Chicago just got its first measurable snow of the winter, and the White Sox are in full offseason roster change mode. But for some minor leaguers, winter means more baseball.
Each offseason, a handful or dozen prospects elect to play in one of the winter leagues in the Caribbean or even as far away as Australia. The bulk are there playing for their home countries, more for pride and fun than development. But for others, they are making up for lost playing time during the season or simply looking to improve their chances in 2019.
This time around, eight current Sox farmhands and one coach found their way onto winter league rosters. Here's a quick look at who is playing where, and for those who've already seen action, how things have gone so far.
VENEZUELA (opened play on 10/12)
The Tiburones of La Guaira have a strong South Side flavor this season. 23-year-old right-hander Jhoan Quijada, who pitched at three levels in the Sox system last year but mostly with Kannapolis is a native of the country and his career can probably only be helped by the extra reps. So far in nine outings he's thrown 7.2 innings allowing a pair of earned runs, but he's also given up 9 hits and has a 3:4 BB:K rate in the early going. Gregory Infante is now technically a free agent after pitching in the Sox system last year, and he's also on board.
The biggest names with the Sharks though might be on the coaching staff. The team is managed by one Ozzie Guillen - you might have heard of him. And his pitching coach is Felipe Lira, who has been handling that role at multiple ChiSox affiliates for a number of years now.
Enigmatic right-hander Luis Martinez, also 23 and a local player, is on the roster for Navegantes del Magallenas. He's thrown just 2.1 frames so far, allowing no runs or hits and whiffing a pair. Martinez was left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, and while he's not a substantial risk of selection, he does need to start getting outs more consistently at higher levels to stay on the fringes of the prospect radar.
Infielder Bryant Flete is a free agent and, also like Infante, might have a good path for returning to the White Sox. He's with Aguilas de Zulia and so far his numbers don't appear to be helping his cause: .074/.242/.148 through 18 games.
MEXICO (opened play on 10/12)
Just one White Sox (sock?) in the Mexican Pacific League this cycle. Recently-signed reliever Evan Marshall is throwing for Venados de Mazatlan, putting up OK-ish numbers so far: 9 IP. 10 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. The 28-year-old is no longer technically a prospect, but he is likely ticketed for AAA Charlotte and he's got a good shot to see some MLB time in 2019. He's got a truly amazing back story, that you can and should read here ($, The Athletic). Evan should be easy to root for in Spring Training.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (opened play on 10/13)
The DR is usually the most popular destination among the sunny, tropical locales the teams prospects have to choose from. And until today, there were only two Sox assigned to the league. Then this happened:
— Gigantes del Cibao ® (@Gigantes_Cibao) November 26, 2018
So, Eloy Jimenez will make a short appearance with Gigantes. There's a good chance he plays only sparingly, as the MLB club would probably want him protected from injury to the extent possible. Clearly he has nothing to prove here, and developmentally this doesn't present any real challenge. He's playing for fun and country. Per James Fegan of The Athletic, he will play both OF and DH, and play for 4-5 weeks (which is basically the balance of their regular season).
RHP Felix Paulino was acquired by the Sox late in the 2018 season from Philadelphia in the trade for Luis Avilan. The 23-year-old pitched briefly for Birmingham, and probably returns there in 2019. He's playing for Aguilas Cibaenas.
COLOMBIA (opened play on 11/2)
The Colombian Winter League is not part of the Caribbean Series and is a lower level of play than the leagues listed above, but some native players choose to get some PT in anyway over the winter.
Catching prospect Jhoandro Alfaro hasn't yet played above rookie ball as a pro, so playing with Toros de Sincelejo can provide some development in addition to just playing time. So far in 17 at-bats he's got just three hits, though one was a home run. LHP Kevin Escorcia is listed on the roster for Leones de Monteria, but he's yet to pitch in a game.
There are no White Sox minor leaguers currently on-roster in the Puerto Rican Winter League, or the Australian Baseball League. Players could be added later to any of the leagues listed here. We will publish a report on how all of them performed when the seasons are over in January.
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