The Cincinnati Reds had a large contingent of players in Caribbean winter leagues this season, among them were some recently signed minor league free agents as well as some of their top prospects. In fact, if you use Jonathan Mayo’s Top 20 prospects at MLB.com, the Reds had four of their top 20 in active various Caribbean winter leagues.
Veteran outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who signed a minor-league deal with the Reds this offseason played in only four games with the Caneros de los Mochis in the Mexican Winter League and went two for 15 with two walks and three strikeouts. Bourgeois, 32, had a strong year in the minors with the Tampa Bay system and his best major league season was 2011 in which he hit .294/.323/.357 with 31 stolen bases in 93 games for Houston.
Another minor league free agent, Argenis Diaz, a 26-year-old shortstop from Venezuela had a .245/.317/.327 line in his native Venezuela. Diaz appeared in 22 games for the Pirates in 2010 and has been playing with the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in Toledo ever since signing a minor league free agent deal with Detroit after the 2010 season. In 2013, Diaz hit .255/.314/.344 playing shortstop and third base with a few games at second.
Yet another minor league free agent, 31-year-old third baseman Ruben Gotay, got some time in with Gigantes de Carolina in the Puerto Rican league. He hit .312/.410/.475 with 11 doubles and four home runs for an excellent winter. He played with Triple-A Round Rock (in the Texas Rangers’ organization) in 2013, hitting a very solid .279/.366/.438 with 16 home runs.
The player that everyone is talking about, of course, is 23-year-old speedster Billy Hamilton who made his big league debut in 2013. Excluding his outstanding major league debut (with just 22 plate appearances), Hamilton hit .256/.308/.343 with 75 stolen bases in Triple-A Louisville. In the Puerto Rican Winter League, Hamilton hit only .227/.285/.293 in 75 at bats with 11 stolen bases.
Another young Red who made his major league debut in 2013 was outfielder Donald Lutz, 24. Lutz spent the season in Double-A hitting .245/.318/.424 before getting a call up that saw him play in 34 games and have 59 plate appearances in which he walked just once and struck out 14 times. Lutz got 118 at bats in the Mexican Winter League, hitting .271/.344/.432 and had a decent walk rate but still struck out 38 times.
Another young minor league free agent, Rey Navarro, signed on with the Reds for 2014. Navarro, 24, has yet to break through to the majors and hit .230/.296/.310 in his native Puerto Rico. The second baseman played for the Double-A Northwest Arkansas affiliate for the Kansas City Royals in 2013, hitting a solid .283/.310/.428 with 21 doubles, four triples and 12 home runs.
27-year-old utility man Kristopher Negron also went down to Puerto Rico to get some at bats. he hit .211/.286/.300 in 90 at bats following a fairly weak season in Triple-A Louisville, hitting .225/.295/.317 in 334 at bats.
29-year-old Cuban Felix Perez played for two different teams in the Venezuelan league this winter, hitting a combined .260/.326/.442 in 242 at bats with 10 home runs. His numbers in Venezuela are eerily similar to his numbers playing for Triple-A Louisville where he hit .262/.315/.385 with 10 home runs.
Catcher Max Ramirez also bolted the Royals’ organization for the Reds this offseason playing in his native Venezuela and hitting .274/.353/.484 with 5 home runs following a very solid Triple-A season in Omaha, hitting .263/.336/.375 with nine home runs.
Versatile 23-year-old infielder Henry Rodriguez also played for two Winter League teams this winter, hitting a combined .258/.339/.314 in 194 at bats. While he doesn’t have much power, he had a solid season in Triple-A Louisville with a .274/.319/.334 slash line. Rodriguez has had a couple of big league cups of coffee in 2012 and 2013.
Juan Silva made a nice little jump from High-A Bakersfield to the Puerto Rican league this winter. The 22 year old (although he turns 23 on January 8) hit .228/.361/.347 with three home runs in 101 at bats in Puerto Rico to follow up a .271/.386/.414 line with eight home runs in 336 at bats in the batter-friendly California League.
Juan Silverio only had 38 at bats in the Dominican Winter League but hit .368/.359/.526. Despite not taking any walks, he only struck out three times and hit three doubles and home run. That followed up an outstanding season spent mostly in Bakersfield where he hit .286/.304/.473 with 30 doubles, four triples and 19 home runs. While plate discipline and baserunning are his biggest weaknesses, 2014 will be interesting to see if his power numbers were inflated due to the California League.
First baeman Neftali Soto, who will be 25 before the season starts, had a very nice season in the Puerto Rican Winter League, hitting .292/.331/.438 with eight doubles and four home runs in 137 at bats. The 2007 third round pick went hitless in his major league debut in 2013 but hit .271/.313/.414 with 21 doubles and 15 home runs in Triple-A Louisville.
30-year-old outfielder Mike Wilson signed on with the Reds this offseason and has just 27 major league at bats but hit .291/.354/.455 in 220 at bats with Triple-A Tuscon in the Padres’ organization in 2013. In 47 Mexican Winter League at bats, he hit just .170/.304/.383 but hit a pair of home runs and four doubles.
#7 prospect (according to MLB.com) Daniel Corcino went back to his native Dominican Republic and threw in seven games out of the bullpen, giving up just two runs (both on solo home runs) on five hits and one walk with 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings. He didn’t ahve a great season in Triple-A with a 5.86 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 73 walks and 90 strikeouts in 129 innings but, at 23, he still has time to figure things out.
26-year-old lefty Ryan Dennick did not have a good time in the Dominican Winter League, getting torched for a 7.33 ERA and 1.84 WHIP in 23 1/3 innings with just 13 strikeouts. His 2013 season featured two stops, at Double-A Pensacola where he was very strong (104 innings, 3.55 ERA, 101 hits, 26 walks, 66 strikeouts) and in Triple-A Louisville where he got hit hard (18 2/3 innings, 5.30 ERA, 21 hits, 9 walks, 12 strikeouts).
Right-handed reliever Jose Diaz (a.k.a. Jumbo), a 6’4″, 300 pounder who will be 30 in February, pitched in both the Venezuelan and Dominican leagues this winter (although he only threw one inning in Venezuela). He came out of the bullpen 20 times in the DR and put up a 2.37 ERA and 1.53 WHIP with 10 walks and 16 strikeouts in 19 innings. Diaz threw 54 1/3 innings with Louisville with a 1.66 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, just 35 hits against and 21 walks and 60 strikeouts.
24-year-old lefty Trevor Reckling, signed out of the Independent League in November, had mixed results in eight innings in the Dominican, giving up just five hits but walking eight and striking out six.
Right-hander Pedro Villarreal made five starts in the Venezuelan league, surrendering 13 runs (11 earned) in just 16 2/3 innings with 12 walks and 12 strikeouts. Villarreal made his big league debut in 2012 and has just 6 2/3 major league innings under his belt. Pitching in Louisville in 2013, Villarreal threw 109 2/3 innings (making 18 starts and 15 relief appearances) with a 4.43 ERA, 1.30 WHIP to go with 28 walks and 84 strikeouts.