During my season-long conquest of the Midwest League, I had the opportunity to meet many great people, including BP alum Carlos Jose Lugo, the assistant general manager of Tigres del Licey of the Dominican Winter League. Our game-long conversation became a highlight of the season, as I learned a ton about the Dominican Winter League, Licey, and how teams operate in the Dominican. Here'[s a snapshot of some of the topics we covered.
Grant Jones: As the assistant GM of Licey, what are the day-to-day operations like for you? And how does what you do differ from how an MLB team operates?
Carlos Jose Lugo: The position involves many of the same responsibilities an assistant GM has in an MLB organization. The difference of course being the length of both seasons and also the time of the year. In the offseason I spent most of the time following our players’ performances in minor-league baseball or in some cases Asian leagues, taking notes and gathering information on players that project to be eligible for our annual draft, building a list of players that could be good candidates to play winter ball as imports, working with the GM and the other assistants on possible trade scenarios, and so on.
The busiest time of the year for us is between July through the end of the season in January. In July we initiate the contacts with the American or other foreign players we’re interested in as imports and work more closely on the upcoming draft, and that includes the scouting trip to the South Atlantic and Midwest Leagues. August and September, the workload increases as we now focus on both the roster and the draft, and at the same time setting up the training camp, etc. Once the season is approaching, I also got more involved with our analytics unit with projections, scouting reports, player evaluations, and all kinds of information we think our GM, the coaching staff, and the manager can use.
GJ: Can you elaborate on how the DWL is? Is it as competitive as MLB or is it more developmental like the minor leagues?
CJL: Oh yes, it’s as competitive and perhaps even more than MLB. Winter ball is totally different to minor-league baseball in this regard. The main goal in these leagues is to win the championship–not even make the playoffs–it’s win the championship. Anything else is a failure. The fans are totally obsessed, and they don’t accept losing in any way or form. But winter ball can be viewed as a good developmental step and environment for young players. As you know, in the minor leagues the goal is to develop the player, not necessarily to win, so the kids are not really exposed to the pressures and challenges that go in hand with a winning culture. Playing in front of 15,000 rabid fans in winter ball, from my perspective, will only benefit a young player with major-league potential.
GJ: When we talked earlier this season you happened to be scouting the Midwest League and I'm sure the readers would love to hear more about why the assistant GM of a DWL team was there.
CJL: As I mentioned before, we have an annual draft, very similar to the MLB draft, that is the primarily source of talent for the teams. For a player to be eligible he has to be a native of the Dominican Republic or have Dominican origins, and be playing in a mid-Single-A level or higher roster by August 1. Obviously, the vast majority of players will come from both the Midwest League and the South Atlantic League.
Internally at Tigres del Licey we decided that it will make sense if we go there and see those kids in person, talk to their coaches and managers, gather information from scouts at the stadiums, because it was kind of silly to rely only on reports from other people or sources, and not see for ourselves at least some of these kids. So that’s the reason I was scouting the Midwest League. The idea–which I credit to our former general manager Manny Acta and our former assistant GM Ulises Cabrera–has been an incredible success for us.
GJ: So with the draft, do the rights for those players hold forever? Will we ever see current big leaguers come back and play in the DWL?
CJL: Yes, once you draft a player you hold their rights forever. It probably sounds incredibly unfair, but you have to understand the reality of the Dominican Winter League. The competitive balance will be nonexistent otherwise. A totally open market in which free agency exists will definitely hurt badly the small market teams. The draft is a perfect example. Before it was established in 2001, the richer teams were able to get the best players because they used their financial power to have local MLB scouts on their payrolls as employees, and since the league had no internal rules to equally distribute the talent, small teams almost never had a realistic chance to get good players and compete for a championship. The league was founded in 1951, and through 2000 only three championships were won by small-market teams, two by Estrellas de Oriente and one by Azucareros Toros del Este. A perpetual “reserve-clause” is kind of justified in this case, even though the same was said in the 1960s and 1970s MLB.
GJ: If the draft is only for players who are Dominican born or have Dominican ties, when a foreign player plays in the DWL how does that work? Ties to MLB clubs, free agency?
CJL: Foreign players are signed basically as free agents, the only difference being the contract is just for one season. Foreign players are important because they are used to add depth and improve positions where the teams have weaknesses. Imports–foreign players–include not only Americans, but players from other countries. In the Dominican Republic each team can have a max of 10 players as imports.
GJ: With your first pick this year you picked [Giants prospect] Miguel Gomez, what did you see that convinced you to take him? You also picked two pitchers I saw in the MWL this year in [Astros [prospect] Albert Abreu and [Padres prospect] Enyel de los Santos, what did you think of them and when would you expect these draftees to appear with Licey?
CJL: Miguel was one of the most advanced hitters of this class and we identified him as a player that could be ready to help our team very quickly, perhaps even this year in some capacity. He’s a switch-hitter with gap power, and the kind of approach at the plate that generally works out well in this league.
Albert has a terrific arm, four projectable pitches and a good chance to stay as a starter. We had good reports from various sources on him–including those published at Baseball Prospectus–and he’s a kid we hope to see pitching for us probably in a couple of seasons.
Enyel is pretty much the same story, a plus arm with lots of projection and good performances at a young age in tough leagues. Even though Enyel was already promoted to high-A when we scouted the Midwest League, a conversation with Fort Wayne’s pitching coach Burt Hooton–a former Licey alumni himself–gave us a good idea of Enyel’s talent level. Availability is always a concern when you draft young pitching prospects in winter ball, because of the known limitations major-league organizations have these days, but you have to take risks with kids with special arms like Albert and Enyel.
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