Did you know that the draft for the Dominican Winter League took place two weeks ago? If so, you must be either as bummed as I am about the end of the minor-league season or as desperate as I am to do some prospecting. It’s hard to glean much from the winter leagues, but at least they provide an impetus to bone up on some of the prospects who will be participating. Plus, who doesn’t like analyzing a draft? I’d run down a draft of Bartolo Colon .gifs, pronunciations of the word .gif, or arguments about the pronunciation of the word .gif if someone would just hold the draft and send me the results.
To be eligible for the Dominican Winter League draft, a player has to be Dominican and have just played in a full-season league for the first time. If you’re a dynasty-league player, you’ve certainly heard of the six players taken in the first round, but I’ll also highlight a lesser-known player from each team whose stock is on the rise. To the extent that I follow the winter leagues, these are guys I’ll have an eye on.
Leones del Escogido
You know Devers, so I’ll waste about as much time here as Escogido did when they plucked him first overall. Devers ranked 19th on Bret’s midseason Top 50 Fantasy Prospects and finished the season at .288/.329/.443 with 11 homers and 38 doubles, good for second best in the Sally. Devers is still 18 years old and his second-half performance lagged well behind the early months, so it will be interesting to see how much he actually plays this winter.
After opening the season in extended spring training, Giron played nearly 100 Midwest League games and finished the season as the youngest player to log a plate appearance in the league. He slowed down from the torrid pace I noted in early June, but a final line of .285/.335/.407 is still remarkable progress for a prospect of whom little was expected. Like his Escogido teammate, Giron sputtered in the season’s second half but like Devers, his young age offers an acceptable explanation. There are some questions about whether Giron can stick at the six but he’ll be a middle infielder either way and could provide a modest pop/speed combination. Note that his 15 steals were accompanied by 14 unsuccessful tries, so he’ll need to work on efficiency if he’s going to run at the higher levels.
Tigres del Licey
There are an awful lot of similarities between Reyes, the second-overall pick in the draft, and the man who went before him, Devers. Reyes’ .278/.334/.440 triple-slash is nearly identical to Devers’ line, with the 10-point difference in batting average underscoring Devers’ superior feel to hit. To put a number on it, Reyes struck out in 21.8 percent of plate appearances, compared to just 16.5 percent for Devers. Both are third baseman that may need to move across the diamond, both have raw thump that mostly manifests itself as doubles power at present, and both played all of last season at 18 years old. Unless Reyes makes the move to first in the immediate future, he could make a Devers-like ascent up prospect lists in 2016.
Paulino had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and was the second piece in the deal that sent Jose Veras to the Tigers that same year. After sitting out all of 2014, Paulino cruised through three Class-A levels in 2015, striking out more than a batter per inning at each stop while walking only 2.6 batters per nine. Paulino is a big man with a big, vibrant fastball and though his secondaries are in need of further development and consistency, there is plenty already there to build on. He only pitched 67.1 frames in 2015 and will look to add a few more this winter as he continues to stretch out post-injury.
Toros del Este
Mateo was the first of four shortstops taken in the next five picks and carries the most fantasy value of the four because of his top-of-the-scale speed. Mateo used those wheels to swipe 82 bags in 99 tries this season but perhaps most impressive was the progress he made with the stick as the year wore on. After a July in which he hit .292/.394/.416, Mateo was promoted to High-A, where he hit .321/.374/.452 in 91 plate appearances. That’s a small sample, of course, and the fact that he reached High-A and played well for a month doesn’t really push his timetable forward very much. There is still plenty of developmental time ahead but the speed provides a fantasy floor that will anchor his value even if the bat doesn’t develop as planned. Billy Hamilton is currently a top-25 outfielder despite a positively dreadful performance at the plate. Mateo isn’t Billy Hamilton, who stole 103 bases in his full season in Low-A, but with league-wide stolen bases on the decline, a middle infielder who you can reasonably project for 40 offers tremendous value.
Mieses has solid tools across the board and turned 20 during the 2015 season, his first stateside campaign. It should be considered a huge success that he not only advanced to the High-A Cal League but held his own once there. Mieses spent the first half of his season in the Midwest League, where he hit .277/.320/.440 with five home runs and seven steals. That earned him an unexpected promotion to Rancho Cucamonga, where a spike in his strikeout rate might suggest that he was overmatched but a 98 wRC+ indicates his natural talent prevailed. Mieses will surely be back in California in 2016 and with some more polish could develop into a 20-homer threat.
