Put down the turkey leg and up your bandwidth. This is the part where we all huddle around the warm glow of our computer screens to watch streaming video from countries not buried in seven feet of snow. Dust off your Spanish dictionary – it’s time for the winter leagues. Granted there will be names you’ve never heard of but there are cheerleaders…and prospects. There are also some major leaguers getting in the extra reps before we put a bow on 2014. Several leagues playing now will continue until the end of December, but the majority of the players we follow are concentrated in the Dominican and Venezuelan leagues, so we’ll roll with them for the most part. Just like the AFL, these are small sample sizes and the competition varies, but some performances stand out and are worth mentioning. Plus dynasty players don’t know the meaning of the word offseason. Here, in no particular order, are some of the players that have stood out to me in the winter leagues so far (stats through Friday)…
Dominican Winter League (LIDOM)
Yasmani Grandal, C | SD
In most one-catcher leagues there’s no reason to sweat the position. After the first handful of elite options, there are lots to choose from that won’t hurt your team. Grandal is a good example of why we shouldn’t sweat it again in 2015. The 26-year-old backstop hit 15 dingers and 19 doubles in 443 plate appearances in 2014, and he has continued to hit the ball very well this winter. He has slashed .328/.469/.541 with two homers and seven doubles in 61 at bats in the DWL and his OBP mark is good for second in the league. He shouldn’t cost much on draft day this season.
Maikel Franco, CI | PHI
Grey went over his Maikel Franco fantasy for 2015 already. Asche should continue to be a stopgap at the third base to start the year, with Franco coming up after some fine-tuning in Triple-A. He may even move across the diamond at some point to replace Ryan Howard. All that aside, Franco is the best fantasy prospect in a thin Phillies system and he’s currently tied for second in the DWL in homers with six bombs in 81 at bats. He’s also second in the league in runs batted in (21). His minor league journey has been a roller coaster. The 22-year-old may very well have been a sell-high after his big 2013 season, but he swung a little too far the other direction after a poor first half in 2014 and now makes for an interesting buy-low. It won’t be in 2015, but there is a 30-100 year in his bat if he reaches his potential.
Cristhian Adames, MI | COL
Adames is slashing .349/.432/.482 in 83 at bats this winter and his batting average is currently second in the league. He doesn’t have much power to speak of and he’s known more for his glove than his bat which makes him questionable for fantasy. He does have double-digit stolen base potential and is pretty much a lock to stick in the middle infield thanks to his defense. He could be a useful option in deeper NL-only leagues with the Colorado bump. Adames got a cup of coffee in 2014 and the 23-year-old shortstop should start the season in Triple-A with another call-up likely at some point in 2015, even if it’s just in a utility role.
Joc Pederson, OF | LAD
Rumors are swirling about possible trades this offseason involving Dodger outfielders not named Puig (I’m looking at you Matt Kemp), and it looks like Pederson is going to get his shot in 2015. He has slashed .265/.351/.361 with a homer and three steals in 83 at bats this winter. Nothing crazy, but he brings a nice mix of power and speed to the fantasy game. One concern is the strikeouts, and so it’s worth mentioning he has struck out in almost a third of his plate appearances for Escogido (33 K/10 BB). I wouldn’t go nuts on him in redrafts since this will be his first full season, but the 22-year-old center fielder is obviously a must own in keepers and dynasties. For more on his 2015 value, check out Grey’s take here.
Randall Delgado, RHP | ARI
Sleeper alert! Delgado isn’t a lock for a spot in the rotation this spring, but he’s throwing as a starter this winter after getting only four starts in all of 2014. Two things I like about Delgado are his strikeout numbers and his age/potential for more growth. Last season he posted a 10.0 K/9 in 77+ innings pitched and his FIP was a full run lower than his ERA. He has struck out 29 batters in 21 innings this winter and he’s still just 24 years old. Keep him on the radar in deeper formats.
Venezuelan Winter League (LVBP)
Orlando Arcia, MI | MIL
Arcia is tearing it up in Venezuela. Through 34 games, he’s slashing .288/.367/.545 with seven homers, nine doubles, and two triples. I recently ranked him third in my 2015 Brewers MiLB preview, and my comment still applies: “(Arcia) has a great chance to stick at shortstop thanks to his defense…the 20-year-old infielder doesn’t strike out much and has plus speed. He was one of the youngest players in High-A this season and would make a case for ranking higher on this list if his value wasn’t as tied to his glove. Already a good contact hitter, Arcia could also develop more power as he matures. Next year will be telling as he gets away from the FSL and gets his feet wet against Double-A pitching.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF | MIN
Orlando’s big brother is playing with him in Venezuela this winter. In just 15 games, the Twins outfielder has four homers and 10 strikeouts. Last season, Arcia hit 20 homers in just over 400 plate appearances, but he also struck out at a 31% clip. If he can get those ponches under control even a little, it’s not hard to envision him as a player that runs into 30 homers. Steamer is predicting 24 dingers from him in 2015, and he’s still just 23 years old.
Avisail Garcia, OF | CWS
Garcia has three homers and two steals in 16 games so far this winter. He’s a pretty package of power and speed that makes for a valuable fantasy asset. All the positive things that were written about Garcia heading into 2014 still apply. He is just 23 years old and missed most of last season after tearing his labrum diving for a catch back in April. Still he managed to hit seven homers in just 190 plate appearances. The White Sox lineup now sports both Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche. If there’s anybody left on base, Garcia should knock them in (he’s projected to hit fifth). I’d draft with confidence in 2015 and pursue him aggressively in keepers.
Aaron Altherr, OF | PHI
It’s been mentioned already that the Phillies farm is thin, but one of the prospects flying under the radar is Altherr. While he may only be a fourth outfielder when it’s all said and done, the 23-year-old is close to the majors and gives the Phils an outfield option in house. He hit 14 homers and stole 12 bases for Double-A Reading in 2014. Through 31 games in Venezuela he has four homers, five doubles, and a pair of triples. In a dynasty trade I’d take him as a throw-in just to see if he sticks.
Erasmo Ramirez, RHP | SEA
In 18 innings pitched, Ramirez has allowed no earned runs and has struck out 14 batters while walking three. In his last outing he pitched six no-hit innings. Ramirez is still just 24 years old and the Mariners will have to make a decision with him this season since he is now out of options. That means he will have to clear waivers to be sent back down to the minors. There probably isn’t anything to see here fantasy-wise, other than yours truly getting sucked into the Erasmortex for the third year in a row. Grab some popcorn.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!