-hander would do was toss four scoreless innings out of the bullpen to keep the ballgame tied. He surrendered four hits and two walks while hitting a batter in that span but struck out three and failed to concede the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, his offense was unable to get him a victory, and Ruben Sosa allowed two runs in the 19th inning to give Licey the win. 2018 Ducks teammate Fernando Abad also pitched in the game for Toros del Este, throwing one and two-thirds perfect innings with a pair of strikeouts. Former Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia started the game for Toros and pitched three innings of two-run ball. Current Met Dominic Smith is also on the team and was 0-for-8 with a walk in the game.
MIKE LOREE RE-UPS IN TAIWAN
Heading back over to the far east, we also wanted to give a quick shout-out to former Duck starting pitcher Mike Loree. The righty, who was selected by fans to the 15th Anniversary Ducks team in 2014, has become a staple while pitching in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. He just signed another contract with the Fubon Guardians for the 2019 season, which will be his seventh in the CPBL.
After his Triple Crown year of 2011 with the Ducks, in which he led the Atlantic League in wins (14), ERA (1.98) and strikeouts (131), Loree departed Long Island for Taiwan during the 2012 season. He has since pitched two seasons with the Lamigo Monkeys, two with the EDA Rhinos and two with Fubon. In his six seasons combined, he has accrued a 72-41 record, a 3.26 ERA, 797 strikeouts and just 189 walks over 970.2 innings of work. He has made 154 appearances (150 starts) in that span, winning a championship in 2016 with the Rhinos and 2012 with Lamigo. His only break from the CPBL was in 2014 when he spent the season with KT Wiz of the Korean Baseball Organization.
This past season, Loree helped Fubon to the semifinals of the postseason before they were defeated. During the regular season, he led the Chinese Professional Baseball League in strikeouts with 157. His 3.47 ERA was good for fourth in the league, while his 10 wins ranked fifth. Loree was 10-8 overall in 26 starts and walked only 16 batters in 161 innings of work according to the league site. That stat might be the most impressive of all.
Congratulations to all of those who claimed championships during the 2018 season, and best of luck to those currently playing winter baseball around the world!
The Hot Stove has reached its highest temperature of the winter. MLB spring training is right around the corner, the month of February kicked off on Thursday, and tonight, the Caribbean Series officially gets underway. Guadalajara, Mexico will play host to some of the top professional ballplayers representing Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Winter League championships have been crowned in each country, and now it is time to see which will reign supreme. Many of the players from those clubs, as well as those who narrowly missed out on a league title, will be taking the field in this illustrious tournament. Puerto Rico won the Caribbean Series last year, but host country Mexico has taken the title nine times overall.
Atlantic League fans need to look no further than the tournament to see some of their favorite players before the spring. Many Ducks and league alumni from the 2017 campaign, and from years past, will be taking part in the series. Although no league alumni will be featured on the Cuban roster, let’s check out who will be representing the remaining countries taking part in this year’s tournament:
Representing the host country at this year’s Caribbean Series will be a roster primarily featuring players from Tomateros de Culiacan. The squad earned the Mexican Pacific League’s championship title in a thrilling seven-game series over Mayos de Navojoa that featured five games decided by two runs or less. It also saw Navojoa nearly erase a 2-0 series deficit in which they were shut out by the same 4-0 margin in each of the first two games.
Among the players from Culiacan who will play in the Caribbean Series are pitchers Casey Coleman and Derrick Loop along with outfielder Rico Noel. Coleman, who made 23 appearances (four starts) for New Britain in 2017, earned the win in the championship’s decisive Game Seven with one and two-thirds scoreless innings of relief. Loop, who last pitched in the Atlantic League with Sugar Land in 2016, gave up just one run in six and two-thirds innings during the Championships Series. Noel , the former big leaguer and 2017 Lancaster Barnstormer, had a pair of multi-hit games in the Championship. Also joining them is Noel’s Barnstormer teammate pitcher Daniel Moskos, who was a member of runner-up Navojoa. He totaled two saves and a win during the league finals but blew the save in Game Seven by yielding a run in the ninth inning of a 4-3 game.
