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Winter Ball Notebook: Is the Santana third base experiment over?

The Dominican Winter League playoffs began this past week, and one of the biggest surprises was the participation of the Indians’ Carlos Santana.

Many were unsure as to how long Santana would remain with his Dominican team, but it does at least appear as if he will be remaining with Leones del Escogido for the time being.

In other news, the regular seasons in both the Puerto Rican Winter League and the Venezuelan Winter League come to an end after today. The playoffs will then begin shortly after, and it will be interesting to see what ultimately happens to the Tribe’s Jesus Aguilar, who has arguably been the MVP of the VWL this winter.

His season was initially supposed to end on December 28, and he also has not played since that date. We will probably soon have an update on the status of that issue.

Nonetheless, here are some notes, both deep and shallow from this last week’s action of winter ball…
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Winter Ball Notebook: DWL playoffs to begin


Santana Slam (by Jason Miller US Presswire)

Santana Slam (by Jason Miller US Presswire)

The regular season in the Dominican Winter League came to a close Sunday, which now means that the playoffs are nearly upon us.

However, this is only slightly newsworthy for the Tribe as most of the Indians that were playing in the DWL will not be advancing to the postseason. We already know that Jose Ramirez’s season came to an end due to injury, and Ronny Rodriguez and Colt Hynes will not be playing in the playoffs because their team, Estrellas de Oriente, did not qualify for the postseason.

Something could change and a player may be picked up by a Dominican team that did qualify for the postseason, but as of now, it appears as if Leones del Escogido might be the team for Indians fans to follow this postseason.

Erik Gonzalez is a member of the team, and hopefully he will get an opportunity to continue his torrid winter season throughout the playoffs. Also, Carlos Santana has been playing at third base for the team, and we all that’s been one of the more noteworthy items to come from the winter leagues this season.

Nonetheless, here are some thoughts, both deep and shallow, from this past week’s winter ball action…

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Winter Ball Notebook: Is Aguilar’s season in jeopardy?

Jesus Aguilar (photo: Lianna Holub)

Jesus Aguilar (photo: Lianna Holub)

It was a very eventful week over in the various winter leagues and for a variety of reasons.

However, perhaps the most notable happening of the week was the ongoing dispute between Jesus Aguilar‘s winter team Leones del Caracas and the Cleveland Indians. Here’s a little bit more background information.

As most of you likely know, Aguilar has been on an absolute tear this winter. He’s been arguably the most productive player in the entire Venezuelan Winter League, yet his season was supposed to end on December 28, so he could participate in a development program for the Indians.

Yet, those plans could now be changing.

“We are going to wait a little and if necessary we are going to fight. If necessary we will protest the case which does not mean that we’re going to win,” Leones president Luis Avila said in Leader of Sports this past week. “It is rude to communicate with the player and not with the team. For now we will wait and see how the situation develops with the team in the coming days before proceeding. There has been no communication from Cleveland with us. This is unusual. Customarily all the organizations of the big leagues consult; in this case to be consulted on the permanence of Aguilar in an eventual postseason.”

Apparently, Leones never received any official communication from the Indians that Aguilar’s season would be coming to an end. Instead, Aguilar informed Leones that his season would be ending on December 28 because the Indians wanted him to participate in a development program.

Yet, now we’re getting into the game of he said, she said.

Ross Atkins, Indians vice president of player development, late last week sent an email to the Caracas organization about this and noted that the team has NOT placed a deadline on the contract of Aguilar playing in the VWL. Under the new winter agreement, MLB organizations do not have the power to stop a player on the 40-man roster from playing winter ball, and we all know that Aguilar was protected by the Tribe about a month ago.

So, in reality, the decision is now up to Aguilar. The Indians may have expressed a desire to have him leave Venezuela after December 28, but the final call is going to be Aguilar’s. Needless to say, this will be an interesting storyline to follow in the weeks to come…

With that being said, here are some thoughts both deep and shallow in regard to this past week’s winter ball action…

Player of the Week

Jesus Aguilar — First baseman, Leones del Caracas
5 G, 9-for-19, 7 R, 1 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 4 BB, 4 K

At this point, what more can be said about Aguilar? The guy has been on an absolute tear and that continued this past week as he launched his 15th, 16th and 17th home run of the winter season. Aguilar has been chasing the Venezuelan Winter League home run record (former Indians catcher Bo Diaz holds the record with 20) all season, and that number was actually tied Saturday by Alex Cabrera, a 41-year-old first baseman who briefly played for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000. Unfortunately, Aguilar may not get the opportunity to catch up to Cabrera if he does not stay with Leones del Caracas past December 28. Who knows where this goes from here, but it would be nice to see Aguilar spend some more time in Venezuela as it does appear as if he has completely taken advantage of his opportunity. It will be interesting to see if Aguilar has turned any heads on the national level following his winter outburst. Could he now find himself on Baseball Prospectus or Baseball America’s top 100 prospect lists? That will be something to watch moving forward.

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Winter Ball Notebook: Surprise wins AFL title

Oh what a week it was.

There’s plenty of news coming out of this past week’s winter ball action, but perhaps no news is bigger than the Surprise Saguaros defeating Mesa 2-0 to win the Arizona Fall League title on Saturday.

