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Winter Ball Notebook: Top hitting performances

A countdown of the top hitting performances to come from this winter season

Winter Ball Notebook: Top hitting performances
January 20, 2014
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It continues to be quiet in the various winter leagues as the playoffs are well underway, and the number of Cleveland Indians participating has dwindled down to just a few.

Two weeks ago, this column took a look at some of the top pitching performances that we have seen in the various winter leagues. We will retain that theme for this week’s edition, but we’ll instead turn out attention toward the hitting performances.

A number of players have left their mark this offseason, and it’s important to not discount just how valuable these types of performances can be. Last winter, we watched as Jose Ramirez skyrocketed up Indians’ top prospect lists, and a lot of that can directly be attributed to what he accomplished in the Dominican Winter League.

So, have any players been able to leave a Jose Ramirez-like impression this offseason? Let’s take a look…

5. Carlos Santana — Third base, Leones del Escogido

26 G, .261/.373/.413, 2 2B, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 17 BB, 14 K

Santana’s numbers are by no means outstanding, but they are very Santana-like. For starters, Santana has walked more times than he’s struck out. Also, even with the sub-par batting average, his OPS is almost .800. He’s also displayed some decent power in the limited number of games that he’s played. However, the most impressive thing about his entire performance is the fact that it’s come while he’s played a position that he has not played with any regularity since he was a minor leaguer in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. It’s very encouraging to see that he’s been able to handle the position change and still put up some solid offensive numbers. This also could help him later this season in Cleveland if the team does indeed extend the third-base experiment over into Spring Training and the regular season.

4. Joe Wendle — Second base, Surprise Saguaros

16 G, .311/.371/.492, 4 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 6 BB, 11 K

Wendle’s stint in the Arizona Fall League may have been brief, but it was productive nonetheless. He continued to show his solid power as he compiled an OPS of .863. His rough splits from the regular season were also not present as he hit .278 against left-handers in 18 at-bats. It’s a very small sample size, but it’s still nice to see progress in that department. There are so many mixed opinions as to what the future may hold for Wendle. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus did not show him much love earlier this offseason when their Indians’ top prospect lists came out, but there remains a handful of devoted fans who believe that Wendle could one day become an everyday player. One thing that everyone can agree on is the importance of the 2014 season for Wendle. He had an awesome 2013 campaign, but he still was one of the older players at the High-A level. He will now go to Double-A and have a chance to really make a strong impression. If he can build off his strong performances in 2013 and the AFL, there should be no doubt that Wendle will one day find himself in the Major Leagues.

3. Erik Gonzalez — Shortstop, Leones del Escogido

45 G, .325/.341/.454, 6 2B, 6 3B, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 3 BB, 47 K, 3 SB

It’s hard to get past some of the eye-popping numbers that Gonzalez put up this winter in the DWL. For starters, his batting average of .325 in 45 games is very impressive. While he had a nice season at Single-A Lake County and High-A Carolina, it’s unlikely that anyone expected him to have this type of performance. Gonzalez does a lot of good things on the field, and it’s nice to see another middle-infield prospect enjoy success. He likely will begin the season back at Carolina, but he certainly could find himself in Double-A Akron before too long. However, despite his solid season, there are still some legitimate concerns. Eye-popping numbers were mentioned earlier in this writeup, and the truth is that not all of them were positive. Gonzalez managed to draw just a total of three walks in 45 games this winter, yet he struck out 47 times. That’s not a typo either. With any young Dominican player, plate discipline is almost always the last skill to develop, but this is still startling. If Gonzalez was such a free swinger in the DWL, then what will happen to him when he moves to Double-A? Triple-A? His performance was certainly nice this offseason, but this is one of those examples where it’s important to temper our enthusiasm. Yes, Gonzalez did have a very good winter campaign and yes, it does appear as if he has some nice tools. Still, it will take a lot of time and work if we are to see those tools at the Major League level.