In addition to those four, a pair of former Ducks will also be playing for Mexico in the Caribbean Series. Nick Struck, who pitched in Mexico during the 2017 regular season, posted a 1.78 ERA in 21 games for Venados de Mazatlan during the Winter League season before his team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. He went on to pitch in Venezuela for eventual-champion Caribes de Anzoategui before he was offered the opportunity to pitch for Mexico’s team in the Caribbean Series. 2015 Duck Ryan Kussmaul will also be on the squad. He had a sparkling 1.45 ERA in 19 games for Aguilas de Mexicali this winter and was part of the team that beat Mazatlan in the first round but lost to Culiacan in the semifinals.
Puerto Rico’s regular season was shortened to 18 games due to the affects of this past year’s hurricane season. Defending league champion Criollos de Caguas led the league with an 11-7 record and went on to sweep aside Cangrejeros de Santurce in three games during the Championship Series, winning two games by a single run.
Representing Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series will be a pair of 2017 Ducks in pitcher Jake Fisher and infielder Ruben Gotay. Fisher was 1-1 with a 3.63 ERA in three starts during the winter season with Caguas and then started Game One of the finals. He allowed just one run in five and one-third innings, and though he allowed five hits and five walks, ultimately tooka no-decision in the team’s 2-1 win. While Gotay did not have the chance to play in the Championship Series, he batted .267 with seven RBI in 13 games during the Winter League season.
Several other Atlantic Leaguers will also be on the roster. Ivan Maldonado, who was part of the 2010 Ducks roster, won the Championship clinching Game Three with six innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 win. 2017 ALPB champion Dayron Varona went 5-for-11 with an RBI and two runs scored during the Championship Series for Caguas to earn a spot on Puerto Rico’s roster. Somerset Patriots infielder David Vidal went 1-for-9 with two walks in the finals for Caguas but was selected to play on the team as well. Though they didn’t play in the Championship, Skeeters catcher Wilfredo Rodriguez and Barnstomers/Bluefish pitcher Luis Gonzalez will also play for Puerto Rico.
Down south in Venezuela, the aforementioned Caribes de Anzoategui claimed this year’s championship with a victory in six games over Cardenales de Lara. The team reeled off three consecutive wins after falling behind in the series two games to one. The only former Duck on the winning squad was Struck, as we also mentioned earlier, though he will represent Mexico in the Caribbean Series. He put together a phenomenal Championship Series, totaling three saves, four and one-third scoreless innings and recording the final three outs in the clinching Game Six.
Veteran Blue Crabs pitcher Daryl Thompson will pitch for Venezuela in the Caribbean Series. He started Games One and Five in the Championship Series for Anzoategui and took no-decisions in both. The righty combined to allow four runs in 11 and one-third innings (3.18 ERA) though he did surrender 18 hits. Two-time former Duck Ricardo Gomez will also represent Venezuela after pitching for runner-up Lara. He threw three and one-third scoreless innings during the Championship Series. Other Atlantic League alumni on the roster for the Caribbean Series include Skeeters pitcher Felipe Paulino, who gave up two runs in two and two-thirds innings and took the loss in Game Four, and Bluefish infielder Luis Hernandez, who did not play in the Championship Series for Anzoategui. Hernandez’s rights are now owned by the New Britain Bees.
Finally, we round things out in the Dominican Republic where a wild Championship Series ended with Aguilas Cibaenas topping Tigres del Licey in seven games. Cibaenas held a 2-0 series lead, saw Licey even the series and then traded wins with Licey over the final three games. Only three of the seven games were decided by three runs or less, and three were decided by six or more runs.
Two Atlantic League alumni that played for Cibaenas and will represent the Dominican Republic at the Caribbean Series are outfielder Alfredo Marte and pitcher Josh Judy. Marte, who spent time in 2016 with Southern Maryland and York, only appeared once in the Championship Series as a defensive replacement. He did bat .271 though with a homer and five RBI during the winter season. Judy, a pitcher for York in 2013 and 2015, gave up two runs in three and two-thirds innings and collected a save in the league finals and had a 1.37 ERA during the Winter League campaign.
