A Winter League Unlike the Rest: Recap, Results and Culture

While local reports describe weather across the Midwest at the tail end of January as “bitterly cold,” I’m doing my best to put myself in a spring-like mood. I tried to tie in some sort of “escape the cold” metaphor as it relates to the conclusion of the Winter Leagues in Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but with wind chills projecting a forecast of –59 degrees here at home, I’ll just bury myself under blankets in my heated household and leave it at that.  

Nine White Sox spent time in favorable climates over the course of this winter to get game reps under their belts, including newly added right-hander Randall Delgado and Major League Baseball’s third-ranked prospect, Eloy Jimenez. On top of that, Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, invited 13 American-born prospects to the Dominican for a mini-camp and community outreach.  

Let’s start there, as Getz supplanted his usual hitter’s camp in Glendale, Arizona with a trip to the Dominican, where guys like Jimenez and local product Reynaldo Lopez welcomed their teammates with open arms.  

Players invited included: Zack CollinsSeby ZavalaNick MadrigalLaz RiveraGavin SheetsBlake RutherfordSteele WalkerZack BurdiDylan CeaseDane DunningBernardo FloresTyler Johnson and Jimmy Lambert 

The primary benefit, of course, allows the prospects to get extra work in prior to the organization’s full spring training report date on February 18th. Alternatively, the experience gave those involved a first-hand perspective of what it’s like growing up in the Dominican, with efforts to close inherent cultural gaps. 

In an article written by The Athletic’s James Fegan, Getz said, “I’ve been around good teams and bad teams and often the demise of teams that have good players is there can be a cultural divide.”  

He went on to say, “If we can do something to get ahead of that…in order to build a strong relationship, you can only take it so far if you don’t understand where a Latin American kid grew up or what they had to go through to get where they are nowI figured this was a good opportunity to bring our prospects down here and get a taste of it.” 

The guys pulled up to an orphanage at Boca Chica, Dominican Republic and connected with a group of children on the playground. Madrigal led a game of tag to Cease, who had no choice but to run with it. According to Fegan, “The orphanage received a donation from the White Sox, in addition to an ample supply of baseball gear.”  

The project constructed by Getz was widely considered a success. White Sox manager Rick Renteria may have put it best in his interview on 670 the Score’s “Mully and Haugh” show on January 24th 

What ‘Getzy’ did,” Renteria said, “basically by allowing these young men to experience how some of our teammates live, where they come from, the things they had to do to overcome and be in a situation where they’re at the major league levelIt’s a great multicultural experience.”

I think it allows them to understand beyond baseball life does exist and that there are a lot of parallels in our existence,” Renteria went on to say. We are human beings that happen to play baseball. I think that understanding what people go through and how they can still have joy in going about playing the game of baseball, it’s something that truly unites us. I think it was a great experience for everybody. 

Winter Leagues Recap 

Now then. Let’s get to some results. 

The White Sox had five players in the Dominican Republic, three in the Venezuelan Winter League, and one in the Mexican Pacific League. They also had two in the non-series Colombian Winter League, and one in the ABL.

Dominican Winter League

One of the five players competing in the Dominican Republic was Jimenez. Eloy, who was a part of the Gigantes del Cibao, accumulated 29 at-bats and produced a .448 average and a gaudy 1.259 OPS thanks to his three doubles, two home runs (one being a grand slam in his debut) and nine RBI. His time was cut short due to a quad injury that was not considered serious, but the Sox shut him down as a precaution.

Delgado, who was signed on January 3rd, worked in 2.2 innings over three appearances for Tigres del Licey and allowed a run on three hits while striking out two and walking as many. Delgado was teammates with soon-to-be 26-year-old Yermin MercedesMercedes, a minor league Rule 5 addition from Baltimore, spent a full season with Winston-Salem in 2018 and managed a .232/.315/.305 slash line in 95 at-bats this winter.

Right handers Felix Paulino and Jose Nin, both international signings by the Phillies in 2014 whove’ made their way to the White Sox system, were teammates on Aguilas Cibaenas. Nin threw just a third of an inning, while Paulino allowed six earned runs over 13.1 innings out of the bullpen.  

Venezuelan Winter League 

Hey…its Ozzie Guillen! Guillen managed right-handed pitching prospect Jhoan Quijada, alongside Sox affiliated pitching coach Felipe Lira. Quijada was impressive over 12 appearances out of the bullpen, posting a 1.93 ERA in 9.1 innings.

24-year-old Luis Martinez of the Navegantes del Magallenas made 11 relief appearances and allowed six runs (five earned) while walking seven and striking out five in 9.1 innings. Martinez, who has been part of the Sox system since 2014, has yet to eclipse Advanced-A and owns a career 4.26 ERA.

The final Venezuelan Winter League participant is a guy who boasts 133 career plate appearances at the big-league level. With the White Sox last year, Jose Rondon hit six homers and six doubles over a 42-game span but struggled with the Leones del Caracas this winter. The soon-to-be 25-year-old slashed .237/.292/.356 in 118 winter league at-bats with three homers, five doubles, 18 strikeouts and nine walks.

Mexican Pacific League 

Another new player in this year’s winter class is an intriguing story in right-handed pitcher Evan Marshall. Marshall spent parts of five seasons in the Majors, posting his best numbers as a rookie in 2014 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. More interesting is his comeback from a nearly lethal injury to pitch in pro ball again.

Coming up on five years removed from his 2.74 ERA in 49.1 innings, Marshall, who turns 29 in April, looks to find his way as a depth piece in the White Sox bullpen this season after an impressive 1.13 ERA in 24 Triple-A innings with the Cleveland Indians organization in 2018. He’s got a non-roster invite to big league camp in Spring Training with his name on it.

Marshall, a member of the Venados de Mazatlan, appeared in nine games, threw nine innings and converted five saves in six chances. He finished with five strikeouts, two walks and allowed three runs (one home run) on 10 hits.

Colombian Winter League

Two Colombian natives played back home this winter, both of whom are fringe prospects but players with tools that could put them on the radar.

Catcher Jhoandro Alfaro played in 19 games for the Toros of Sincelejo, posting a .237/.316/.237 line in 36 at-bats. He’s yet to play above rookie ball as a pro but the 21-year-old has always had a strong reputation on the defensive side of the game.

Left-handed reliever Kevin Escorcia got in only a brief look with Leones de Monteria. In 3 innings he was hit hard – 8 hits, 6 earned runs, and just one strikeout to 4 walks. The sample size is quite small and one shouldn’t read too much into such limited play.

Australian Baseball League

Our final entrant wasn’t mentioned in our preview either because, like Marshall, he wasn’t in the Sox system when the off-season began. Utility man T.J. Bennett takes that title to a high level – in 2018 across affiliated and independent ball he played every position except pitcher and catcher. The White Sox recently signed the 26-year-old to a minor league deal.

Bennett played this winter for the Brisbane Bandits of the ABL, where he’s played the last four straight winters. No, he’s not an Aussie, he’s Canadian but doesn’t Australia sound better than Canada in December and January? This winter he sliced up the pitching down under pretty effectively: .303/.364/.626 with 13 HR in 40 games. Having played literally all over the field and at every level of the minors it’s hard to say where he might be assigned come April.

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