For our second stop of the Winter Ball League destinations we move to the Dominican Republic which is a part of the Caribbean Leagues. The collection of Caribbean Leagues also includes Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico which will be explored further in the upcoming weeks. The league champions from each of the aforementioned nations get together in the first week of February to vie for the title of 'Champion' in the Caribbean Series.
Liga de Beisbol Profesional de la Republica Dominicana or Dominican Republican Professional Baseball League operates from mid-October to end-December and had its first champion in 1922. The league was revived in its current form in 1951 after a 14-year hiatus following the 1937 season when it had just four teams. Those four have expanded to six; the Estrellas Orientales, Tigres del Licey, Leones del Escogido, Toros de Este, Dragones de Ciudad Trujillo, and Aguilas Cibaeñas. As of mid-November, the Toros sit atop the standings board with a record of 10-4.
The most dominant team in the Dominican Winter League over the years in terms of championships has been the Tigres del Lacey and for good reason. The Tigres have had top shelf on-field management including many names Red Sox and PawSox fans alike will remember. The last Tigres team to take the DR title saw former Boston everyman Jose Offerman as its skipper in 2009. Tony Pena Sr., Yankees bench coach and father of PawSox pitcher Tony Pena Jr., led the Tigres to victory in 1998.
The league consists of players whom are property of Major League Baseball teams, free agents who typically play affiliated baseball, independent league players and nationals from the Dominican. The Dominican Republic has long been known as a hot bed for baseball talent; of the 234 foreign born players on 2011 Opening Day rosters 86 of them were from the DR. In the 2011 MLB playoffs, of the eight teams and 200 active players in the first round 26 of them were Dominican natives.
There are currently four Red Sox farmhands taking part in the Dominican Winter League and the most notable is the abovementioned Tony Pena Jr. pitching for Aguilas Cibaenas. A former shortstop with the Kansas City Royals, Pena has re-invented himself as an innings eater both out of the bullpen and in a starting role which earned him the PawSox Most Valuable Pitcher award in 2011. Also from the DR right handed relief man Stolmy Pimentel is spending some of his time honing his craft with the Estrellas de Oriente. He will look to bounce back from a tough season in Double-A Portland. Infielder Oscar Tejada and reliever Cesar Cabral are the other two players in the Sox system currently playing in the Dominican League.