Also pitching for the Dominican will be three-year Lancaster starter Bryan Evans (2015-17). He compiled a 2-2 record with a 3.67 ERA in the regular season for Toros del Este but joined runners-up Licey in the Championship Series. He dominated in Game Three, pitching seven scoreless innings, yielding just two hits and two walks while striking out eight but took a no-decision after a pair of relievers coughed up a late 3-0 lead. Evans then came back in Game Five but was roughed up for four runs (three earned) on seven hits in three and two-thirds innings to take the loss.
The Caribbean Series begins on Friday night with five days of round robin play. The top four teams will then do battle in the semifinals on Wednesday, February 7. The Championship will follow on February 8 at 9:00 p.m. local time. Fans wishing to follow all the action can do so on ESPN Deportes by watching on their television or online HERE. Scoreboards are also available to keep track of the action via ESPN and MLB.com. Best of luck to all of the Ducks and Atlantic League alumni participating!
You won’t find too many ballplayers stepping on a baseball diamond this time of year in the northeast. Even with temperatures still reaching into the 50’s as we reach late-November, the weather is simply not favorable for those looking to stay in shape during baseball’s offseason. With that in mind, several Long Island Ducks and Atlantic League alumni have received opportunities to make the trek south and play ball outside of the United States this winter.
The Caribbean Winter Leagues have begun in three of the four countries thus far: Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Due to the impact of Hurricane Maria earlier this year, Puerto Rico has yet to see the start of winter baseball. The league, which was slated to begin on November 15, has elected to delay the start of its campaign until January 6 and will hold an abbreviated schedule for this year. In addition, this past week marked the beginning of play “down under” in the Australian Baseball League, where several 2017 Atlantic Leaguers are participating.
Let’s go country by country to highlight those who are taking part in this year’s winter baseball leagues:
Venezuela features eight teams spread out across the country. Since the league opened play back on October 10, each team has played between 30 and 35 games thus far. Leones del Caracas currently maintains a three-and-a-half game lead for first place at 23-12, which can be partially attributed to a terrific pitching staff. 2008 Long Island Duck Jason Simontacchi is the team’s pitching coach, and among those he is watching over are three members of the 2017 Somerset Patriots. They are right-handed pitchers Lucas Irvine and David Kubiak, along with left-hander Efrain Nieves. In addition, outfielder Trayvon Robinson is also on the squad after having spent this past year with the Lancaster Barnstormers. Robinson previously was with the Ducks in spring training prior to the 2015 season before being signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He would go on to play with Somerset and Lancaster in 2016.
Two other former Ducks are also coaching in Venezuela. Tiburones de La Guaira features Luis Rodriguez as its bench coach under manager Ozzie Guillen. Rodriguez was part of Long Island’s 2004 championship team and most recently served as manager of the Bridgeport Bluefish. York Revolution alumnus Liu Rodriguez is also on the staff as the third base coach. The roster includes eight players who were in the Atlantic League during the 2017 season. Henderson Alvarez, a starting pitcher for the Ducks before making his way back to the Major Leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies, is one of them. The others include Atlantic League Player of the Year Alonzo Harris and Post-Season All-Star Isaias Tejeda (York), 2016 ALPB Pitcher of the Year Jonathan Albaladejo and Ozney Guillen (Bridgeport), 2017 All-Defensive Team selection Jake Hale (Sugar Land), Dustin Antolin (Somerset) and Brad Bergesen (Lancaster). The other squad is Navegantes del Magallanes, which currently has 2008 Duck Richard Hidalgo on staff as an assistant hitting coach. Their roster includes Hassan Pena (Somerset), who leads the league right now with 11 saves, and Jerome Williams (Somerset), who previously went from Lancaster to the big leagues.
