How much stock should we take into performances from the off-season winter leagues?
I think it becomes a question of merit when you have someone that is downright dominating. For instance, take someone like Mike Maroth, who is currently in camp with the Minnesota Twins.
In the Puerto Rican League, Maroth started six games, carried a 2.60 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 34 innings pitched. That’s pretty good, but if you look at the fact that Maroth is a career journeyman and this is sub par talent he’s playing, the numbers are diminished.
What does it tell you when Julian Tavarez, who isn’t on a major league squad anymore, can throw 33 innings and carry a better ERA (2.45) and WHIP (1.12) in the Dominican League?
Where I’d start to get excited is with players like Francisco Liriano, who tore up the Dominican League during the playoffs. This is a league with the best teams, a playoff like atmosphere given the seriousness people take baseball in Latin America, and dominant numbers.
Liriano was stellar, starting seven games and carrying a 0.49 ERA in 37 innings pitched. You read that right, a 0.49 ERA in seven starts, including a win in the clinching game of the championship.
I’m gleeful if I’m a Twins fan about the prospects of Liriano coming back and being a productive member of the rotation this season.
In another instance of interesting winter league cases is the situation of Rafael Perez.
The Indians reliever started out doing what he normally does, but ended up starting five games during his time in the Dominican. Cleveland officials say the reason was to get him in a groove with his delivery, not to move him into the rotation, but Manny Acta and new pitching coach Tim Belcher didn’t dismiss the idea of it down the road.
What makes this weird is the absolute dominance Perez showed in the starting rotation. He pitched 27 innings, carried a 0.33 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. Now he isn’t exactly a stranger to starting, as he came through the Indians’ system as one until the late stages.
But Perez’s sudden emergence down in the Dominican should give Indians fans some hope that the old “Raffy Left” is still in there somewhere.
How about on the prospect trail?
I look at a player like Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs and wonder what it exactly means. Now Samardzija played in the Mexican League, which is another question in itself.
What is the talent difference between the Dominican, Mexican, Venezuelan and Puerto Rican Leagues?
I’m assuming mostly Dominican players are going to stick with the Dominican League, but what about guys who are just down there, like Samardzija, to get work in? The point is, we don’t really know the talent level in each league and how it will compare to the others.
All we can really assume is that a league filled with Jason Simontacchi, Esteban Loaiza, and Karim Garcia (yes he’s still playing baseball!) is inferior to the Major Leagues and maybe even on par with Triple-A.
So if someone like Samardzija has had a wonderful time in Triple-A Iowa, but we’ve yet to see what he’s done at the Majors, can we really get excited about the 2.25 ERA in 24 innings pitched?
How about offensively with Wladimir Balentien hitting .348 with 14 RBI in 24 games during the Dominican playoffs? On a larger scale, young players with tremendous upside like Fernando Martinez and Alcides Escobar had fantastic stints in winter ball.
I guess the whole point is, there are some things to take away from the winter leagues. However, don’t look too far into them.
Jake Westbrook used the Puerto Rican league to get innings in and build up his arm strength in preparation for 2010 spring training after missing the entire 2009 season. It’s a great opportunity for some players to attempt to re-establish themselves in hope of a shot at the major leagues or young prospects to get more work in during the off-season.
Nevertheless, it isn’t a fair barometer of what you can expect from a certain player in the upcoming season.
Don’t Forget About Me
I always take an interest in some of the players that are “attempting comebacks” of sorts.
The most interesting to me is the comeback of Bobby Kielty , who is attempting to return in an unusual role.
Kielty wants to return to the game as a pitcher, with a very limited arsenal of pitches and also be an occasional pinch hitter off the bench.
It won’t ever happen in my opinion, but it is at least pretty cool to see him try. Unless his fastball and slider are out of this world, no man can survive off just those two pitches alone for an extended period.
The one reliever on my list is Byung-Hyun Kim , who reportedly has no interest in pitching in the minor leagues.
Guess that means we won’t see Kim in any organization when the season starts. The San Francisco Giants gave Kim a shot, but have chosen not to renew his contract yesterday. We haven’t seen Kim in a major league game since 2007.
And that sort of is the theme here. There are a few other players that were simply not in the game at all last year, yet have resurfaced for a comeback.
For guys like Paul Lo Duca, Jay Gibbons, and Kevin Mench , the possibilities of a successful return seem unlikely. Mench has had the best spring and he and Gibbons are at least coming off years in which they played.
Mench spent the year in Japan and Gibbons played in the Atlantic League after being cut by Florida. Lo Duca was pretty much disconnected from the playing aspect of the game.
Speaking of Japan, Colby Lewis is probably the guy making a “comeback” that could have the most success. Lewis is coming back from a two year stint in Japan in which he was very successful, even with the bat.
After hitting five home runs as a pitcher in two years with Japan and of course showing some of the promise he showed with Texas coming up, he is back with the Rangers. Lewis not only signed a decent paying two-year deal, but he’s been slotted into their rotation to start the season.
Lewis says he’s matured and is a much better pitcher this time around, but the real test will come when he gets back onto the mound to face major league pitching.
Finally, Jim Edmonds is continuing on the NL Central circuit, this time with Milwaukee. After part of 2009 spent with Chicago, the long-time Cardinal stands a good chance to make the Brewers roster.
Edmonds really was a big help to the Cubs in 2008 and after a year off in 2009 in which he spent playing golf, Edmonds very well could provide the same type of help to the Brewers off the bench.
I’m surprised he didn’t just retire last year, because I think he’s established that he can still make a major league team.
Speaking of retirements, let’s not forget the names that hung it up this off-season. Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson are two of the top pitchers of the past 20 years and they’re both moving on. They could very well be joined by John Smoltz fairly soon.
Smoltz was a candidate to comeback at a point in the season, but his new job as an analyst and commentator seem to make retirement likely.
One of the most prolific home run hitters of the past 20 years has also called it a career. Frank Thomas was also joined by fellow outfielder Brian Giles and Nomar Garciaparra recently in retirement. Thomas will really test the Hall of Fame in terms of their stance on the designated hitter.
More than half of his career was spent hitting bombs out of the designated hitter spot, but Thomas deserves serious consideration, if he isn’t already considered somewhat “in.”
It could be an interesting Hall of Fame competition in a few years with Thomas, Glavine, Johnson and even Smoltz up on their first ballot.
And if Pedro Martinez doesn’t come back in 2010, he’ll surely be in there as well.
"2010 MLB Manifesto" is a part of a month-long series of articles that are previewing the 2010 MLB season. For the other parts of "2010 MLB Manifesto " ,other features, and a schedule, click here .