Jung Ho Kang reported to his winter ball team in the Dominican today. The timing of his arrival was planned for a reason. Today is the earliest he could report to the team (Aguilas Cibaenas) and play the entire regular season. Players from South Korea can spend 90 days in the Dominican Republic without a visa and the regular season for the Dominican winter league ends in 90 days. The season begins on October 13th and they play 50 games, so for the next three weeks Kang will be getting ready in the league’s version of Spring Training.
It appears that he won’t participate in the playoffs or Caribbean World Series, which would take him into the first week of February. It would require him to have a visa, which he does not have at this moment. Many players from the U.S. who participate in winter ball, leave when the regular season ends, so this is a typical stay for a foreign player in the Dominican.
In other winter league news, the Pittsburgh Pirates shut down Eduardo Vera, who was hoping to play winter ball in his native Mexico. Vera was the biggest surprise in the farm system this season, skipping from the GCL to Low-A ball, while adding six MPH to his fastball and improving both his curve and changeup. He already had above average control, but was topping out at 91 MPH in the past and his off-speed pitches were both average at best. Vera had Tommy John surgery in 2015, and his 132.1 innings this year were more than double any season in the past. Vera is also going to be Rule 5 eligible this winter, so the Pirates are preventing teams from getting extra looks at him before the draft. Vera will be with his winter league team, but only to stay in shape over the off-season.
Jerrick Suiter will be playing for Venados de Mazatlan this winter. That’s the team in Mexico that often features players from the Pirates. Carlos Munoz and Luis Heredia are both on the team, and both are minor league free agents this winter. Our winter coverage will feature both of them until they sign elsewhere. It’s possible that they re-sign with the Pirates, but I’d say Heredia is much more likely than Munoz and I’d only give Heredia a small chance of re-signing. Mikell Granberry is also on that team. While he played more often at first base in the GCL this year, he is competing for the starting catcher spot. Suiter has not yet joined the team, but should be arriving soon.