Only one other 2017 Duck is playing in the league currently. Right-handed pitcher Wanel Mesa, who made a brief appearance with Long Island in August, is on the roster for Tigres de Aragua. He is teammates with infielder Alberto Callaspo, who began 2017 with Bridgeport and whose rights are now owned by Somerset.
The Venezuelan Winter League’s other four teams combine to include 18 players who spent time in the Atlantic League during the 2017 campaign. Here is a list of those players:
|Aguilas de Zulia||Bravos de Margarita|
|Julio DePaula (York, Sugar Land)||Manny Corpas (York, Sugar Land)|
|Cody Hall (Lancaster)||Logan Darnell (Somerset)|
|Reinier Roibal (Bridgeport)||Jay Gause (York)|
|David Vidal (Somerset)||Scott Maine (Sugar Land)|
|Dayron Varona (York)||Anthony Marzi (New Britain)|
|Felipe Paulino (Sugar Land)|
|Cardenales de Lara|
|Ricardo Gomez (York)||Caribes de Anzoategui|
|Chase Huchingson (York)||Daryl Thompson (Southern Maryland)|
|Ryan Kelly (Somerset)||Edwin Garcia (Southern Maryland)|
|Gustavo Molina (Bridgeport)||Michael Crouse (New Britain)|
The Dominican Republic has a league that is a bit smaller than Venezuela, hosting just six teams in total. However, the decrease in teams does not represent a major off in terms of Atlantic League talent. A total of 17 Atlantic League alumni from the 2017 season are now playing baseball this winter in the Dominican. The league began play back on October 13, and with approximately 25 games played thus far, the race is tight at the top of the league. Estrellas de Oriente sits in first at 16-9, but they are only ahead by a half-game.
Right behind Estrellas is Gigantes del Cibao at 16-10 thus far. Much of their success thus far has been due to a sparkling team ERA of 2.76 and a league-high 189 strikeouts. Sure enough, their roster includes two members of the 2017 Long Island Ducks. Former Major League pitchers Rafael Perez and Alfredo Simon, who were both in Long Island’s starting rotation, are off to strong starts with the team. Perez has been pitching out of the bullpen and has made nine scoreless appearances, spanning six and one-third innings of work. Simon has pitched in three games (two starts) and has a 1-0 record with a 3.00 ERA over nine innings of action. Also on the club is pitcher Patrick Johnson (Somerset).
Leones del Escogido currently has a member of the 2017 Ducks on its roster along with another pitcher that could potentially be on next year’s roster. Lefty pitcher Dustin Richardson, who began the year with Sugar Land before eventually signing with the Flock, is included on the roster but has yet to appear in a game. Another southpaw, Wander Perez, spent time last year with the Bluefish but now has his rights owned by the Ducks following the Bluefish Player Dispersal Draft. He has walked the only batter than he has faced thus far. Among their teammates are former York Revolution pitcher Edward Paredes, who reached the big leagues with the Dodgers this past year, Yankees outfielder Tyler Austin and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The following are the remaining 2017 Atlantic Leaguers who are playing in the Dominican Republic:
|Aguilas Cibaenas||Toros del Este|
|Angel Franco (York)||Bryan Evans (Lancaster)|
|Pat McCoy (Southern Maryland)|
|Estrellas de Oriente||Elvin Ramirez (Bridgeport)|
|Dustin Molleken (Somerset)||Cory Riordan (Bridgeport)|
|Luis Cruz (York)|
|Tigres del Licey||Jonathan Galvez (Bridgeport)|
|Keith Hessler (Somerset)||Sean Halton (Lancaster)|
|Kevin Munson (Lancaster)|
|Angelys Nina (Bridgeport)|
Our last stop in the Caribbean takes us south of the border to Mexico. Just like Venezuela, the league features eight teams across the nation. Only nine members of the Atlantic League’s 2017 rosters are currently down in Mexico, but there are four Ducks alumni from previous years playing and two others that are coaching. A three-way tie exists for first place 35 games into the season, which began back on October 10.
