Winter Ball Update 2012: Part One

Now that you’re all familiar with how the winter leagues work, it’s time to update you as to how the Tiger players are doing. The Tigers currently have four players in the Dominican Republic, one in Mexico, and eleven in Venezuela (with at least two more supposedly on the way in the coming weeks; more on that later). However, as I stated in the primer, there’s a lot of roster turnover, so those numbers will change frequently (Plus, it looks as though there will be a couple more names on the list once the season starts in Puerto Rico later this week). At this point, my plan is to provide updates every two weeks or so, although I’ll give more if there’s major news or a lot of action.

Before we begin, I have one more piece of information that I forgot to include in the preview. Just as an FYI, if the hot stove action isn’t enough and you miss live baseball (like me), ESPN 3 carries a Venezuelan game every Wednesday.

And without further ado, let’s get to the updates (all stats are current to November 3rd).

Dominican Republic

Audy Ciriaco (SS, Aguilas Cibaenas)- 9 G, 24 AB, .250 AVG, .231 OBP, 3 RBI: A few years ago, there was some debate as to whether Ciriaco could be considered the Tigers’ “shortstop of the future,” but his stock has since fallen significantly, to the point where he’s not on the 40-man roster anymore. He was given the starting shortstop job in Toledo this year, but only hit .224 in 102 games. He got off to a good start in the Dominican Republic, but he’s currently in a slump, having only managed one hit in his last 12 at-bats (It should also be noted that the LIDOM had several postponements due to Hurricane Sandy).

Kelvin de la Cruz (LHP, Aguilas Cibaenas)- 3 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K: De la Cruz was a waiver claim by the Tigers during spring training and remained on the 40-man roster until being designated for assignment in August. He went 5-8 with a 4.92 ERA in 115.1 innings at Erie, where he split time between starting and relieving. The Aguilas are using him as a reliever. He’s only been in three games, but he’s done well so far. His most impressive outing was his most recent, on November 3rd, where he pitched three innings, allowing only one hit and striking out six.

Ramon Garcia (LHP, Leones del Escogido)- 7 G, 1-0, 4.09 ERA, 11 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 14 K: Garcia has spent the last couple years splitting time between Erie and Toledo. The Mud Hens tend to use him as a spot starter when one of their starters is called up, traded, or injured. He went 10-13 with a 4.74 ERA between the two teams this year. Like Kelvin de la Cruz, he’s strictly a reliever in the Dominican Republic. He’s most often used as a long man. His best outing was on October 27th, which was 2.1 scoreless innings with five strikeouts. However, he’s been kind of shaky since then, giving up a run in each of his last three outings, with only one strikeout (and three walks) in that span.

Melvin Mercedes (RHP, Toros del Este)- 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K: Mercedes was a reliever (and part-time closer) for West Michigan this year, and appeared in one game at Lakeland. He put up a 2.76 ERA with 9 saves in 65.1 innings between the two teams, and he’s a candidate to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 draft protection this year. However, there’s not much to say about his winter ball performance so far. He’s only been in one game, on the 21st of October, where he gave up one walk and no runs in two-thirds of an inning.


James Avery (RHP, Algodoneros de Guasave)- 3 G, 2-0, 5.02 ERA, 14.1 IP, 18 H, 8 ER, 7 BB, 14 K: Avery is a Canadian starting pitcher who put up a 10-13 record with a 4.73 ERA for the Erie Seawolves this season. His ERA in Mexico is a little on the high side, but most of the damage came in his first start for the Algodoneros, where he only went 3.2 innings and gave up six earned runs. His other two starts were better. One was a five-inning start and one was 5.2 innings, and he gave up only one earned run in each.


Justin Henry (OF, Aguilas del Zulia)- 20 G, 68 AB, .279 AVG, 5 2B, .407 OBP, 8 RBI: Justin Henry was one of the few Mud Hens position players who actually had a good season at the plate, hitting .300 in 131 games with a .372 OBP (the knock against him is that he has no power whatsoever; he only had one home run in Toledo this year and only has four in his entire minor league career). He was one of the top hitters for the Aguilas last year (so much so that when he missed the playoffs due to a bout with dengue fever, they struggled mightily with the bats and only won three games in the entire round robin), and it looks like he’s a staple for them again this year. He recently had a 10-game hitting streak snapped (though curiously, he only had one hit in each of those games except for one two-hit game). He’s also displayed quite a bit of patience at the plate, drawing fourteen walks against six strikeouts.

