With the Northeast bracing for another winter storm to start the new year, what better time to check in on how Boston Red Sox major and minor leaguers fared in the various fall and winter leagues around the globe? The four major Caribbean winter leagues have finished their regular seasons, making the turn of the calendar an ideal time to take stock of the players whose seasons extended beyond September.
As always, one key thing to remember in the fall and winter leagues is that performance often takes a back seat to other developmental goals. Some players may be working on particular skills, or learning a new position/role. For others who have missed time due to injury, simply replacing missed repetitions is beneficial enough. And even for those who fall in neither group, sample sizes from the fall and winter leagues are small enough that reading too much into the stats would be silly -- 60 at-bats or 15 innings pitched do not erase what just happened over the five-and-a-half month regular season.
The levels each player reached in 2013 are included in parentheses.
Arizona Fall League
The eight-player Red Sox contingent to this annual prospect showcase league was headlined by infielders Garin Cecchini (High A/Double-A) and Mookie Betts (Low A/High A), two of their top 10 prospects. Cecchini, who led the minor leagues in on-base percentage in 2013 among qualified players, followed that performance by posting one of the best marks in the league at .434, finishing ninth in the circuit. Neither Cecchini nor Betts hit for much power, combining for one home run (by Betts) and seven doubles in 124 at-bats. Their overall numbers were fine -- .277/.434/.338 with three steals for Cecchini, .271/.368/.373 with eight steals for Betts -- and both were named to the Fall Stars game, where Cecchini hit a 430-foot home run.
The best performances by Red Sox were turned in by first baseman Travis Shaw (Double-A) and right-handed reliever Noe Ramirez (High A/Double-A). Shaw's .361/.452/.705 line put him sixth in average, fifth in OBP, and second in slugging in the league. Most impressive was how Shaw was able to impact the baseball. Using batted ball data provided by Josh Orenstein of TrackMan, measuring the speed of the ball off of the bat, Shaw had 20 contacts of 95 mph or higher, the second-highest mark in the league. Ramirez followed up on a great 2012 with an outstanding fall, allowing just three runs on nine hits and three walks in 14 innings, striking out 11. Possessing one of the best changeups in the system, he was named to the Fall Stars Game as well.
As for the rest of the Sox contingent: Right-hander Keith Couch (Double-A), a starter/long-reliever in 2013, worked in a true bullpen role, posting a 4.05 ERA over 11 appearances, striking out 12 in 13 1/3 innings. ... Left-hander Mickey Pena (High A/Double-A) made seven starts, going 3-2 with a 4.55 ERA in 27 2/3 innings. He was in Arizona to get work after missing 50 games this season for a suspension for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. ... Right-hander Pete Ruiz (Double-A), who missed a month in June/July due to injury, got into only five games before his fall season ended several weeks early. No word on why Ruiz missed the final three weeks of the AFL.
Fall Instructional League
Commonly known as "Instructs," this gives the best players in the lower part of the system the chance to get some more personalized instruction before heading into the offseason in an environment similar to minor league spring training, just with fewer players. Often, players generating buzz at Instructs tend to break out the following year, with Xander Bogaerts' impressive 2010 Instructs performance, which preceded his 16-home run 2011 season in Low A at age 18, the most memorable instance in recent memory.
I was able to make the trip to Fort Myers this year, and saw a few impressive performances. To me, the most memorable player was 16-year-old Rafael Devers. The Dominican third baseman has yet to make his official professional debut after signing for a $1.5 million bonus this July, but his physical presence -- he did not look like the youngest player in camp, which he was -- and pretty swing made him stand out.
On the mound, I liked what I saw out of a now-healthy Brian Johnson (Low A/High A). The left-hander, who was admittedly older than most of the Instructs contingent, sat 90-92 mph, hitting 95 on the gun, throwing his full repertoire of pitches. 2013 draftee Teddy Stankiewicz also looked strong, sitting 90-92 at the end of what is typically a long season for draftees.
The Instructs roster also featured a pair of interesting notes: Former third baseman David Renfroe, who received a $1.4 million bonus (spread over five years) as a third-round pick in 2009, officially made the move to pitching, one he began midseason after going on the DL in Salem. Also, utility infielder Heiker Meneses, who reached Triple-A Pawtucket during the 2013 season, added another glove to his bag, working as a catcher for the first time. He also got some work in the outfield when he later reported to his winter league club in Venezuela.
Here is the full list of players on the Instructs roster.
Pitchers: Mike Adams, Mario Alcantara, Jose Almonte, Trey Ball, Ty Buttrey, Jamie Callahan, Jake Drehoff, Edwar Garcia, Joe Gunkel, Dedgar Jimenez, Brian Johnson, Pat Light, Corey Littrell, Austin Maddox, Kyle Martin, Daniel McGrath, Randy Perez, David Renfroe, Myles Smith, Teddy Stankiewicz, German Taveras, Jalen Williams
Catchers: Carson Blair, Jon Denney, Heiker Meneses, David Sopilka, Alixon Suarez
Infield: Victor Acosta, Rafael Devers, Raymel Flores, Javier Guerra, Tzu-Wei Lin, Nick Longhi, Deiner Lopez, Mike Miller, Nick Moore, Wendell Rijo
Outfield: Forrestt Allday, Jordon Austin, Bryan Hudson, Aaron King, Manuel Margot, Mike Meyers, Joseph Monge, Aneury Tavarez
Caribbean Winter Leagues
As mentioned above, the major Caribbean leagues just recently ended their regular seasons. Playoffs will run through January, and in February, the Caribbean Series will feature the best teams from leagues in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico and, for the first time since 1960, Cuba.