Gigantes del Cibao
With Mateo off the board, Gigantes went with Urena, who had a breakout season in 2015 despite bouncing from the Midwest League to the Florida State League and back again. Urena was hitting .270/.290/.450 before the ill-advised promotion and FSL pitchers preyed on his aggressiveness, limiting him to five extra base hits in 30 games. Urena showed a little bit more of his first half pop upon returning to the MWL but continued to struggle overall, hitting .236/.275/.374 in the second stint. He finished with 15 home runs, the third-highest total in the MWL, making up for what he lacks in approach with raw ability and bat speed. He can probably continue to get by in the Dominican on ability alone but his future fantasy value is tied to his ability to refine his approach.
Labourt has a three-pitch mix that gives him mid-rotation upside but what boosted his stock in 2015 was a couple of extra ticks on his fastball. The 5.12 WHIP and 1.41 WHIP he posted in the Florida State League are downright unsightly and largely a product of poor command. His fastball-slider combination will result in plenty of swing and miss but he will need to figure out where the ball is going in order to get results as he climbs the ladder.
Aguilas finished the first-round shortstop run by selecting the slick-fielding Amed Rosario. The Mets aggressively jumped Rosario from the New-York Penn League to the High-A Florida State League, where he spent all of 2015, save a brief cameo in Double-A at year’s end. His age relative to the level buys some leeway but there’s not much to like about a .257/.307/.335 line with nary a home run. Jeff Moore’s Eyewitness Account earlier this year pointed out Rosario’s inability to consistently barrel up the ball and struggles picking up secondary offerings, traits I don’t care for when combined with an aggressive approach. There is still plenty of time for physical maturation and natural development to help translate tools to production but I’m relatively bearish on Rosario from a fantasy standpoint. His glove all but guarantees a big league job eventually, and there is value in that depending on your league size, but he’s becoming a classic case of a player whose placement on real-life prospect lists is likely to distort his ultimate fantasy value.
2015 Riser: Dinelson Lamet, RHP, San Diego Padres
Lamet is a fascinating story, signing last summer out of the Dominican Republic as a 22-year-old. In his first professional season, Lamet pitched 105 1/3 Midwest League innings. His 27.2 percent strikeout rate was best in the MWL among starters who threw at least as many innings, edging out Grant Holmes. Lamet started all but two of his 26 appearances but if he’s going to be considered a legitimate starting prospect, he’ll need to trim his 10 percent walk rate and develop an offspeed pitch to complement his above-average slider and mid-90s heater. As a 23-year-old, there is some age-at-level concern but given the complete lack of meaningful experience, 2015 was a extraordinary performance.
Estrellas de Oriente
Mejia played the entirety of 2015 at 19 years old in the Midwest League and looked the part of a teenage catcher in the season’s early stages. His batting average picked up as the year progressed but his walk rate and slugging dwindled. Strangely, he was dreadful at home even though Lake County is a favorable place to hit as Midwest League parks go. He slashed .218/.287/.284 there against .268/.360/.407 on the road. Whatever the reason, a 99 wRC+ on the season sheds some positive light on the results, considering his age and position. Estrellas drafted Phillies farmhand Deivi Grullon with its second pick, so Mejia won’t be the only teenage catcher around. Temporarily spared from the responsibility of managing a pitching staff, the winter should be a good time for Mejia to get some reps at the dish against older, if not better, competition.
Like Lamet, Garcia was an older international signing, inking with the Pirates as a 20-year-old in 2013. Unlike Lamet, Garcia had a little pro experience, pitching in the Dominican last summer. Nevertheless, the jump from there to the Sally is big enough that the kind of success Garcia found shouldn’t be taken lightly. His 2.10 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 22.1 percent strikeout rate ranked first, third, and fourth in the league, respectively. Garcia’s fastball is plus and the breaking pitch made progress during the year, giving him a solid third pitch to go with his changeup. The big fastball and late development will have some assuming an eventual bullpen role, but given what Garcia has shown, the Pirates will give him the ball every fifth day until he provides a reason not to.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now