This winter has been cold and snowy in Kansas City, but further south it is still warm enough to be baseball season. Many players in the Royals organization have been working on their craft in winter leagues throughout the Caribbean and even on the other side of the globe. These leagues don’t typically have big Major League stars, but you will quite a few big leaguers looking to improve their chances of making a roster, young farmhands looking to improve their game, and old-timers looking for one more chance to play ball. With those seasons either done or wrapping up their post-seasons, let’s look at how Royals players fared this winter.
In the Liga de Beisbol Dominican, Royals coach Pedro Grifol managed Gigantes del Cibao, which had super-prospect Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox. Offense is deflated in the 50-game Dominican League, with hitters overall batting just .234 with a .323 slugging percentage. So don’t be too alarmed at the poor offensive numbers by Royals first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, who hit just .179/.270/.268 with just one home run and 22 strikeouts in 16 games.
Grifol managed a roster full of Royals farmhands, headlined by top hitting prospect Seuly Matias. Matias had a power outage in the Dominican, hitting .220/.289/.244 with no home runs in 11 games. Outfielder Elier Hernandez, who is a non-roster invitee to spring training, hit .250/.323/.357 in 17 games. Kelvin Gutierrez also struggled to hit, batting just .184/.225/.184 in 18 games. Bubba Starling appeared in just one game before he was sent home with an illness. Former Royals infielders Ramon Torres and Rosell Herrera also appeared on the club.
Royals minor leaguer Jake Kalish was the ace of Gigantes, with a 1.91 ERA in eight starts and 25 strikeouts to just six walks in 33 innings. The 27-year old left-hander had a 3.34 ERA in 17 games with Omaha after being promoted from AA. Scott Barlow was also in the rotation, although he had trouble with command, walking 16 in 25 2⁄3 innings with a 5.26 ERA. Zach Lovvorn posted a 4.67 ERA, with just ten strikeouts in 17 1⁄3 innings. Yunior Marte tossed 14 1⁄3 shutout innings with ten strikeouts.
Jorge Bonifacio will try to bounce back from a disappointing season in 2018 that included a suspension for banned substances. He played this winter for Tigres del Licey, hitting .212/.262/.283 with two home runs and 28 strikeouts in 27 games as he played with brother Emilio. Infielder Erick Mejia hit .194/.266/.319 with a home run in 31 games.
#VIDEO | AQUÍ TIENES EL CUADRANGULAR DE ERICK MEJÍA— Tigres del Licey (@TigresdelLicey) January 13, 2019
Batazo fuerte al prado izquierdo, el jardinero no se mueve y la bola se va de cuadrangular, para la segunda carrera del equipo. #ElGlorioso #RoundRobin pic.twitter.com/AaojSbW3yY
Chris Ellis, acquired from the Cardinals organization in the Rule 5 draft, tossed 17 1⁄3 innings of shutout baseball with 14 stirkeouts and just three walks for Leones del Escogido. Shortstop Jeison Guzman appeared in just one game for Leones.
New Royals pitcher Michael Ynoa, who signed a minor league deal with the club this off-season, posted a 0.98 ERA in 18 2⁄3 innings with 24 strikouts for Aguilas Cibaenas. His teammate was former Royals farmhand Pedro Fernandez, now a free agent. The league featured a number of big leaguers such as Bartolo Colon, Juan Lagares, Tommy Pham, Hanley Ramirez, and Hunter Pence.
The Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente plays a 35-game schedule in Puerto Rico. Former Omaha infielder Jack Lopez, who is now a free agent, was a star for Criollos de Caguas, batting .355/.407/.514, finishing second among all hitters in OPS. Second baseman Gabriel Cancel his just .133/.182/.267 in 13 games with a home run playing for Cangrejeros de Santurce with teammates Irving Falu and Rey Fuentes. Third baseman Emmanuel Rivera hit .258/.294/.330 with a home run in 30 games for Indios de Mayaguez, the league champs. His teammate, catcher Xavier Fernandez, hit just .097 in 13 games.
Third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, recently taken off the 40-man roster, hit .239/.303/.357 with six home runs and 18 walks in 56 games for Yaquis de Obregon in the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico 58-game season. Mexican-native Cristian Castillo appeared in 13 games for Caneros de los Mochis with a 0.68 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 13 1⁄3 innings. Right-hander Daniel Duarte posted a 2.10 ERA but with 21 walks in 34 1⁄3 innings. Also appearing in the league was former Royals infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, who hit just .250/.290/.347, lest Dayton Moore have any ideas.
First baseman Samir Duenez went to his native Venezuela this winter to play in the 60+ game Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional season. The 22-year old hit .224/.258/.397 with a pair of home runs in 17 games for Tiburones de la Guaira, during an off-season in which he re-signed with the Royals on a minor league deal. Teammate Luis Villegas, now a free agent catcher, struggled with the bat, hitting .115 in 26 at-bats. Pitcher Julio Pinto had a 3.26 ERA in 19 1⁄3 innings, but with 13 walks.
Wilmington shortstop Angelo Castellano hit just .109 in 55 at-bats between two teams. Infielder Jeckson Florres fared much better, hitting .265/.331/.348 with two home runs in 43 games for Cardenales de Lara. Old friend Paulo Orlando was also on the team, hitting a team-best .368, although in just 11 games. Pitcher Andres Machado would post a 5.40 ERA in 16 2⁄3 innings with nine walks. Sadly, two of their teammates - Luis Valbeuna and Jose Castillo - would be killed in a car crash.
Second baseman D.J. Burt went down under to play in the Australian Baseball League for the Melbourne Aces. Burt was outstanding in Aussie, collecting hits in 30 of his 39 games, hitting .338/.437/.466 with 18 steals in 25 attempts. He showed off very good plate discipline with 21 walks to just 19 strikeouts. Burt spent last season in Wilmington, where he hit .280/.367/.371 and he seems likely to start next year at AA Northwest Arkansas.
Burt was joined on the Aces by speedy outfielder Rudy Martin, but Martin found his Australian experience much more difficult. The 22-year old hit just .119/.255/.185, going 16-for-135, swiping 15 bases in 19 attempts. He did hit a pair of home runs, an encouraging sign considering the lack of power in his career, but he struck out 43 times in 39 games. Martin spent most of last season in Wilmington, and has potential as a speedster, but will need to develop more offense around his 5’7’’ frame.
Australian native Allan de San Miguel also played for the Aces. The catcher spent 2017 with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, but spent last year as an unofficial coach with the team. de San Miguel is a seasoned veteran of the ABL, playing in over 300 games in his career. He hit .226/.341/.283 in 36 games with a home run. Also appearing in the ABL were big league infielders Gift Ngoepe and Pete Kozma, pitchers Josh Collmenter and Travis Blackley, and former MLB reliever Byung-Hyun Kim.