Winter ball wasn’t so kind to many of the Kansas City Royals position players who participated. Just three hit over .300 and only one hit double-digit home runs.
Does success in winter ball mean success the following season?
I would assume it gives a player confidence heading into a new season, but it doesn’t necessarily mean success on the field.
Wilmington’s Jack Lopez on April 13, 2014 (Jen Nevius).
Take infielder Jack Lopez for example. He more than held his own during winter ball in his home country of Puerto Rico during the 2013-2014 season as a 21 year old. He hit .264 with six doubles, three home runs, and 15 RBIs. Lopez was named the Puerto Rican League Rookie of the Year.
I was excited to see his improvements when he returned to High-A Wilmington in 2014. Instead, it was a tough year at the plate for Lopez and he admitted the transition to second base was tough.
Lopez barely took any time off this offseason, as he was sent to instructional league by the Royals and then was back playing for PRL Champion Santurce. While he only hit .227 this time around, he had the same amount of doubles as the year before (six), walked ten times, and had five sacrifices. Lopez also moved all over the lineup and played both second base and shortstop.
Let’s take a look at the Royals position players who succeeded at the plate in winter ball.
Centerfielder Paulo Orlando had a great season at Triple-A Omaha in helping the Storm Chasers claim back-to-back titles. However, he did not receive a September callup. He was added to the Royals 40-man roster in December.
Orlando went to Venezuela for winter ball and hit .319 in 64 games. He had a .404 on-base percentage (26 walks) and a .477 slugging percentage (13 doubles and eight home runs). He also scored 33 runs and drove in 40. Orlando did strike out 38 times and did not show off his speed (five stolen bases and three caught stealings).
As much as the Royals love Jarrod Dyson as the fourth outfielder, I’d love to see Orlando really push him for that job.
Outfielder Moises Sierra was on the Royals 40-man roster after being claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox. However, the Royals designated him for assignment later in the offseason. He cleared waivers and heads to spring training as a non-roster invitee in his first Royals camp.
Sierra played winter ball for Dominican Winter League Champion Gigantes, hitting .311 during the regular season. He hit eight doubles, a triple, and a home run. He scored 19 runs and drove in 34. In 39 games where he batted all over the lineup, Sierra struck out 39 times and walked 17 times.
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I was a little shocked that first basemanBalbino Fuenmayor
was not invited to big league camp, especially after his time in Venezuela.
Fuenmayor hit .315 in 42 regular season games. He then hit .368 in five Caribbean Series games. During the regular season, he hit seven doubles, one triple, and ten home runs. He scored 17 runs and drove in 38 while batting cleanup for Caribes.
Though he only walked eight times, he struck out 27 times. Fuenmayor had a slugging percentage of .587.
Those were the Royals position players who put up really good winter ball numbers. Now to those who struggled a bit.
First baseman Matt Fields earned an invitation to big league camp and played winter ball in the Dominican Republic. However, he only played in 20 games. Eight of his 18 hits went for extra bases and he drove in 11. Unfortunately, strikeouts continue to be a problem for Fields, as he struck out 33 times.
Outfielder Reymond Fuentes, who was acquired from San Diego this offseason, played in 30 regular season games (plus the postseason) for Santurce in Puerto Rico. Though he only hit .243, his OBP was .345 thanks to 16 walks in 103 at-bats (compared to 28 strikeouts). He is pretty much a singles hitter, as only six of his 25 regular season hits went for extra bases. Stolen bases are not Fuentes’s specialty, as he was caught four times in nine tries.
Catcher Francisco Pena did not help his cause in winning the backup job in 2015. He hit just .161 in 29 regular season games in the DR. While he did hit four home runs and drive in ten, he also struck out 30 times (.220 OBP).
Infielder Gabriel Noriega put up some solid numbers in Venezuela: .264 average, 11 extra base hits of his 60 total hits (including three triples), and 20 RBIs. However, the 47 strikeouts in 59 games were alarming (compared to just five walks).
Fellow infielder Angel Franco spent much of the winter ball season in the DR as a free agent, but decided to re-sign with the Royals. He hit a solid .250, though most of his hits were singles (12-of-16). He walked five times compared to ten strikeouts. Franco did steal four bases.
Carlos Garcia also hit .250 (24 games), but he really did little offensively. He had just two extra base hits and three RBIs.
Then there are those Royals who played less than ten games.
Utility man Whit Merrifield looked to improve on his Omaha Player of the Year honors during the season. Unfortunately, a wrist injury cut short his time in Mexico (just seven games). He only hit .129 in his brief stint with a double and nine strikeouts.
Outfielder Jorge Bonifacio struggled during the regular season in Double-A, but played just three games in the DR (1-for-6 with two walks and four strikeouts). Shortstop Orlando Calixte played just six games (0-for-9 with five strikeouts).
Outfielder Elier Hernandez also only played six games in the Dominican Republic, but he went 6-for-22 with two doubles. He did strike out eight times.
Spring training is upon us, so hopefully those who had successful winter ball campaigns can build off them and those who struggled can put those performances behind them.