Morning Report: What to Expect From Players in Winter Ball

On Sunday, we posted about the winter league roster from the Mexican Pacific League that has eight Pittsburgh Pirates players on it. On Pirates Prospects, we provide daily updates on the winter leagues in the Dominican, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Australia, or wherever there are Pirates players taking part in winter ball and we can find stats.

Luis Heredia will pitch winter ball in Mexico this year. (Photo Credit: Nick Scala)
Luis Heredia will pitch winter ball in Mexico this year. (Photo Credit: Nick Scala)

The main players announced on Sunday were Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia. There is really no telling how much these two will actually play. Players are put on the roster so they are reserved for the entire season. Some guys will show up the first week and play all winter. Some will show up at other times and play shortened years. Last year, Matt Hague played for the first month or so and that was the plan from the start. Joely Rodriguez played one game and that wasn’t the plan, but after he hit 97 MPH in relief, he was shutdown after just one inning.

Starling Marte played part of last year and he was supposed to play more, but he kept getting minor injuries and he was shutdown. Gregory Polanco was supposed to end his season earlier, but he was doing so well and his team was the best team, so he was allowed to play longer. You might hear a specific plan for a player, but things can change at any time. Jose Tabata received permission from the Pirates to play winter ball last year and then he never played a game even though he was on a roster all year. It sounds like he will play this off-season as a recent article mentioned him negotiating to play with two different teams in Venezuela.

Someone like Collin Balester is probably going to Mexico to make up for lost innings, so he could see extended time on the mound. He had surgery last year and only returned during the second half of this year. It should be noted that during our winter league coverage, we cover every player that ended the year in the Pirates’ system, even if they are free agents. As soon as they sign elsewhere, we stop mentioning them in our coverage. Any player signed during the off-season, will be added during the winter league coverage and that happened a few times last year.

Another great part of the winter league coverage is finding possible breakout players. Elias Diaz was seeing regular playing time in Venezuela last year and doing well, so we talked about him often. In Colombia last winter, Tito Polo saw some decent playing time in a league that was advanced for a player coming from the DSL. That was a sign that he could be a sleeper prospect and he had a strong season in the GCL this year. Harold Ramirez was one of the best hitters in Colombia, which made it seem like this year could be his big breakout season. He finished with a 23-game hit streak before shin splints shut him down. Ramirez also missed time with a hamstring injury, so winter ball could be a chance for him to make up for lost time.

Getting back to Elias Diaz, he will be going to the Arizona Fall League but that doesn’t mean he won’t play winter ball. Last year, Alen Hanson played in the AFL and then saw time in the Dominican Winter League. Hanson should see regular time this year in the DWL and will get a chance to play some more second base, so he can get used to the position. Last year he played a couple games at second base in winter ball, but this year that should be his main position. Andrew Lambo made the move to first base last year in Venezuela, seeing regular playing time there for the first time in his career. Just like Hanson with second base, Lambo had some previous experience at the position, but winter ball signaled(at the time) his move to first base.

It will be interesting following Heredia this year because he will be pitching in a league with a lot of players will Major League experience and even more than spent the season playing in the Mexican League, which is a AAA equivalent league. We saw last year that some players really struggled against older players, such as Danny Arribas and Sam Kennelly in the Australian Baseball League, where both players finished with batting averages well below the .200 mark.

There will be a lot to follow this winter with Heredia, Hanson and Allie, as well as many other players that will show up during the year. It’s possible we see Polanco and Marte again, though that is up to the Pirates. Polanco has expressed his desire to play winter ball this year already.

It should be an interesting off-season regardless of who shows up on the rosters. Someone will show potential, while you could also get something like Andrew Lambo from last year, where he slumped all winter and that carried over into Spring Training and into the start of the AAA season. The winter seasons start in early October and from now until then, we will hear and report more names coming out for winter ball.

All this shows that the title of this article is a bit misleading, because you don’t know what to expect from winter ball other than there will be a lot to follow.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 4.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead and a half game ahead of both Atlanta and Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. They are 3.5 games behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes:  The Pirates won Sunday. They now go on to Philadelphia for a four game series with Jeff Locke pitching the opener. He has faced the Phillies once this year and it was perhaps his best outing. He threw eight innings on July 6th, allowing one earned run on three hits and a walk. The minor league season is over. Bradenton was the only affiliate to make the playoffs. They lost their series Wednesday night. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. We will post other season recaps soon.

MLB: Pittsburgh (74-68) @ Philadelphia (66-76) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Jeff Locke (3.75 ERA, 69:32 K/BB, 108 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)

AA: Altoona (61-81)

High-A: Bradenton (78-61)

Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)

Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)

RK: Bristol (22-46)

GCL: Pirates (20-40)

DSL: Pirates (34-36)


With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will continue to do over the next few days. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of left-handed starter Gerardo Navarro, who will be playing winter ball this off-season in Mexico.

Recent Transactions

9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.

9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.

9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.

9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list

9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.

This Date in Pirates History

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including Russ McKelvy, who played one game for the first team in franchise history, the 1882 Alleghenys. Also born on this date was pitcher Jim Bagby Jr, who played for the 1947 Pirates. His dad was a member of the 1923 Pirates, making them one of the few father-son combos in team history. You can read the bios of all six players, plus the recap of a special game from Roberto Clemente during the 1958 season, in this link here.

On this date in 1909, the Pirates lost to the Chicago Cubs by a 4-2 score. That was was significant in that they wouldn’t lose again for nearly three weeks, winning sixteen straight games. At the end of the streak, the Pirates had a 106-36 record and they were just one game away from clinching first place with ten games left in the season.

  • I believe 16 game winning streaks occur every 105 years!!!! Though I could be wrong about that.

  • When you think about Andrew Lambo and how badly Winter League and Spring Training went for him offensively, and then to suffer the injury exactly at the wrong time in AAA, you really have to hand it to him for his persistence and self discipline. Many other players would have mentally packed the season in, but he recovered and actually seemed to have improved with the bat.

    • He definitely recovered nicely because at the time of his injury, until we got the report about his thumb, most people were assuming(myself included) that he was taken out of the lineup to be called up. He really went through a long streak without a homer when you count Winter and Spring, it was over 200 plate appearances from someone that power is their main tool. So he showed some grit by sticking with it and then once he hit one, everything seemed to fall into place.

  • Think Elias should catch in winter ball or could he DH? He seems pretty valuable in our catcher progression for next year and an injury to him would be more costly than most.

    • That’s actually a real good question because Diaz doesn’t need work on his defense, so as a catcher, it would make more sense to get him some rest in the off-season, as opposed to any other position that has a lot less wear and tear. It wouldn’t hurt him to work on his hitting though, since it’s ultimately his bat that will dictate how far he goes in the pros and one breakout season doesn’t automatically equal future success. All that being said, I think he sees time behind the plate in the AFL and if he plays winter ball, it will probably be near the end of the season/playoffs and he will be using it as a way to get ready for the upcoming season.

      • I think Allie and Diaz’s performance in the fall could have big 40 man implications.

        If Allie looks like he could hit LHP well enough he could take Gaby’s 200 ABs. They need to add Allie to the 40 man and Gaby is getting expensive for how little he plays.

        Diaz could spell the end of Stewart for the same reason.. assuming they bring back Martin (big assumption).