Puerto Rico and Winter Baseball
I was sitting here at the computer on Sunday morning after the late night news that the Tampa Bay Rays decided to non-tender former catcher Shawn Riggans, who was at that moment was playing Winter Baseball in Puerto Rico. And now that Riggans was a MLB Free Agent and still playing in the Puerto Rico Winter League, who else from among the other MLB squads could be playing or even rehabbing amongst the League’s five rosters.
Could there be some of the well known players from around Major League Baseball using this Winter League as an extra workout primer to get into early game shape, or is this the “in” spot for MLB Free Agents to using the league as a visual point for scouts and MLB teams interested in their services for the 2010 season.
I have to be totally honest here, before this season I really did not even think twice about the Liga de Beisbol Professional de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League) when it came to the yearly Winter Leagues around the Carribean.
I guess I have been a bit shortsighted and naive to think that great players are not playing on teams in these Winter months. I mean, the PRPBL does have a great history and respectability around Major League circles. And their League Champion does get a berth in the Carribean World Series. But why is it that as soon as the World Series is over most of us who follow baseball just seem to forget about the game until the pitchers and catchers report in the middle of February?
I mean as of December 14th, there are currently around 37 members of an MLB clubs 40-man roster playing in the League. And some of those players are household names around baseball like catcher Ivan Rodriguez (Wash), and outfielders Lou Montanez (Balt) and Alex Rios (CWS) who play for Crillios (Creoles) de Cagua. Or maybe you are looking for pitchers like Ian Snell (Sea), Javier Vasquez (ATL) or Jake Westbrook(Clev) who are currently on the Leones (Lions) de Ponce squad.
And they are just a small smattering of the current members of MLB team’s 40-man rosters that are participating in this Winter’s season. Other squads include pitcher Rick VandenHurk (FL) or outfielder Nate Schierholtz (SF) and infielder Ivan DeJesus (LAD) who play on the same Gigantes de Carolina team with Riggans.
Or maybe you are more interested in the Indios (Indians) de Mayaguez roster that boasts players like pitcher Johnathan Albaladego (NYY) or Carlos Beltran (NYM) who is getting extra work in before Spring Training, or Randy Ruiz (Tor) who is using the league to get more time at first base so he can secure a 25-man roster spot.
But the League is not only full of current guys on a teams 40-man roster, but you have a bevy of Free Agents down here playing right now in front of scouts and teams looking for a contract and a possible Spring Training Invite. Players such as Joel Pinero (P), outfielder Reggie Abercrombie (OF),Luis Mateo (OF),Jose Molina (C), Jose Vidro (INF) and Alex Cora (INF) are all down here basically playing for exposure and a possible 2010 MLB contract.
And there are other names of MLB prospects and guys needing some extra fine tuning before reporting in a few months to Spring Training. But it is kind of weird that MLB and the PRPBL suspended play for one season back in 2007-2008 to reorganize and institute a marketing plan, but none of us everyday MLB fans really knew anything about this league.
Maybe MLB needs to better educate the public as to the time tables for these Winter League’s so that we can also follow some of our hometown MLB and farm system players as they playing in these leagues. This season is the first time I have been remotely interested in checking up on Rays farm system players in the league. At first it was to see how Riggans was doing in his rehab. But now it is to see the performance of reliever Eduardo Morlan or even to check on how former Rays player Eduardo Perez is doing as the Manager of Leones de Ponce.
And I think other people will also be excited to check up on their players and their progress in the future. This League never crossed my mind before this season, but now I am coming back every few days to see the progress and check to see if Lobos de Arecibo is still in front in the League, and if their winning streak is over. I have discovered Winter League baseball in Puerto Rico, and have also discovered that well known players and MLB prospects are both playing great ball late into December.