2. Tyler Naquin — Outfielder, Surprise Saguaros

27 G, .339/.400/.417, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 18 RBI, 11 BB, 18 K, 4 SB

It may have been just 27 games, but it was an impressive 27 games nonetheless. Naquin was easily one of the most productive players in the entire Arizona Fall League this season. He got off to a torrid start (13-game hit streak), and he really never looked back. Also, he recorded multi-hit performances in 11 of the 27 games that he played. The only real knock on his performance was the lack of power, but he seemed to more than make up for it with everything else that he accomplished. He even made some strides in regard to plate discipline, which was an area where he struggled mightily in 2013. Like Wendle, opinions are mixed as to what the future may hold for Naquin, but performances like this are very encouraging. Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had Naquin ranked highly in their Indians’ top 10 prospect lists, whereas a lot of the fan base seems to believe Naquin may ultimately become nothing more than a fourth outfielder. Even still, it’s impressive to see him finish out the year on such a high note because the competition at the AFL is at least equal to what Naquin faced much of the year in Carolina.

1. Jesus Aguilar — First base, Leones del Caracas

68 G, .330/.408/.610, 9 2B, 22 HR, 61 RBI, 32 BB, 54 K

Was there ever any doubt that this spot could possibly go to anyone else? Aguilar has been a monster this winter in the Venzuelan Winter League, and the numbers above reflect that. He's hit more home runs than he did all season at Akron in essentially half as many games. Aguilar has been known to be somewhat streaky at times in his career, but that has not been the case this winter. He's even been able to maintain a .341 average in the playoffs, which bests the .327 average he put up during the VWL regular season. His recent success builds off his 2013 season at Akron where he set a new RBI record with 105. Yet even while he was having that success, we were told to temper our enthusiasm as RBI is not necessarily a good statistic to look at when evaluating players. However, the same thing cannot be said about the numbers that Aguilar has put up this winter. All of these numbers are incredibly impressive, probably even more so than anything he did at Akron. We saw last year how a strong winter season started Jose Ramirez off on the path toward Cleveland. The only question that remains is if Aguilar can do the same thing in 2014. Given his 2013 season and now winter league success, I'm not sure if I would bet against him.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Hermie13
January 21, 2014 - 11:25 AM EST
Jason Parks and baseball prospectus disagree with you Jerry that Brantley and Naquin couldn't be more different...as Brantley was the exact player they comped Naquin's future outlook too...


Are they the exact same player? Definitely not, but Naquin projects by many to put up similar numbers.
Jerry
January 20, 2014 - 6:31 PM EST
Naquin played 27 games in a league that's always considered a "hitter's league." I hope it's a trend towards something, but doubt it. He couldn't be any different than Brantley if you tried. They both play the outfield, so there's that.

Aguilar continues to solidify his standing in legitimate at bats after a nice season at Akron, a pitcher's league. Like the Joe Wendle mention as well.
Robert
January 20, 2014 - 5:39 PM EST
Nice post and good points Seth. And yes, I was disappointed in Naquin's 2013 numbers, esp SO's, but for me, his performance this Fall (even though it's not a huge number of at-bats) 'resurrected' his prospect status and the comp w Brantley.
Seth
January 20, 2014 - 4:52 PM EST
Brantley vs. Naquin, A and AA:
126 games .269/.334/.405 15 SB 10 CS 46 BB 134K
115 game .293/.386/.373 35 SB 9 CS 60 BB 47K

Which one of those is the polished 22-year-old college bat, and which is the 20-year-old kid? What makes Naquin's performance so cringe-worthy is the Ks, along with the lack of base stealing ability. The K-rate would make you think he's Mark Reynolds. Actually very similar to Mark Reynolds' K-rates at that age and those levels. Hopefully the changes they've been making to his swing take hold and his 2014 performance is more like his fall league performance.
Robert
January 20, 2014 - 3:52 PM EST
Oh yea, I did see that, but forgot. Yes, he was not good.
Matthew
January 20, 2014 - 2:14 PM EST
Moncrief played 26 games in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Played pretty poorly.
Robert
January 20, 2014 - 2:07 PM EST
Yes, the results for #'s 1-4 were quite good. I'm higher on Naquin than many are, as I see his comp being Brantley, with better fielding (remember when many people thought he was destined to be a 4th OF?). Like you say, this coming year is huge for Wendle, as well as Aguilar. A bad year and we can pretty much fuggetaboutem as prospects. But a good or great year and things get VERY interesting.

Also, I wish Moncrief would have played fall/winter ball somewhere. The guy needs reps. Oh well.

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