Seven Cubs Shinin' in Latin Winter Leagues

The regular seasons for the Latin Winter Leagues in Venezuela (VWL), Mexico (LMP), Puerto Rico (PWL), and the Dominican Republic (DWL) close this weekend, and the playoffs will start next month. Then the four league champions will meet in the Caribbean Series in Hermosillo, Mexico, the first week of February (just prior to the start of MLB Spring Training).

About 30 Cubs (both major leaguers and minor leaguers) are playing winter ball in Latin America, and the following are seven of the better performances:


JUNIOR LAKE (DWL) is hitting 312/382/414 in 44 GAMES... is 4th in the DWL in BA, 5th in OBP and SLG, 6th in RBI, is tied for 7th in HR, is 2nd in stolen bases, and leads the league in strikeouts...

COMMENT: Lake has made a ton of errors at 3B, plays better at SS (which is consistent with his history, although he may have outgrown the position), and he is learning to play the OF (where he will probably eventually end up). He will very likely start the 2013 season at AAA Iowa and will probably continue to be moved around in the field. He has the best arm in the organization (there has even been talk from time-to-time of converting him to a RHP) and above-average speed, so RF or CF would seem to be the positions that would best suit his skill-set. He is only 22 years old and he has two more minor league option years left, so the Cubs can afford to take their time with Lake.  

LUIS VALBUENA (VWL) is hitting 298/410/482 in 47 GAMES... is 3rd in the VWL in walks, is tied for 5th in doubles, is 6th in OBP, and is 9th in SLG...   

COMMENT: A solid MLB utility infielder who can play 2B-3B-SS, Valbuena has hit LHP as well as RHP throughout his career. He could be the Cubs starting 3B in 2013 if Ian Stewart can't claim the job in Spring Training.    

DAVE SAPPELT (VWL) is hitting 336/378/526 in 30 GAMES... is leading the VWL in hitting and is 5th in SLG... he has hit five HR and five doubles in 30 games...

COMMENT: Sappelt was one of three players acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in last off-season's Sean Marshall trade (LHP Travis Wood and 2B Ronald Torreyes were the other two), and with a strong winter league performance under his belt, Sappelt is a good candidate to be the successor to Reed Johnson as the RH half of the platoon in either CF (with David DeJesus) or RF (with Nate Schierholtz). Sappelt is a free-swinger but has always been a good hitter, and his improved HR total in the VWL bodes well for a possible upgrade in the power/slugging part of his game in 2013. 

NELSON PEREZ (DWL) is hitting 250/443/417 in 40 GAMES... is leading the DWL in OBP and is 2nd in walks, and he is tied for 10th in the league in RBI...

COMMENT: Perez is a close friend of Alfonso Soriano, and prior to signing with the Cubs, he used to throw BP to Sori in the Dominican during off season. Perez got a late start in pro ball (he was 18 when he signed) because he was sidetracked with a very serious illness in his teenage years, but the Cubs signed him after giving him a tryout after the 2006 season. He was kind of a Dominican Roy Hobbs, a raw talent with a plus-arm, plus-HR power, and above-average speed for a big guy (6'3 215), but without much background actually playing baseball. The Cubs did look at him as a RHP, but liked him better as a power-hitting RF, so when he reported to Fitch Park for Spring Training 2007 (he skipped the DSL), he was the classic Bull in a China Shop. He had to learn how to play RF from scratch, tracking fly balls, throwing to the correct base, and hitting the cut-off man, and he couldn't do any of it. He was absolutely lost in RF. He also was repeatedly thrown out on the bases, and couldn't hit a breaking ball to save his life. But the Cubs stuck with him, and in his second season in pro ball, he led the AZL in triples, home runs, and outfield assists. He also was an extreme "hacker," drawing only 14 walks in 331 PA over his first two seasons. But as he moved up through the pipeline 2009-12, he gradually developed more patience at the plate, increasing his walk total a bit  every year. And now he may be the most patient hitter in the organization! He still isn't a good hitter, but he has HR power and a strong arm, and he is a walking machine. Perez is 25 years old, has yet to see AAA, and he will be a minor league free-agent post-2013, so the Cubs really need to find out exactly what his ceiling is. And for his career to continue past next season, Perez himself needs to at least establish himself in AAA. I suspect with Soriano's connections in Japan, that Perez could end up there if he is unable to get any additional traction in the U. S.


