Winter Ball Notebook: Is Aguilar's season in jeopardy?
Indians and Leones dispute when Aguilar's season should end
It was a very eventful week over in the various winter leagues and for a variety of reasons.
However, perhaps the most notable happening of the week was the ongoing dispute between Jesus Aguilar's winter team Leones del Caracas and the Cleveland Indians. Here's a little bit more background information.
As most of you likely know, Aguilar has been on an absolute tear this winter. He's been arguably the most productive player in the entire Venezuelan Winter League, yet his season was supposed to end on December 28, so he could participate in a development program for the Indians.
Yet, those plans could now be changing.
"We are going to wait a little and if necessary we are going to fight. If necessary we will protest the case which does not mean that we're going to win," Leones president Luis Avila said in Leader of Sports this past week. "It is rude to communicate with the player and not with the team. For now we will wait and see how the situation develops with the team in the coming days before proceeding. There has been no communication from Cleveland with us. This is unusual. Customarily all the organizations of the big leagues consult; in this case to be consulted on the permanence of Aguilar in an eventual postseason."
Apparently, Leones never received any official communication from the Indians that Aguilar's season would be coming to an end. Instead, Aguilar informed Leones that his season would be ending on December 28 because the Indians wanted him to participate in a development program.
Yet, now we're getting into the game of he said, she said.
Ross Atkins, Indians vice president of player development, late last week sent an email to the Caracas organization about this and noted that the team has NOT placed a deadline on the contract of Aguilar playing in the VWL. Under the new winter agreement, MLB organizations do not have the power to stop a player on the 40-man roster from playing winter ball, and we all know that Aguilar was protected by the Tribe about a month ago.
So, in reality, the decision is now up to Aguilar. The Indians may have expressed a desire to have him leave Venezuela after December 28, but the final call is going to be Aguilar's. Needless to say, this will be an interesting storyline to follow in the weeks to come...
With that being said, here are some thoughts both deep and shallow in regard to this past week's winter ball action...
Player of the Week
Jesus Aguilar — First baseman, Leones del Caracas
5 G, 9-for-19, 7 R, 1 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 4 BB, 4 K
At this point, what more can be said about Aguilar? The guy has been on an absolute tear and that continued this past week as he launched his 15th, 16th and 17th home run of the winter season. Aguilar has been chasing the Venezuelan Winter League home run record (former Indians catcher Bo Diaz holds the record with 20) all season, and that number was actually tied Saturday by Alex Cabrera, a 41-year-old first baseman who briefly played for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000. Unfortunately, Aguilar may not get the opportunity to catch up to Cabrera if he does not stay with Leones del Caracas past December 28. Who knows where this goes from here, but it would be nice to see Aguilar spend some more time in Venezuela as it does appear as if he has completely taken advantage of his opportunity. It will be interesting to see if Aguilar has turned any heads on the national level following his winter outburst. Could he now find himself on Baseball Prospectus or Baseball America's top 100 prospect lists? That will be something to watch moving forward.
News & Notes
— Aguilar has definitely made some headlines this winter, but the exact same thing can be said for Erik Gonzalez. In 44 games with Leones del Escogido, Gonzalez is hitting .331 (53-for-160) with six doubles and six home runs. This follows a season in which Gonzalez posted a .254/.293/.417 line in 132 games with Lake County and Carolina. On the surface, it would appear as if Gonzalez is having a similar winter campaign to the one enjoyed in 2012 by infielder Jose Ramirez. Some might even say that the two players have a number of similarities as they're both scrappy infielders with some speed and the ability to slap the ball all over. However, it's hard to get too excited about Gonzalez's performance for one reason: plate discipline. So far, Gonzalez has struck out 46 times and drawn just three walks. That's not a misprint. He has been able to work a walk just three times in 44 games and averages more than a strikeout a game. That type of performance just does not translate well to the Major League level. Knowing that, it's hard to be anything more than cautiously optimistic with Gonzalez at this point.
— Of all the Indians starting pitchers that are playing in winter ball, none have been more consistent than Joseph Colon. Colon has now made six starts and has posted a 2.28 ERA during that span. He's also struck out 19 batters in his 27 2/3 innings of work. Colon is not a power pitcher, and his upside is more of the back-of-the-rotation variety, but he is a player that fans should definitely be watching closely. He is coming off a strong 2013 season where he posted a 3.23 ERA in 17 starts between Lake County and Carolina. It appears as if he has a great chance to open up the season at Double-A Akron, and if he performs well, he will very much move onto the Major League radar. He has the ability to generate groundball outs, and he's also performed well at every stop along the way. Similarly, like Aguilar, he has really done all of the right things to improve his stock this winter. The reality is that he could find himself on the road to the Show sooner rather than later.
— One of my favorite players to follow this winter has been left-hander Elvis Araujo. Araujo is such an enticing player for a variety of reasons. For one, he has size at six feet, six inches, yet he also possesses a plus fastball. When you also consider that he's a lefty, it's easy to see why some fans get so excited. Unfortunately, his performances have been somewhat up-and-down over the last few years. Just two years ago, he was considered one of the most promising arms in the entire system, yet injuries and inconsistent performance have now rendered him a major question mark. The good news is that his performance this winter has been encouraging. In 10 games and three starts, Araujo has posted a 2.75 ERA. He did scuffle a bit this past week as he made his third start of the winter campaign and allowed three runs in just three innings of work. However, that was really the first hiccup in what has been a very consistent winter performance. Araujo will likely start the season High-A Carolina, but he has the upside to move through the system quickly if he performs well. It's been a long, long time since the Indians have had a left-hander come through the system with significant upside, but with his power arm, Araujo could be that guy. Unfortunately, he has a long way to go to tap into his potential, but his progress this winter has to be considered a positive nonetheless.
— Carlos Santana, the Tribe's longtime Major League catcher made his winter ball debut on Friday with Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Winter League and as expected, he was playing a new position: third base. Third base is nothing new for Santana as it is actually the position that he initially played when he was making his way up through the Los Angeles Dodgers system. This is of course interesting because Major League teams usually do not have much control over how their players are used in winter ball, but it was actually the Indians who wanted to have Santana play third base. By all accounts, it appears as if the Indians realize that Yan Gomes is the future of the position at the Major League level, so they seem to be exhausting all options to see how they can keep Santana's potent bat in the lineup. In three games so far, Santana has two errors, which both came on the same play on Saturday night. This is very much a learning experience for him, so there are sure to be bumps along the way. Yet, just imagine if he does prove to be a capable third baseman. The entire complexion of the team changes, and the team then just becomes all the more dangerous.
Here are the updated stats through December 15th:
Steve can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.