Tomateros de Culiacan are one of the three squads sitting at 20-15 thus far. Among their coaching staff is Robinson Cancel, the former big league catcher who put together an excellent season offensively with the Flock in 2010. The roster also includes two players who were in the Atlantic League this past season. Outfielder D’Arby Myers, who ended the year with the league’s highest batting average at .337, is joined in the outfield by Andy Wilkins. Wilkins began the year with Sugar Land before having his contract purchased by the Minnesota Twins in June.
The other two teams tied with Tomateros are Venados de Mazatlan and Naranjeros de Hermosillo. The roster for Venados currently includes former Ducks pitcher Nick Struck. After spending two seasons with Long Island, the righty pitched in Mexico during the 2017 campaign for Sultanes de Monterrey and went 3-0 with a 2.09 ERA in 41 relief appearances. He has a 1.17 ERA and one save thus far in seven relief appearances with Venados. Naranjeros currently has former Bees pitcher Casey Coleman, who began the season with New Britain before having his contract purchased by the Houston Astros in May.
One game out of first place with a 19-16 record is Charros de Jalisco. Their staff includes 2010 and 2011 Duck Javier Colina as hitting coach. Their roster also includes three Atlantic League alumni from this past season. Joining 2017 ALPB Pitcher of the Year Gaby Hernandez (Southern Maryland) are pitcher Will Oliver (Somerset) and infielder Rico Noel (Lancaster).
Aguilas de Mexicali does not have any players from this past ALPB season but does have two former Ducks on the roster. Right-handed pitcher Ryan Kussmaul, a 2015 Duck who nearly won a championship with the Wichita Wingnuts this past year, has a 1.72 ERA and 10 saves in 16 games thus far. Infielder C.J. Retherford, a 2014 Duck that played in Mexico and for the Sussex County Miners in 2017, has five homers and 18 RBI in 35 games.
Mayos de Navojoa has a roster which includes outfielder Quincy Latimore, who joined the Ducks for spring training back in 2014 before his contract was purchased by the Washington Nationals. Also on the club are infielder Jovan Rosa (New Britain) and pitcher Daniel Moskos (Lancaster). Rounding out the Atlantic League alumni playing in Mexico is infielder Olmo Rosario. He is currently on Caneros de los Mochis, joined by former Patriot and Skeeter Roy Merritt, who pitched in Mexico this past regular season.
We’ll close out our first look at this year’s winter baseball roster by heading around the world to Australia. The league has just begun for the six teams that make up the circuit, and two squads are out to perfect starts. The Sydney Blue Sox lead the way at 4-0, and although they do not feature any ALPB alumni, the defending champion Brisbane Bandits do. Among the squad, which has started out 3-0, is right-handed pitcher Zac Treece. He won a championship with the club last year and has gone to the Atlantic League Championship Series with the Ducks in each of the past two seasons as well. The side-armer has recorded a strikeout and a walk to this point with Brisbane.
Right behind Brisbane in the standings is the Perth Heat, who jumped out a 3-1 start this year. Their roster includes right-handed pitcher Kyle Simon, who led the Atlantic League with six complete games as a member of the New Britain Bees in 2017. He allowed four runs (two earned) in two and two-thirds innings of relief but struck out five during his only outing thus far.
The roster featuring the most ALPB alumni is that of the Canberra Cavalry. Three players on that squad were in the Atlantic League last year. They include pitchers Frank Gailey and Michael Click, who won a championship with York, and pitcher Brian Grening, who collected the win for the Freedom Division at the Atlantic League All-Star Game while representing Southern Maryland. Finally, pitcher Mark Hamburger is currently with the Melbourne Aces in Australia. The right-hander joined Somerset late in the year and earned the win in Game One of the Liberty Division Championship Series.
That will do it for this look around the winter baseball leagues currently taking place. If you know of any player currently playing abroad that we may have missed in this report, please let us know in the comments section or by filling out a contact form. As the seasons all progress, we will be sure to provide further updates here on the blog. Stay tuned!
