The winter league schedule started earlier this week in Mexico, and it began on Saturday night in the Dominican Republic. The Pittsburgh Pirates told the media earlier this month that a lot of players from their system, majors and minors, would be playing winter ball this season. So far it’s been a slow start, but there’s plenty more on the way.
The Dominican action started last night with Endy Rodriguez playing for Estellas de Oriente, while Liover Peguero and Dariel Lopez (both on Gigantes del Cibao) were in their team’s Opening Day lineup. The rosters presented last night also had Osvaldo Bido among the Pirates listed. Rodriguez went 1-for-2 with a walk in the opener. Peguero went 0-for-4 with a stolen base, and Lopez had an 0-for-3 night, while playing third base. Oneil Cruz was confirmed by his team as playing the full season, but he was not in the lineup for Tigres Del Licey on Saturday. The latest updated said that he’s going to “join the team early in the season”.
In Mexico, the early going has Fabricio Macias and Jared Oliva getting regular turns in the outfield. Macias got off to a very fast start, with a 1.061 OPS in four games. Oliva had a three-hit game in the opener, but went without a hit in the next two contests. He came back with two hits and two stolen bases last night.
A majority of the action will start next month when the leagues in Puerto Rico and Australia start playing. The Pirates plan on sending five players to the Gigantes de Carolina in Puerto Rico, and another five players to the Sydney Blue Sox in Australia. That team is managed by long-time Pirates scout Tony Harris, who covers Australia and New Zealand for the team. No word yet on the Sydney players, but the tentative roster for the Gigantes includes Nick Gonzales, Aaron Shackelford, Brad Case, Will Kobos and Jeffrey Passantino.
There will also be action in Colombia, which should have a few players from that country in action, as well as Andres Alvarez. Diego Castillo has been announced as playing in Venezuela soon.
We will have almost daily brief winter league recaps throughout the off-season. Usually we get in about five per week, but if this off-season is as busy as promised, there could be weeks in which we get articles every day. Once other names are confirmed, we will add them in those articles.
The level of competition in the winter can change depending on the rosters, but the average level of competition in the Dominican is the best for any league. Those games are like Triple-A games. Later in the year, the teams get reinforcements from the teams that didn’t make the playoffs, as well as players who use the league as any early Spring Training, so we are talking about a strong Triple-A league. I’ve seen many teams in the playoffs with a full lineup and starting pitcher that had big league experience.
After the Dominican, the second best league is usually a battle between Puerto Rico and Mexico. Venezuela used to be right there, but they don’t get as many quality imports as they used to see each year. All three levels are at least Double-A in competition strength. Australia can even stretch into Double-A quality if they have enough outside additions of quality, but it’s definitely a step below Puerto Rico and Mexico. The league in Colombia is more like Low-A, while there are other lesser leagues that would be a lot like the Florida Complex League. The ones in Panama and Nicaragua are the best among them.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.