With the Caribbean Series less than a month away, baseball in the tropics is beginning to wind down.
All four of the winter league regular seasons have given way to the playoffs. For our purposes, that typically means limited playing time for many of the less seasoned players -- a major annoyance as those are the names that are so often the only reason we're paying attention in the first place.
Fear not, there is some action worth reporting yet. As always before we discuss the particulars, take a peek at the most up-to-date winter statistics for Mets players, as per MLB.com (click image to embiggen):
- Let's start with Wilmer Flores, who began the winter hot as a pistol but didn't necessarily finish that way. In fact, on November 3rd, he was batting .313 with an .849 OPS. Unfortunately, he cooled off down the stretch, batting .176 in his last ten games as his Bravos did not make the cut for the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs. Regardless, he continued to showcase solid plate discipline and a burgeoning power game and looks primed to make his case as an offense-first third baseman in Double-A come spring.
- Like Flores, the 25-year old Valdespin (pictured, above) started off on fire, knocking a pair of homers and a double through his first six games. Unfortunately, he'd only hit two more extra base hits throughout his next 25 games, until his Tigres fell short of the Dominican Winter League playoffs. He also missed some time due to -- another -- suspension for attitude-related misconduct. Even so, he maintained an .800 OPS thanks to perhaps the single most important development for the Mets throughout all of winter ball this offseason: Valdespin's outstanding plate discipline. For much of his career, Valdespin has been known as a hacker; yet as we've noted here before he began to make significant progress on that front late in the 2012 season. Well he took that momentum and ran with it, posting an 18:15 walk-to-strikeout rate and walking in 16% of his plate appearances. This sort of improvement is extremely significant, and for Valdespin could mean the difference between a bench role and a starting gig in 2013 and beyond. Finding out if this development is for real is on the short list of things I'm extremely interested to watch for in 2013. Side note: He hasn't played second base since early December, splitting his time between left and right field.
- Looks like the Puerto Rican Winter League stint was short and sweet for Cory Vaughn, who, after a strong t
en17-game stretch, hasn't appeared since early December. You can't complain about a guy who posted a 1.000.800 OPS through 54 at bats, though the strikeouts did catch up with him precipitously by the end of his time in PR. In any case, Vaughn had a good amount to prove against Double-A pitching in 2013 and that hasn't changed.
- It was a pretty lousy winter for Cesar Puello, capping a decidedly disappointing 2012. Last we checked, Puello had just made the jump from the Arizona Fall League to the DWL. Since then, he appeared in about 15 games and looked even worse than he did in Arizona, posting a .185 average and a sub-.650 OPS. However, the most damning attribute was -- once again -- the horrid plate discipline, as he'd strike out 12 times versus just three walks. Now he wasn't getting consistent playing time so it's hard to ding him too much for it; however, this is nothing new. As he's climbed the ladder over the past couple of seasons, Puello has not made the necessary adjustments at the plate, continually striking out more and walking less. He's never really exhibited the kind of hit tool -- at any level -- to make up for such a glaring deficiency. And while people argue for the hit by pitch as a repeatable skill, it's not something you want to necessarily hang your hat on. In short, while the tools are nice it's getting pretty tough to project an impactful major league career for the 21-year old Puello.
- One of the more interesting pitching prospects going right now is 21-year old Miller Diaz (pictured, above), down in the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs. After posting a 3.56 ERA split between starting and relief for the K-Mets in 2012, the big-bodied righty -- who sports a very strong fastball -- hasn't been as effective for the Leones, posting a 5.52 ERA through 13 relief appearances. Despite historically solid command, Diaz has been a little erratic this winter walking ten batters in just 13 innings. Regardless, Diaz is one of the more intriguing under-the-radar arms at the lower level of the system.
- Despite his advanced age, Gonzalez Germen is worth some discussion here. First off, because his seemingly re-arranged surname/given name entertainingly tricked the production staff covering the DWL (above). But mostly it's because the Mets saw fit to add the 25-year old to the 40-man roster this winter despite seemingly little risk of losing him in the Rule 5 draft, signalling that they think he can help the big club soon. Strictly in relief -- the role he'll most likely take on full-time in 2013 -- Germen was underwhelming for the playoff-bound Toros, posting a 6.23 ERA and a .350 opponent average in 12 games.
- The sight of 23-year old Francisco Pena (pictured, above) behind the plate for the Aguilas is certainly nothing new. Nor is his winter league success, as he posted similarly impressive totals last season -- albeit in far fewer at bats. However, once again the .233/.284/.335 career minor league totals through six seasons trumps all. Don't be surprised not to see him back in the organization next spring.
- Rough winter for Justin Turner (pictured, above), who batted .188 for Escigido. Not a ton to glean from these numbers, except for the fact that the guy really can't hit. Yet he still compiled 13 RBI's in just 21 games; talk about clutch.
- Despite all of the chatter revolving around Jeurys Familia last fall about starting or relief this winter, he never ended up on any winter league roster, for whatever reason.
Barring any late-breaking developments, that will probably do it for winter league coverage this year. Again, most of the Mets that are still active really aren't seeing much playing time at this point. However, as previously stated, the Caribbean Series starts in early February so we'll see what happens there. Additionally, don't forget about the World Baseball Classic in March.
But we've got bigger fish to fry around here. Namely, the 2013 prospect rankings. Look for a related discussion thread here later this afternoon.