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Winter ball roundup: Dominican League

After short stay for top prospect Franco, others shine in LIDOM
Baseball's top prospect Wander Franco left winter ball with shoulder soreness and biceps inflammation, but is expected to be ready for spring. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
January 27, 2021

Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. First up: the Dominican Winter League. Season summary Perhaps baseball’s most iconic current winter circuit,

Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. First up: the Dominican Winter League.

Season summary

Perhaps baseball’s most iconic current winter circuit, the Dominican Republic Professional Baseball League (LIDOM) ordinarily plays a 50-game campaign from October to January. Like sports across the globe, the league had to adapt in the pandemic-altered landscape of 2020, shortening its season to 30 games and its postseason to two full rounds.

In the confines of a short regular season, the standings remained tight. Águilas Cibaeñas, Gigantes Del Cibao and Toros Del Este finished atop the league’s six-team table with 16-14 records. Behind them, there wasn’t much separation with Estrellas Orientales, Leones Del Escogido and Tigres Del Licey finishing one, two and three games back respectively.

Ordinarily, the LIDOM follows its regular season with a lengthy round-robin competition to set the championship series matchup. This year, Estrellas beat Escogido in a two-game sweep to earn a trip to one semifinal round, then fell in six games to Gigantes. Across the bracket, Águilas took down Toros in seven games, setting up a climactic final between two of the circuit’s first-place finishers.

On Jan. 18 in the final game of a best-of-7 championship series, Águilas emerged on top. Led by finals' Most Valuable Player Juan Lagares, who capped the series with a homer and two RBIs to fill out his .379/.400/.793, 10-RBI championship series showing, the club captured its 22nd LIDOM championship. That punched its ticket to take part in the Caribbean Series from Jan. 31-Feb. 6 in Mazatlan, featuring the champions of the winter leagues in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Prospect standouts

The eyes of the prospect world were on the Dominican Republic heading into the 2020-21 winter league season because that was where baseball’s top young talent was headed. Rays shortstop Wander Franco, the game’s No. 1 overall prospect, prepared to play for Escogido, his first competitive action since August 2019 with Class A Advanced Charlotte. Things started well for the 19-year-old. He went 7-for-20 (.350) with a homer, six runs scored and a .935 OPS with hits in all five games he played. But that was it. Franco left the LIDOM in late November with what was later diagnosed as shoulder soreness and biceps inflammation. Thankfully for Tampa Bay, a December exam revealed no structural damage, and Franco should be ready for Spring Training.

Franco wasn’t the only top prospect among Escogido’s ranks. No. 15 overall prospect Julio Y. Rodriguez played in 18 games and batted .196/.297/.250 with a double and a triple among his 11 hits. For the second-ranked Mariners prospect, the stint marked the end of a roller-coaster year. The outfielder took part in alternate training site work during the summer, but missed time after fracturing his left wrist in July, then drew rave reviews from Seattle player development director Andy McKay during instructional league play in November.

Rodriguez was teammates with another player with almost the same name -- Julio E. Rodriguez, the No. 19 Cardinals prospect, who made 15 starts behind the plate for the Leones. Escogido also featured seventh-ranked Yankees prospect Estevan Florial, who put up a .280/.373/.420 slash line in 18 games.

Though he’s not ranked in a loaded Marlins system, infield prospect Joe Dunand turned heads for Escogido and “nearly won league MVP,” according to one American League scout. The 2017 second-round pick played in 21 games at first base, third base, shortstop and DH and batted .319/.398/.542 with three homers and 12 RBIs. Dunand, who was ranked Miami’s No. 24 prospect after the 2018 season, racked up 130 games with Double-A Jacksonville in 2019. More on his LIDOM triumph in the Dec. 4 edition of Toolshed.

North of the Leones’ home in Santo Domingo, Pirates No. 3 prospect Oneil Cruz laced up his spikes for the Gigantes del Cibao in San Francisco de Macoris. In 14 games, the No. 59 overall prospect batted .245/.260/.347 with two triples and a double. Cruz, 21, played in 73 games between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Class A Advanced Bradenton and Double-A Altoona in 2019. (His participation in winter ball was up in the air after he was involved in a deadly car accident in September, but as of yet, no charges have been filed.) Kansas City’s No. 24 prospect Kelvin Gutierrez impressed at the plate in 17 games for the Gigantes, posting a .396/.492/.604 slash line with a pair of homers and 11 RBIs.

On the southeast coast, Toros del Este got a brief but impressive cameo from fifth-ranked Marlins prospect Jesús Sánchez. The No. 76 overall talent, who made his big league debut last summer, batted .278/.297/.472 in 10 games for La Romana’s team, roughly 30 miles from his hometown of Higuey.

Just west of the Toros in San Pedro de Macoris, Estrellas Orientales were led by No. 4 Astros prospect Jeremy Pena. Over 30 games, all as his team’s starting shortstop, Peña hit .306/.349/.430 with three homers, two triples, two doubles and seven stolen bases in as many attempts. Eighth-ranked Marlins prospect Lewin Diaz homered three times in 24 games, but the first baseman finished with a slash line of .207/.301/.354.

Fifth-ranked Yankees prospect Luis Gil was the prospect headliner for Santo Domingo’s Tigres Del Licey, but only pitched in two games. Over 5 2/3 innings, the right-hander allowed four runs on eight hits with four strikeouts and three walks. Opponents batted .308 against Gil, who pitched for Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa and posted a 2.72 ERA in 20 starts with 123 strikeouts in 96 innings during the 2019 Minor League season. Gil’s organizational teammate Albert Abreu fared better. In five starts, New York’s No. 12 prospect registered a 2.79 ERA, striking out 23 while walking 12 in 19 1/3 frames and limiting opposing hitters to a .152 average.

Texas’ No. 8 prospect Anderson Tejeda flashed his substantial promise in 11 games for the Tigres, batting .300/.349/.500. Even though he hadn't played above Class A Advanced in his Minor League career, Tejeda made his Major League debut last year. Eighth-ranked Oakland prospect Luis Barrera batted .213/.275/.324 in 13 games.

As for the champs, 11th-ranked Angels prospect Hector Yan pitched well in limited action for Águilas. Over five relief appearances, the lefty allowed one run on three hits, fanning three and walking one in 3 1/3 innings.

Águilas Cibaeñas will square off with Puerto Rico's Criollos De Caguas in their first matchup of the 2021 Caribbean Series on Jan. 31 at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal in Mazatlan, Mexico.

Tyler Maun is a reporter for and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.