This news is particularly important for the Indians, simply because the Tribe had eight players (Tyler NaquinJoe WendleTony WoltersShawn ArmstrongTrey HaleyJeff JohnsonWill RobertsTyler Sturdevant) on Surprise’s roster.

The actual importance of an AFL Championship may be debatable, but it’s still nice that a strong contingent of Indians were part of the winning team. At the very least, these players gained valuable experience by playing in games that were weighted in importance.

A handful of these players made some positive strides during their time in the AFL, and that’s really all that an MLB team can ask for.

With that being said, here are some thoughts on deep and shallow on a number of the Indians players currently competing in the various winter leagues…

Player of the Week

Carlos Moncrief — Outfielder, Gigantes de Carolina

5 G, 6-for-21, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 9 K

Moncrief’s numbers weren’t too impressive for the most part, but the reality is that no one Indians player really stood out in terms of performance this past week. However, the one nice thing with Moncrief was that he finally started to display some power for the first time this winter season. His two doubles and one home run were his first extra-base hits of the winter season. While much of the hype this winter has centered around Jesus Aguilar, do not overlook Moncrief. Yes, Aguilar is coming off a strong 2013 campaign, but it could be argued that Moncrief’s season was even stronger. Also, while Aguilar could factor into the Indians’ plans in 2013, the very same thing can be said for Moncrief. Any team is always searching for an athletic player who has the ability to hit for some power, and that is a perfect description for Moncrief. He is only hitting .243 (9-for-37) in 10 games a so far, and his 12 strikeouts are alarming, but there is still plenty of time for him to turn it around and have an Aguilar-esque type winter season. This past week was definitely a step in the right direction.

News & Notes

— You have to be impressed with what Tyler Naquin accomplished this fall in the AFL. Because he was a first round pick (and selected before Michael Wacha), Naquin has found himself to be the subject of much criticism as of late. To an extent, that is fair as  Naquin did show that he has some noticeable flaws in 2013, especially in regard to plate discipline (134 strikeouts in 126 games). However, this fall Naquin really was outstanding in almost every facet as he compiled a .339/.400/.417 line with four doubles, one triple, one home run and 18 RBI. He also showed improved plate discipline as he draw 11 walks and struck out 18 times. Now, it’s obviously too early to predict that Naquin will have an impact at the Major League level, but he does seem to be making progress in his development. He played almost every game this fall for Surprise, and that’s a testament to just how hot he was. Coaches usually rotate players in and out in an effort to get every player some quality at-bats, but Naquin was never out of the lineup for much more than a day at a time. That’s a testament to his performance and just how much he meant to Surprise’s AFL title win.

— The IBI’s Jim Pete and Michael Hattery recently started a “campaign” to voice their support for infielder Jose Ramirez. While I fully support that campaign, I propose launching an additional campaign for another budding Indians prospect — Joe Wendle. Wendle completed a strong AFl campaign this past week as he posted .311/.371/.492 line with four doubles, two triples, one home run and 12 RBI. What makes this even more impressive is that all of this production came in a mere 16 games. Unfortunately, Wendle was a casualty of a manager trying to get his players as much time as possible, so he never really got the opportunity to play every day. Nonetheless, his impact was still significant, which is especially impressive when you consider that he likely was never able to get into a rhythm at the plate. There are varying opinions as to what the future holds for Wendle. Some say he’s perhaps a rich man’s Cord Phelps while others think he could have an impact as significant as Jason Kipnis, minus Kipnis’ defense. I’m not sure of where exactly he falls, but his numbers are impressive enough that the Indians may want to experiment with him at some other positions other than second base. Wherever he has gone, he has posted impressive OPS numbers, so it could be that there is more than meets they eye with Wendle.

— Speaking of Jose Ramirez, what exactly is going on with the switch-hitting infielder? In 21 games in the DWL, Ramirez currently has a .267/.308/.384 line. Those numbers are really not all that concerning, but the one other area that could be somewhat worrisome is the fact that he has drawn just three walks while striking out 15 times. Keep in mind that part of Ramirez’s calling card is his ability to get on base and put up quality at-bats. However, he just has really struggled in that area so far this winter, and there does not seem to be any real reason as to why that’s the case. The one positive thing to remember here is that it’s just 21 games and 86 at-bats, so there is time for Ramirez to get it straightened out. Nonetheless, after such a strong 2013 season that ultimately resulted in a promotion with the Major League club, one would hope that Ramirez would have gotten off to a better start in winter ball.

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Winter Ball Notebook: Aguilar impressive early

With the exception of the Puerto Rican Winter League, the other winter and fall leagues have now been in action for a couple of weeks now, and a slew of Indians have been competing.

The actual value of the winter leagues is certainly a topic that’s up for debate. For many, they’re nothing more than a continuation of the minor leagues, so there’s no need to put much thought into the numbers and performances that come out each year.

However, last year seemed to prove that notion wrong. As you may remember, it was last season that infielder Jose Ramirez was just outstanding in the Dominican Winter League as he compiled a .303/.384/.380 line in 60 games and 234 at-bats. It was a very impressive performance and really seemed to lay the groundwork for Ramirez becoming such a widely talked about player.

The Indians obviously thought a lot about Ramirez’s performance as they chose to have him skip the High-A level entirely this past season. Plain and simple, if Ramirez does not have that type of performance last year, he starts the year off at High-A Carolina.
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