The Caribbean Winter Leagues are now deep into the playoffs, and the competition has become increasingly tense as the Caribbean Series draws closer. As we have documented previously, there are a host of Atlantic League alumni playing down in countries like Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Many spent time in the ALPB as recently as this past season, but several others have played in the league prior to that point.
Throughout the coming weeks, we will break down the performances of many of these alumni throughout each of the four main leagues. However, this post will focus solely on the excitement taking place in Puerto Rico. The five-team winter league has now been whittled down to the final two, with Cangrejeros de Santurce battling Criollos de Caguas for the championship.
Santurce, who posted the league’s best record during the season at 28-12, reached the finals thanks to a dominant 4-1 series victory over Gigantes de Carolina in the seminfinals. The series saw Santurce outscore Carolina 20-8, including a pair of shutout victories and two games where Carolina was held to one run. Among the pitchers that shined for Santurce in the victory was Ducks alumni Darin Downs, who threw four innings of two-hit, shutout baseball and struck out three as the starter in Game Three.
Although his team was defeated, another Ducks alumnus also pitched well. That would be Jarret Leverett, who earned the win in Game Two with three and one-third innings of scoreless relief. Other ALPB alumni who joined Leverett on Carolina were former Skeeters pitchers Michael Nix and Andrew Johnston and outfielder Jeff Dominguez.
Caguas finished third during the season at 19-21, but they found a way to triumph over an Indios de Mayaguez team that was 26-14. Although Caguas found themselves trailing the series two games to none, their pitching staff turned things around with a dominant performance of their own, limiting Mayaguez to just six runs over the final four games (compared to nine in the first two games). Caguas won all four of those games to secure a place in the championship.
Leading the way in the comeback was Ducks fan favorite John Brownell. The righty pitched five and two-thirds innings of two-run ball in Game Three to earn Caguas its first win of the series and then turned in a vintage effort in the clincher, firing seven innings of three hit, shutout baseball and striking out four to earn another victory. Closing out both of his wins was former Ducks and York Revolution reliever Ricardo Gomez, who collected three saves in the series overall and pitched in five games, allowing just three hits while striking out seven over six innings. Although he took the loss in Game One, former Somerset Patriots pitcher Will Oliver also posted strong numbers. He allowed only one unearned run in seven and one-third innings of relief, yielding six hits while striking out two. Former Ducks pitchers Patrick Crider and J.C. Romero also pitched for Caguas in the series.
Offensively, Ruben Gotay led the charge for Caguas. The former Ducks infielder batted .400 for the series (8-for-20) and drew four walks as well. He collected a pair of doubles as part of a three-hit performance in Game Two, drove in both of Caguas’ runs in Game Five on RBI singles and picked up the lone RBI in the Game Six clincher on a bases loaded walk. Former Duck Randy Ruiz also performed well in the series, batting .333 (7-for-21) with seven RBI and two runs. His big performances came in Game Three, when he picked up an RBI double and a three-run home run, and Game Four, where he collected three hits and one RBI.
Despite suffering the series loss, former Ducks pitcher Andrew Barbosa impressed for Mayaguez. The southpaw tossed three scoreless innings in relief during his team’s win in Game One and then started Game Four, pitching five and one-third innings of one-run ball while striking out four. Teammates of his included 2015 Atlantic League Player of the Year Welington Dotel and former Patriots pitchers Connor Little and Efrain Nieves.
That brings us to the Puerto Rican Winter League Championship Series, which is already off to an exciting start. Game One, which took place on Saturday, featured a terrific pitcher’s duel that saw the teams combine for just 11 hits. Caguas took an early 1-0 lead thanks to a two-out RBI infield single in the first inning from Ruiz, who finished with two hits on the night. Orlando Roman started and threw four and two-thirds scoreless innings, but Oliver collected the eventual win with two scoreless and hitless innings of relief. Gomez ended up nailing down the save with a 1-2-3 ninth to secure the 1-0 victory.