Niuman Romero (IF-Caribes de Anzoategui)- 21 G, 80 AB, .275 AVG, 7 2B, .344 OBP, 14 RBI: Romero is pretty much a career minor leaguer (though he did have a cup of coffee in the big leagues with the Indians in 2010), but he put up some good numbers (.300/.367/.421) in Erie this year (I’m actually surprised he was never promoted to Toledo at any point). He generally plays third base and occasionally shortstop for the Caribes (depending on what they need), and he’s been a solid player for them the last few years. There’s nothing to really highlight right now, just consistent, decent numbers so far.

Victor Larez (RHP, Leones del Caracas)- 12 G, 1-0, 0.64 ERA, 14.0 IP, 11 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 8 K: The Leones del Caracas seem to be a haven for players with Tiger connections right now. There are five players currently in the Tigers organization, plus they have Tiger alums Armando Galarraga, Thad Weber, and Eddie Bonine. Anyways, Larez had a good year with Lakeland, putting up a 4-1 record with a 1.72 ERA in 68 innings for the Flying Tigers. He’s mainly used for long relief, and he’s done a good job of that with the Leones so far. He’s only given up one run, which was on a solo home run, and has not given up a run in his last eight outings.

Wilsen Palacios (RHP, Leones del Caracas)- 5 G, 0-0, 4.76 ERA, 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K: Wilsen Palacios was a starter for West Michigan this year, and he had a decent season (12-9, 3.70 ERA in 23 starts). The Leones are using him mainly as a setup man, although he didn’t earn his first hold until his last outing, which was November 3rd. The three earned runs he’s given up has come in the two games against the Navegantes del Magallanes (and the Leones del Caracas and Navegantes del Magallanes are the two most popular teams in Venezuela and have a Yankees-Red Sox type of rivalry). Outside of that, there’s not much to report on yet, since he’s only been in five games.

Luis Angel Sanz (RHP, Leones del Caracas)- 1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1K: Sanz spent the bulk of this season at Lakeland, but appeared in two games at West Michigan. He was a starter most of the time but made a few appearances out of the bullpen. In 119.2 innings, he had a 12-3 record with a 3.31 ERA. There’s not much I can say about his winter ball stats. He’s only been in one game, a start that lasted only 1.2 innings, and he’s not on the Leones’ active roster anymore (but remember, players come and go frequently, so he might be back). In case you’re curious as to why his middle name is included in his stats, it’s because the Leones have a catcher named Luis Alberto Sanz. And to make things even more confusing, he is also a Tigers prospect. However, he has not appeared in a game yet.

Hernan Perez (IF, Leones del Caracas)- 14 G, 37 AB, .297 AVG, 11 H, .333 OBP, 8 RBI: You may remember Hernan Perez from his very brief stint with the Tigers, filling a roster spot while Jhonny Peralta was on the paternity list. He got his first major league hit in a couple of pinch-hitting appearances (since the Tigers were playing in Cincinnati at the time). Otherwise, he hit .261 in 124 games with Lakeland, mostly as a second baseman. The Leones have used him at shortstop more often, and he appears to be a solid defender. He’s hitting pretty well so far, which is a bonus for the Leones.

Eugenio Suarez (SS, Leones del Caracas)- 2 G, 1 AB, .000 AVG, .000 OBP, 1 RBI: It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Suarez next year, because he’s an infielder prospect who actually did have a good season offensively, hitting .288 with West Michigan. Again, I can’t comment much on his winter ball season, since he’s only been in two games, with only one at-bat (which resulted in an RBI), and he’s not on the Leones’ active roster right now.

Jose Ortega (RHP, Navegantes del Magallanes)- 5 G, 0-0, 1.23 ERA, 7.1 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 7 K: Most of you probably remember Jose Ortega, although he didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the big leagues (putting up a 3.38 ERA in 2.2 innings pitched). He’s a hard-thrower with great stuff (as evidenced by 68 strikeouts), but oftentimes he doesn’t know where it’s going (as evidenced by 51 walks). As a result, he had kind of an inconsistent year with Toledo, going 5-8 with a 5.74 ERA in 62.2 innings pitched. It looks like that dichotomy is in play with Magallanes, too (5 walks and 7 strikeouts), although the walks really haven’t come back to bite him yet. In addition to the one earned run he’s given up (which was on a solo home run), he’s give up two unearned runs. He’s seemingly being used for long relief, since all of his outings are an inning or more.

