There’s No “Off” in Off-Season
Laurel Wilder | On 19, Dec 2013
When Did The Tribe Win Last Night covered our attendance feature a few weeks ago, one thing that was mentioned in the change in the approach to attending baseball games was the demanding schedule that kids are facing with their own sports schedules. Between travel teams and summer leagues, kids don’t have a time to pause to attend a game in which they are not playing.
The same can be said for baseball players during the off-season. Though many players are pursuing alternate ventures and simply training on their own terms, a number of other players are playing in winter leagues and continuing their baseball careers on the diamond long past the end of the regular season.
There are a number of winter leagues occurring throughout the baseball world, including the Arizona Fall League, Venezuelan Winter League, and Dominican Winter League. Members of the Cleveland Indians have appeared in both leagues as part of their off-season workout and training programs.
Among these names is Indians first baseman Jesus Aguilar, the organization’s 17th-ranked prospect. He ended 2013 with Akron, hitting .275 with 16 home runs and 105 RBIs. He has hit 17 home runs during winter ball thus far, continuing his hitting tear. With the current Venezuelan Winter League home run record being 20, Aguilar is not far behind. With a strong showing this winter, plus a very strong season in Akron, it could mean that Aguilar may soon be found on prospect lists in the coming season.
Spending the off-season increasing your chances at regular season success? Doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
On the pitching front, players have equally as exciting off-seasons in winter ball. Joseph Colon has made six starts and posted a 2.28 ERA while striking out 19 batters throughout his outings. After a strong 2013 season, it is also likely that Colon could catch the eyes of those is the Major Leagues at some point in 2014. Similarly, the progress made by Elvis Araujo can lead to more exposure throughout the 2014 season. In 10 games and three starts in winter ball, Araujo has a 2.75 ERA and has demonstrated consistent performance. If he continues in this vein, it is likely that Araujo will move through the system quickly in 2014.
One of the most interesting developments in winter league ball is Carlos Santana, who, despite being the Tribe’s longtime regular catcher, made his winter debut with Leones del Escogido in the Domincan Winter League at third base. As he originally played third while in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, the position is nothing new for Santana. Is this change reflective things to come for the Indians in 2014? With the suggestion for using Santana at third coming from the Indians themselves, it seems suggestive that the Indians are envisioning a future for Santana at third with Yan Gomes assuming the position of catcher on a regular basis. While playing third would be a developing thing for Santana, that is exactly what experimenting during the off-season is about – finding out where strengths may lie and discovering potential that may have been previously unused.
Other players that have used their off-seasons to develop their skills on the field and in the league, and have shown promise, are Joe Wendle and Tyler Naquin. Wendle hit .311 with an OPS of .863 in the Arizona Fall League, while Naquin hit .339 with an .817 OPS. Coming off an injury that deterred most of his season, pitcher Shawn Armstrong posted a 1.59 ERA in the Arizona Fall League, with 16 strikes in 11.1 innings pitched.
Off-season baseball is, of course, no guarantee of what is to happen once the regular season is once again underway. However, for players throughout the minor leagues – and, as the Indians show, even some within the Majors – it is a chance for growth, development, and an opportunity to demonstrate potential. As these players demonstrate, playing baseball is a full-time job, and their off-seasons – or lack thereof – certainly prove that.
Photo: Getty Images