ESMAILIN CARIDAD (LMP): 2.77 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP and .255 OppBA in 35 GAMES... is leading the league in HOLDS, and is 2nd among LMP relievers in strikeouts (45 in 39 IP).

COMMENT: Like Alfonso Soriano and Timo Perez before him, Caridad began his pro career at the Hiroshima Carp Dominican Academy. He eventually made it to Japan and pitched briefly in the NPB, before requesting (and receiving) his release following the 2007 season. He was signed by the Cubs just before Christmas 2007, and he moved quickly through the Cubs system, making his MLB debut in August 2009. He had a promising start to his MLB career in '09, making 14 appearances with the Cubs (1.40 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with 3/17 BB/K in 19.1 IP). His career was sidetracked by a sore arm in 2010-11, but he had a solid 2012 season throwing in middle-relief at AAA Iowa, Caridad is no kid (he is 29), but with his strong showing in Mexico over the past three months he should get an NRI to Spring Training, and if so he could possibly make the Cubs 2013 Opening Day 25-man roster as a RH middle-reliever.

HECTOR RONDON (VWL): 4.29 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP and .205 OppBA in 23 GAMES (21 IP)... is tied for 2nd in the VWL in HOLDS...     

COMMENT: A one-time Top 10 Prospect of the Cleveland Indians, Rondon missed most of the 2011 and 2012 seasons while rehabbing from TJS. He became a minor league free-agent post-2012, but was re-signed to a 2013 minor league contract by the Indians in November. However, the Cubs selected him in the December 2012 Rule 5 Draft, and he has already thrown more innings over the past three months in the VWL than he did over the previous two seasons combined. He looks to be 100% healthy for the first time since 2009, and if he can regain his pre-2010 form, the Cubs might have found themselves a good one. Because he is a Rule 5 Player, Rondon must remain on the Cubs 25-man roster and/or MLB 15-day or 60-day DL for the entire 2013 season, or else he must be placed on waivers (where he could be claimed by any of the other 29 MLB clubs for the $25,000 Rule 5 waiver price), and if he is not claimed off waivers, he would then have to be offered back to the Indians, who could re-claim him for $25,000 (half the Rule 5 Draft price). However, Rondon is out of minor league options, and so the Cubs would not be able to option him to the minors even if he is not claimed off waivers and even if the Indians choose not to take him back, and because he has been outrighted previously in his career, he can elect free-agency if he is outrighted to the minors. So as much as the Cubs might like to send him to AAA to get work, it's probably pretty much "Wrigley Field or Bust" for Rondon.    

MICHAEL BOWDEN (VWL): 3.62 ERA with a 1.39 WHIP and .264 OppBA in 7 GAMES (7 GS) with 33 hits allowed and a 12/17 BB/K in 32.1 IP

COMMENT: After spending the last three seasons trying to establish himself as an MLB RH middle-reliever, Bowden is returning to the starting rotation, at least in Winter Ball. However, the Cubs may need him more in the bullpen in 2013. Bowden was one of two players acquired from Boston for Marlon Byrd last April (LHP Hunter Cervenka was the other one), and he pitched pretty well for the Cubs as a RH middle-reliever after getting recalled from AAA. And even though there might not be room for Bowden in the Cubs MLB starting rotation in 2013, at least it's nice to know that he was able to stretch himself out as a starter in Venezuela, and that he could be a candidate for the Cubs starting rotation in the future should that become necessary at some point. Bowden is out of minor league options so he can't be optioned to the minors, and because he has been outrighted previously in his career he can elect free-agency if he were to get outrighted in 2013, so therefore he (like Rondon) probably has a bit of an edge when competing with others for a 2013 MLB bullpen gig.       

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  • Dolorous Jon Lester 1 hour 49 min ago (view)

    I think, in relation to the higher profile guys like Javy or Contreras, they're trying to put some pressure on to sign extensions.

    That said I do think they're listening on everyone with the only name I haven't seen being Rizzo.