Although a number of top Red Sox prospects participated in the Dominican Baseball League, none had memorable performances. Right-hander Allen Webster (Triple-A/Majors) made five starts for Escogido, struggling through the first four before straightening things out in his last. Overall, he posted a 6.11 ERA in 17 2/3 innings, allowing 22 hits and 10 walks while striking out 15. His teammate, Bryce Brentz (Triple-A), also struggled to a .105/.190/.193 line, going deep just once in 57 at-bats. For perennial powerhouse Licey, outfielder Alex Hassan (Triple-A) hit .214/.290/.286 in 56 at-bats after joining the team late in the DWL season, and right-hander Rubby De La Rosa (Triple-A/Majors) got in 2 2/3 innings of work, allowing five hits and a walk. Catcher Dan Butler (Triple-A), and outfielders Keury De La Cruz (High A), J.C. Linares (Double-A/Triple-A), and Aneury Tavarez (Low A) also saw time in the Dominican.
In the Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico) Baseball League, native Christian Vazquez (Double-A/Triple-A) brought his considerable talents behind the plate to Santurce, hitting .206/.319/.284 in 102 at-bats. His fellow Puerto Rican, outfielder Henry Ramos (High A), returned to his native Ponce and hit .245/.294/.358 in 151 at-bats. Right-hander Jeremy Kehrt (Double-A/Triple-A) was the only Red Sox pitcher in the league, making eight appearances, seven starts, for Mayaguez, going 1-3 with a 4.17 ERA.
The Venezuelan Professional Baseball League had a small Red Sox showing as well. Offseason signee Carlos Rivero, a third baseman who spent 2013 in Double-A and Triple-A with Washington, got 200 at-bats, hitting .275/.345/.445 with eight home runs. The only other Sox to see significant time was Linares, who reported to Zulia midway through the fall after seeing time in the Dominican and hit .342/.402/.507 in 73 at-bats, giving him a combined line for the fall of .274/.359/.419 with five home runs in 124 at-bats. Meneses, third baseman Mario Martinez (Low A), and right-handed reliever Ellis Jimenez (short-season A/rookie) all saw time as backups.
Finally, the Red Sox had only two players in the Mexican Pacific League, both playing for Hermosillo. Outfielder Jesus Loya (Low A) hit .236 in 89 at-bats, while left-hander Nate Reed, who was signed in September out of independent ball after not playing in 2012, put up a 0.55 ERA in four games, three of them starts, striking out 18 in 16 1/3 innings.
The Venezuelan league also features a minor league, called the Liga Paralela (Parallel League), in which the Red Sox have had their own team for the past three years. Although the team is not comprised entirely of the Red Sox own players -- in fact, at least one player on the team was a native Venezuelan who was cut by the Sox years ago -- 25 were, allowing those players to get some work under the watch of the team's own coaches.
The most encouraging performance came from shortstop Jose Vinicio (Low A), who hit .360/.405/.568 with two home runs in 111 at-bats. Although Vinicio, with nearly two full years in Low A Greenville, was perhaps too experienced for the league, the strong production was good to see after he struggled to a .192 average with the Drive this season. Also standing out was infielder Victor Acosta, Boston's Latin Program Player of the Year after his successful year in the Dominican Summer League. Acosta joined the club after the close of Instructs and hit .316/.374/.453 with one home run. Most notably, Acosta played second base after spending the summer at third, perhaps signaling a position change for the young Venezuelan. On the mound, right-hander Jonathan Aro (Short-Season A) built on his strong season in Lowell by turning in 19 dominant innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) on 10 hits and five walks while striking out 16.
Elsewhere in the Liga Paralela, Mario Martinez made the most of being sent down to Lara's minor league club, hitting .339/.377/.587 with seven home runs.
Here is the full list of Red Sox players who were part of the Boston team:
Pitchers: Jonathan Aro, Carlos Garcia, Edwar Garcia, Keivin Heras, Ellis Jimenez, Ender Machuca, Enfember Martinez, Juan Perez, Oscar Perez, Carlos Pinales, Victor Ramirez, Jervis Torrealba
Catchers: Leonel Escobar, David Sopilka, Alixon Suarez, Pablo Urena
Infielders: Victor Acosta, Deiner Lopez, Heiker Meneses, Aneudis Peralta, Carlos Tovar, Jose Vinicio
Outfielders: Franklin Guzman, Williams Jerez, Raiwinson Lameda
Around the World
Third baseman Stefan Welch (High A) is the lone Red Sox in the Australian Baseball League. After starting the winter on the reserve list, he is hitting .269/.381/.308 in 52 at-bats for Adelaide. The ABL regular season runs through January, with playoffs in early February. ... In the Colombian Professional Baseball League, the Red Sox have two pitchers. Right-hander Sergio Gomez, a starter in Lowell and Greenville this season, has been pitching in relief, posting a 5.84 ERA in 12 1/3 innings. Right-hander Dayan Diaz, a Double-A reliever signed this offseason as a minor league free agent, has a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings. The LCBP regular season ends next week, with playoffs going through the end of January. ... Several Red Sox participated in a winter league in Panama last offseason, but the league does not appear to be playing this year.