Winter ball under way in Puerto Rico

Unlike the Arizona Fall League, each of the international winter leagues feature prospects mixed in with veterans and former players alike. In the Dominican and Venezuelan winter leagues, the prospects are lightly scattered in among older players, but in the Puerto Rican Winter League, officially known as the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente (The Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League), prospects and young players get a much larger opportunity to participate.

Much of that chance comes from the presence of the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy on the island, which has produced a number of top draft picks over the past few years. Many of these prospects have returned ot the island to play winter ball at home.

Leading that list is the top pick from this past year’s draft, Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. Thanks to the early signing deadline, Correa got 204 plate appearances in his draft year, hitting .258/.305/.400 between the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues. He’s just 1-for-7 thus far this winter, but he should get semi-regular playing time at shortstop for the Gigantes de Carolina.

Correa isn’t the only 2012 first rounder in the league, however. Also participating are 14th overall pick Nick Travieso (Cincinnati Reds) and 32nd overall pick Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins), who have yet to participate in the first four games of the young season but are both on rosters. Travieso threw 21 innings in the Arizona Rookie League this season, working as a starter but averaging less than three innings per start. He will likely be limited to short outings this winter similar to how the Reds worked him this season. Berrios was dominant in 30 2/3 innings this season between the Gulf and Appy leagues, striking out 49 batters and walking just four.

Francisco Lindor, a former first round pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2011 (8th overall), is also in Puerto Rico after spending his first full season in the Midwest League where he hit .257/.352/.355. The slick-fielding shortstop has no problem hanging defensively, so the Indians want to be sure to get him as many minor league at-bats as possible to help catch his bat up to his glove.

It’s not just former first rounders who have been sent to Puerto Rico, however. Already off to a strong start is Rangers catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, who is 6-for-12 with a double in his first three games. Alfaro had some success in his first full minor league season, hitting .261/.320/.430 at Hickory of the South Atlantic League. He’s known as an intriguing prospect with good speed for a catcher and decent pop, but needs to greatly improve his plate discipline.

Also off to a hot start is Mets outfield prospect Cory Vaughn, who is 6-for-14 with two doubles and a home run in his first four games, coming off a season in which 23 home runs in the Florida State League. Much like his father, former major league slugger Greg Vaughn, Cory has an all-or-nothing approach at the plate that leads to good power numbers but also high strikeout numbers and low batting averages.

Other prospects on Puerto Rican Winter League rosters include Red Sox RHP Anthony Ranaudo, who has yet to appear in a game, Padres OF prospect Reymond Fuentes, who is struggling (0-for-6) in his brief time there. Royals second base prospect Christian Colon is preparing himself for a spring training battle for a starting position, while Twins 2B/OF Eddie Rosario continues to work his way out of the shadow of Miguel Sano, and is 6-for-15 in the early going.

The Puerto Rican Winter League is a good chance for young prospects to get more experience while playing against older competition, and this year’s crop of prospects features some high-ceiling talent and prominent prospects to follow.

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