  • crunch 18 hours 12 min ago (view)

    i wonder where the cubs will go with things.

    there's a lot pointing to the cubs being expected to listen to offers on almost anyone.  as it is, on paper, the cubs could roll right into 2020 with no changes whatsoever and still field a very competitive team.  the whole "shakeup" thing seems to be a very hot topic from a variety of sources, though.

    bryant, contreras, schwarber have all been linked to "cubs may be listening" rumors...probably listening to anything on happ, bote, almora, russell, too...


  • Hagsag 18 hours 39 min ago (view)

    Even the Cubs should be able to out bid the Marlins!


  • crunch 18 hours 46 min ago (view)

    "According to Joe Frisaro of, the Marlins are "believed" to have interest in free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos."

    by interest, i assume they mean they'd like to have some baseball rookie cards or his or maybe a hug from him.  i can't imagine they actually want to spend money on someone they could use to make their team better because that makes no sense.


  • Arizona Phil 1 day 11 hours ago (view)

    Prior to joining the Cubs in 2012 Scott Harris was Director of Baseball Operations in the MLB office, which means he received, reviewed, and approved all major league and minor league contracts and transactions, as well as providing MLB clubs with schedules, rules updates, and draft information. 


  • Cubster 1 day 19 hours ago (view)

    Giants hire Scott Harris, from Cubs front office,  as GM


  • Charlie 2 days 21 hours ago (view)

    For anyone else who immediately wonders but is not invested enough to look it up, this is not Chris (Ryan) Young, former Padres starter and fisticuffs partner of Derrek Lee, but rather the two-years younger Chris Matthew Young.


  • crunch 3 days 8 hours ago (view)

    rev up those off-season rumor fryers...

    Jeff Passan @JeffPassan
    Multiple teams in search of catching help believe Cubs catcher Willson Contreras will be available this winter. The Cubs will get creative this winter, and with a deep catching free agent market, they could trade Contreras and begin retooling under new manager David Ross.


  • crunch 3 days 13 hours ago (view)

    former padres manager andy green is gonna be ross's bench coach.

    green was c.rea's manager in SD, btw.


  • Arizona Phil 3 days 19 hours ago (view)

    Last year the Cubs signed four free-agents to minor league contracts prior to the Rule 5 Draft: LHP Alberto Baldonado, OF Wynton Bernard, RHP Corey Black, and RHP Jose Rosario. All four were members of the Cubs organization in 2018 but declined to sign a 2019 minor league successor contract prior to being declared a free-agent, but then came back to the Cubs after briefly testing the free-agent waters. 


  • crunch 3 days 23 hours ago (view)

    chris young to be named new bullpen coach (former phillies pitching coach)

    mixed messages on whether lester strode will have a new cubs role or leaving the cubs...


  • crunch 4 days 17 hours ago (view)

    t.clifton straight up falling off a cliff sucked to watch happen last year.

    i had a lot of faith in the guy to at least hold his own in AAA, even if he needed another season or 2 after to get ready for prime time.

    he ended up giving out homers like candy on halloween while retaining his high walk and injury rate.

    that said, his career is far from done.  most likely many other teams willing to give him a minor league deal.


  • Arizona Phil 4 days 21 hours ago (view)

    Keep in mind that most free-agents who sign a 2020 minor league contract prior to the Rule 5 Draft are eligible for selection. (The only exception would be a free-agent who is not yet eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft, such as a player whose only previous pro experience was in a foreign major league or in an independent minor league, or a player who was released by another MLB organization but is still not yet eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft).  


  • Arizona Phil 4 days 22 hours ago (view)

    If you're wondering if players who sign minor league successor contracts ever get taken in the Rule 5 Draft, the answer is most definitely - YES -. 

    The Cubs selected RHP Hector Rondon in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft after the Indians signed him to a minor league successor contract, and the Baltimore Orioles selected RHP Pedro Araujo in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft after the Cubs signed him to a minor league successor contract. 


  • Hagsag 4 days 22 hours ago (view)

    Got to get Taylor Davis back.


  • Arizona Phil 4 days 22 hours ago (view)

    So the Cubs were ultimately able to retain five of their seven most-valuable post-2019 minor league free-agent eligibles (Rea, Pereda, de la Cruz, Lugo, and Burks), losing only Clifton and Leal (both of whom are probably looking for a fresh start in another organization after maybe feeling stalled in the Cubs system).