Game Two featured a matchup of Atlantic League alumni on the mound. Downs took the ball for Santurce, while Barbosa got the nod for Caguas. Barbosa was picked up by Caguas in a draft held following the semifinals where the winning teams are permitted to draft two players from the teams they had eliminated. Caguas built an early lead against the former Ducks southpaw, scoring single runs in the second and fourth innings. Ruiz walked and scored on a double in the second, while former Patriots infielder David Vidal walked and scored on a double in the fourth. Meanwhile, Barbosa dominated on the rubber with six scoreless innings, surrendering just one hit and two walks while striking out four. However, Santurce’s offense exploded against the Caguas bullpen, scoring six runs over the final three innings to earn a 6-3 win.
Following a day off, the series resumed on Tuesday night for Game Three. Once again, Caguas jumped in front against Santurce with a pair of runs in the first inning. The eventual game-winning run was tacked on in the fifth when Vidal led off the frame with a solo home run. Former big leaguer and Patriots pitcher Jose De La Torre started for Caguas and was strong for the first five innings. However, he ran into some trouble with a 3-0 lead in the sixth, as a fielding error prevented another scoreless frame. After one run scored on a force out, Oliver entered the game and allowed an RBI double. Fortunately for him, the tying run was thrown out at the plate to keep Caguas in front 3-2. Caguas added an insurance run in the ninth on an RBI double from Ruiz, and Gomez picked up another save with two scoreless innings of relief despite allowing a pair of hits and a pair of walks.
Caguas maintains a 2-1 series lead, but there is still plenty of baseball to be played. Puerto Rico’s Championship Series is a best-of-nine, meaning that a team must win five games to claim the title. Here is the remaining schedule for the series:
Game Four: Wednesday, January 18 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Caguas
Game Five: Thursday, January 19 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Santurce
Game Six: Saturday, January 21 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Caguas
Game Seven: Sunday, January 22 – 3:15 p.m. EST at Santurce (if necessary)
Game Eight: Wednesday, January 25 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Caguas (if necessary)
Game Nine: Thursday, January 26 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Santurce (if necessary)
Brownell is currently scheduled to pitch on Wednesday in Game Four, while Barbosa and Downs are slated to start again in Game Six on Saturday. Fans wishing to follow along can do so via MLB’s Gameday by CLICKING HERE. Best of luck to both teams as they bid for the Puerto Rican League championship!
We all can now begin to feel the crisp, cold weather making its way into the northeast. After what has been a fairly mild offseason thus far, the air is beginning to turn cooler as the holidays approach. Despite that, baseball news has begun to break left and right again with the Winter Meetings taking place this week at National Harbor in Washington D.C. Many Major League players were on the move and/or signed big contracts. Former Ducks pitcher Rich Hill was one of the most notable names, as he inked a 3-year, $48 million deal to stay with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Other Ducks alumni were also in the news recently, so let’s check in on some of the latest updates from this offseason:
Barbosa to Brewers
While no official confirmation has been given by the team just yet, 2015 Long Island Ducks pitcher Andrew Barbosa announced on Thursday morning that he has been signed by the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Included with the agreement is an invitation to the team’s Major League spring training, held in Maryvale, Arizona. The Brewers become his third MLB organization since pitching with Long Island two seasons ago, and it keeps his dream of reaching the Major Leagues alive.
Barbosa spent the 2016 season with the Mets organization and posted strong numbers despite two stints on the disabled list. Though limited to just 16 appearances (15 starts), the southpaw went 3-0 with a 1.51 ERA and 71 strikeouts to just 19 walks over 71 and two-thirds innings. He spent time in Rookie-Level, Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A during the year. In August, he tossed seven no-hit innings and struck out 11 batters with only one walk while pitching for Advanced-A St. Lucie. Six days later, he threw eight scoreless innings and yielded just one hit and two walks while striking out five for Double-A Binghamton.