Bruce Rondon (RHP, Navegantes del Magallanes)- 6 G, 3-0, 1.50 ERA, 3 SV, 6.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5K: I’m guessing this is the one most of you were waiting for, wasn’t it? There’s no doubt that Rondon had quite a year in the minor leagues (2-1 with a 1.53 ERA and 29 saves with Lakeland, Erie, and Toledo), and then there was that Tigers press conference last week where Dave Dombrowski talked about him at length when it came to who would be the closer next year. That actually made me a little suspicious. It seemed to me like Dombrowski was talking about him a little TOO much, like he was overhyping him. Maybe it was simply a matter of a GM being enamored by a prospect who throws 100 MPH, but with the sheer number of quotes about him that came out of that press conference, I can’t help but wonder if there are ulterior motives. I’m not sure what they would be (perhaps it’s an attempt to drive down prices in the closer market, or perhaps they’re trying to hype up his trade value), but the Tigers are generally very sneaky and very stealthy in their offseason dealings, and so I’m inclined to suspect there’s some sort of hidden agenda. But enough about that. Rondon has been made the closer for the Navegantes del Magallanes, but the Tigers have put him on a 20-inning limit (he is also under strict instructions from the Tigers to not gain any weight during the offseason). So far, he’s put up decent numbers. He gave up a run in his first outing, but he hasn’t given up one since, and he’s converted all of his save opportunities (the other three games he pitched in were tie games at home, and each time, his team scored in the bottom half of the inning). There are a couple of curious points about his game logs, though. For one thing, he’s only had one 1-2-3 inning. In all his other outings, he’s given up at least a hit or a walk (He did have some control problems in Toledo, but it’s hard to tell if that’s carried over to Venezuela yet, since it’s only been six games). This doesn’t bother me, but some fans who have nothing but how dominant he’s been might be disappointed. The other curious factoid is that he hasn’t pitched on the road yet. All of his appearances have come at home. This is probably a quirk of the schedule that will even out as the season progresses, though.

Argenis Diaz (SS, Navegantes del Magallanes)- 9 G, 17 AB, .118 AVG, 2 H, .250 OBP: Diaz is more known as a glove man, but he had a pretty good season with the bat at Toledo last year. This year he fell a bit more down to earth, posting a .253 average in 111 games. He’s generally more of a reserve infielder for Magallanes, but he never got it going offensively this season, and today he was removed from their active roster (I have not found out why, nor have I found out if he’ll be back, but I’ll be sure to let you know if I do find out; a lot of times there’s no reason given for various roster moves).

Yorfrank Lopez (RHP, Tiburones de La Guaira)- 2 G, 0-0, 3.18 ERA, 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K: Lopez spent the regular season in the Gulf Coast League, putting up a 2.32 ERA in 15 games (seven starts). It’s unusual to see a player who hasn’t at least made it to single A play in the LVBP, but from what I’ve read, most of the Venezuelan teams are having a tough time finding starting pitchers this year, and the Tiburones in particular have pitching problems, both in their rotation and their bullpen. Hence, Lopez got the call. He’s still being stretched out, but his first start was good (three scoreless innings). His second start was a little shaky (2 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks in 2.2 innings). However, he is still in the rotation for the Tiburones, with his next start scheduled for November 6th.

And finally, I have two brief news pieces, both involving Tigers who play for the Caribes de Anzoategui. First, Alfredo Villasmil reports that Avisail Garcia will join the Caribes on November 15th, and he will not have any restrictions placed on him by the Tigers (unlike last year, when he barely played at all). Dave Dombrowski has also said that Garcia will be an everyday player. Second, the Caribes expect Brayan Villarreal to join them around the first week of December. There’s no word on if he will have restrictions on him (such as an innings limit), but I’m going to guess that he will. However, I’m looking forward to seeing both of them back in action. It’ll help break up the monotony of the offseason a little bit.

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