(Image: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
I’ve never paid much attention to the Caribbean winter leagues or the Arizona Fall League. I’m really only familiar with them since they’re mentioned during Brewers broadcasts from time to time. I’m aware that a popular theory for Jean Segura’s second half decline in 2013 was that he burned himself out playing winter ball, and that’s about it. But I noticed a tweet by beat writer Tom Haudricourt this weekend with a link to the winter league stats of Brewers players, so I gave it a look. It’s never too early to start speculating about the 2014 Brewers, so let’s see what gut feelings we get from these numbers.
As of this moment, it looks like Juan Francisco will be seeing plenty of action at first base this year, and his performance in the Dominican Winter League was…not totally discouraging. His .260 AVG / .351 OBP / .744 OPS isn’t spectacular, but it isn’t anything to gnash your teeth over. Not surprisingly, he had plenty of strikeouts – 42 in 150 at-bats – but he also had 24 RBIs, which ain’t too shabby. Interestingly, Adam Weiser at Disciples of Uecker points out that Francisco really showed some moxie in the winter ball post-season: “In eight playoff games, Francisco has hit .269 AVG / 1.156 OPS with 6 R / 1 2B / 4 HR / 10 RBIs.” Francisco has his moments, and you never know when a guy is finally going to live up to his potential. Might as well hope it’s soon…
Although he didn’t have much of a chance to wow fans in a handful of 2013 starts, Hiram Burgos’ stat line from the Puerto Rican League is nothing to sneeze at. In 11 games (eight starts) and 38.2 innings, Burgos had a 1.40 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and an opponent batting average of .191. He’s easily the best Brewers pitcher of the winter. Obviously, he’s not facing the greatest hitting, but there are plenty of winter league pitchers who can’t even get winter league batters out. You have to assume the back end of the Brewers rotation will be in flux this year, and it would be nice to see Burgos get another chance.
Martin Maldonado’s numbers seem to be fine for a backup catcher: .271 AVG / .354 OBP / .683 OPS in 85 at-bats. As long as he’s not terrible, what more could I ask for? I think I speak for most Brewers fans when I say I don’t like Maldonado for his offense – I like him for his body language when he appeals to the first/third base umpire on check swings. “Oh hell yeah he went, right ump?”
As far as other players I’ve heard of…Mike Fiers. Well. I don’t want to read too much into an 11.05 ERA in 7.1 innings in Venezuela, but damn. He was so good for half a season two years ago. Bah, I think Burgos has officially replaced Fiers as my “not overpowering pitcher I have high hopes for.”
I’ve heard of Hunter Morris. He went 1-for-11 with 4 Ks in Venezuela before spraining his knee. Since the Brewers need a first baseman and no one has indicated Morris is a serious candidate, I can’t imagine he’s long for this organization.
I’ve also heard of Sean Halton because he played for the Brewers last year and had that great walk-off homer against the Reds. Halton’s numbers in the Dominican were bloody terrific: .327 AVG / .410 OBP / .948 OPS. He had one-third the at-bats of Francisco, but you can’t deny that an OPS over .900 makes your heart flutter. Based on winter league numbers alone, a Francisco-Halton platoon at first base doesn’t seem so bad.
Of course, winter league numbers probably don’t predict much about how these players will perform in 2014. Still, one of the thrilling things about being a sports fan is feeling hope, so it’s nice that the Caribbean has produced a few glimmers.