Despite the success, the Mets did not offer Barbosa a contract for the 2017 season and he elected free agency on November 7. The 29-year-old joined Indios de Mayaguez to pitch in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and he is expected to start sometime next week. According to the lefty, his goal is “to break camp with the big league team” in the spring.
Shawn Soars to Clearwater
2012 Atlantic League champion Shawn Williams continues to climb up the managerial ranks in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. The former Ducks infielder has been promoted to the club’s Advanced-A affiliate, the Clearwater Threshers, of the Florida State League. It marks the third different club he has managed in the Phillies organization after spending 2014 with the Williamsport Crosscutters (A-) and the past two seasons with the Lakewood BlueClaws (A).
Williams had a successful two seasons at the helm of Lakewood. He combined to post a 147-130 record during the regular season, including a 45-25 mark in the second half of the 2016 campaign. That was good enough to win the Second Half North Division title in the South Atlantic League, and he eventually led the BlueClaws to an appearance in the South Atlantic League Championship Series. Unfortunately, they fell short of their championship goal, losing in four games to the Rome Braves. Despite not reaching the playoffs in 2015, he did help the BlueClaws to an overall record of 73-65 that year.
The Florida resident was a key contributor to the Ducks’ championship run in 2012. Serving as the team’s utility infielder, he posted strong numbers during his playing time in the regular season. The switch-hitter batted .272 with six homers, 46 RBI and 47 runs in 102 games. Williams provided strong value too in his speed, stealing 18 bases while being caught just five times, and in his versatility. He played six different positions during the regular season — catcher, first base, second base, third base, left field and right field – and combined to make just seven errors.
Ducks Down Under
We have previously focused on several Ducks and Atlantic League alumni who are playing winter baseball down in the Caribbean this offseason. However, that’s not the only place you can find members of the 2016 Flock. Two have recently joined teams in the Australian Baseball League to keep playing the game before the 2017 season begins.
Right-handed pitcher Zac Treece, a late addition to the Ducks roster in 2016, is currently pitching in the six-team league for the Brisbane Bandits. The team has gotten off to a bit of a slow start at 5-7, currently fifth in the league, but three games out of first place. Treece did well in his first two outings, both in long relief, combining to pitch four scoreless innings and yielding just one hit while striking out six. However, he has surrendered nine runs in just one and one-third innings over three appearances since that point.
The 27-year-old put together a phenomenal campaign in 2016, posting a 3-1 record with a 1.86 ERA and 22 saves in 41 games for the River City Rascals of the Frontier League. He struck out 75 batters in just 48 and one-third innings while walking only 15 as well. The Ducks took notice and acquired him for a player to be named later prior to the start of the postseason. Treece went on to make four appearances in the playoffs for Long Island, throwing three and two-thirds scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk with six strikeouts.
The second Ducks alumnus playing in Australia is catcher Mike Blanke. He has joined the roster of the Perth Heat, who are currently last in the league with a 4-9 record. The backstop has yet to get into a game, but with three coming up in the next two days, it certainly seems possible he might get some action. The team does list three other catchers on their roster though.
The Canada native posted some strong numbers during his second season with the Ducks in 2016. Blanke clubbed 10 home runs and drove in 50 runs, both of which equaled career-highs he previously set in 2012 with Winston-Salem (A+, White Sox). He also played in 113 games, the most of his career with one team and second-most overall, just two games shy of the 115 he played in 2011 with Kannapolis (A, White Sox) and Winston-Salem.
Other Atlantic League alumni that are currently playing in Australia include:
RHP Chris Oxspring (Somerset, 2011) – Sydney Blue Sox
RHP Virgil Vasquez (Southern Maryland, 2011-12) – Melbourne Aces
C Allan de San Miguel (Southern Maryland, 2014) – Melbourne Aces
INF Luke Hughes (Lancaster, 2015) – Perth Heath
Stay tuned for more updates as the offseason continues! With the Caribbean Winter Leagues regular season winding down, we’ll be sure to keep you aware of which Ducks and Atlantic League alumni have stood out among the rest and which will be playing postseason baseball down south.