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Royals in the Dominican Winter League

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Checking in on old friends halfway into the DWL season

Outfielder Jorge Bonifacio plays for his hometown Tigres del Licey every winter.
Minda Haas Kuhlmann

The six-team Dominican Winter League is about halfway through with its 2019-2020 season. Let us check in on some guys we know and see how they’re doing.

A quick vocabulary lesson before we get started:

Leones = Lions

Toros = Bulls

Gigantes = Giants

Tigres = Tigers

Aguilas = Eagles

Estrellas = Stars

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Leones del Escogido: 16-7

Shortstop Jeison Guzman just turned 21 in October, and just joined the team on Saturday. He also played in exactly one game for Escogido last winter.

Toros del Este: 13-10

Dairon Blanco, who came to the Royals via trade with Oakland for Jake Diekman, is hitting well for los Toros. Through 21 games, the righ-handed outfielder is hitting .304/.356/.342. Blanco is the league leader in stolen bases right now, with 7. However, he has also struck out more than anyone else in the league, with 31.

Gigantes del Cibau: 12-11

Third baseman Kelvin Gutiérrez was just activated from the 60-day Injured List last Tuesday, after a late-season foot injury wiped out the last half of August and his hopes for a September callup to Kansas City. Guti is 2-for-11 in his first three games back.

24-year-old reliever Yunior Marte has struggled to a 5.63 ERA in his six appearances.

Outfielder Elier Hernandez is among the list of former Royals who just became minor league free agents, and is playing both left and right field for los Gigantes.

Tigres del Licey: 12-11

The Licey roster is loaded with Royals. Outfielders “Hip hip!” Jorge Bonifacio and Nick Heath, infielder Erick Mejia, and three pitchers have suited up for los Tigres.

Bonifacio has mostly struggled at the plate so far, hitting .189/.268/.324 in 11 games. Boni, a native of Santo Domingo, has played for his hometown winter ball team an incredible seven times going all the way back to the 2012-2013 season when he was 19 years old.

Boni hit a triple in a tie game in the bottom of the 9th on Sunday, and I encourage you to watch this highlight with the sound on, even if you don’t speak Spanish. Baseball joy is a universal language.

In 19 games, Heath is batting .258/.311/.379, which is right in line with his lines at Double-A and Triple-A so far in his career. He has hit four doubles and two triples, and is 3-for-3 in stolen base attempts.

If you followed along with minor league updates throughout the summer, it will not surprise you to hear that Erick Mejia has played five positions in his 19 games with the Tigers: all three outfield spots, and second and third base. He is doing well at the plate as well, putting together a line of .290/.362/.387.

Lefty Foster Griffin is getting his first winter ball experience. Through 18 13 innings across five games, Griffin has struck out 24 and walked five, and kept a tidy 2.95 ERA.

RHP Ofreidy Gomez has made two appearances, totaling 1 13 innings with one run given up on three hits and three walks.

Tyler Zuber has been solid in his 13 games. His ERA is 1.64 with 12 strikeouts, but five walks. Here, he struck out Yamaico Navarro with the bases loaded to keep the lead for Licey. Again, this is way more enjoyable with audio:

Aguilas Cibaenas: 11-12

The only player I could find on the Aguilas roster with recent Royals ties is reliever Michael Ynoa, who pitched briefly with the Omaha Storm Chasers in 2019 before being released in late May.

Estrellas de Oriente: 5-18

To my eye, this roster also does not contain any Royals or Royals-adjacent guys.

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Have you ever been to a winter league game, in the Dominican or any of the other winter leagues?