Lidge, Minier Star in Recently Concluded Puerto Rican Winter Season
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier looks at the contribution of American Association players to the recently concluded Puerto Rican Winter League Baseball season, including great seasons by Chicago Dogs catcher Ryan Lidge and Lincoln Saltdogs left-hander Greg Minier.
It’s Always Sunny in Puerto Rico
Yesterday, we looked at the Australian Baseball League and American Association players that were making a huge contribution as its regular season is winding down. Some winter ball seasons have already concluded, including the Puerto Rican Baseball League, which played its final games just after the new year.
Criollos de Caguas finished with the top record (31-19) in the PRWL, not only finishing with the best record, but they were also the top run producers, scoring 200 runs, and were second in ERA (2.35).
Several American Association players had an impact on the season in the Caribbean island as well, including Chicago Dogs catcher Ryan Lidge, who finished seventh in the league in batting (.287). Lincoln Saltdogs left-hander Greg Minier also had a big winter, finishing second in victories (5) while posting a 3.19 ERA in 11 starts.
It was an impressive performance for both players, but several other American Association players also impacted their teams. Here is a look at each of the players and the teams they played for.
Criollos de Caguas (31-19)
Criollos de Caguas finished with the top record in the league, but did not have an American Association player on the roster. Clearly an anomaly that they finished first.
Gigantes de Carolina (28-22)
Carolina finished with the second-best record, and had a lot of recognizable names on the roster. This started with José Sermo, who has spent four seasons playing in the PRWL, but made his presence known starting with the Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2015. Sermo has played in the American Association for seven seasons, winning an MVP with Sioux City in 2018 and has driven in 330 runs while scoring 290 in 453 games. He finished the PRWL season hitting .173 with five homers in 41 games.
Ozzie Martinez hit .233 in 31 contests for Carolina. He has played in the PRWL every year since 2008-09, posting a career .254 mark in 410 games. He has also established himself as one of the best American Association players over the last two seasons, starting with Cleburne back in 2021 where he hit .315 in 89 games. Last season, Martinez hit .271 in 86 contest for Sioux Falls.
Bryan Torres had a breakout season for the Milwaukee Milkmen last year, setting himself as an MVP candidate with a .374 batting average, scoring 73 runs in 93 games while stealing 22 bases. Torres has played in the PRWL since 2019-20, and he hit .270 with 19 runs scored in 40 games this year.
The pitching staff for Carolina was well represented by American Association hurlers as well. José Espada and José Fuentes each pitched for the team, as did former St. Paul Saints left-hander Chris Nunn. Even Martinez got in on the action, making two scoreless appearances.
Nunn played for St. Paul back in 2018 and 2019, going 7-3 in 2018 with a 3.05 ERA. The following season he returned late in the year, making three appearances for the club. He made two appearances for Carolina this season, posting a 3.38 ERA.
Espada played for Milwaukee last season, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.61 ERA in eight starts. He would later have his contract purchased by the San Diego Padres, and returned to the PRWL for the fourth time in his career. He went 3-1 with an impressive 1.23 ERA in 19 appearances, leading the league with seven saves.
Fuentes pitched for Kane County last season, going 6-5 with a 4.34 ERA in 23 appearances, 20 of which were starts. He made his debut in the PRWL this season, going 1-4 despite an impressive 2.45 ERA.
Cangrejeros de Santurce (26-24)
Santurce finished with the third-best record overall, and were also well represented by current and former American Association players. That included catcher Roy Morales, who had an impressive .310 batting average in 60 games for Kansas City back in 2019. The following year he split time between Winnipeg and Sioux Falls, combining to hit .331 in 45 contests. In 2021, his contract was purchased by the Minnesota Twins, and he has remained in the organization since, reaching AAA-St. Paul last year. Morales hit .276 in 46 games, scoring 13 runs while driving in 20.
Eric Rivera began the season in Winnipeg, where he hit .283 in 79 games, but was traded to Chicago down the stretch. Overall, he finished with a .279 batting average in 87 games, scoring 54 runs while driving in 34. He also stole 23 bases. Rivera played in 15 games for Santurce, seeing limited action with just 12 at-bats.
David Vidal played for the Lincoln Saltdogs in 2021, hitting .282 in 99 games with 15 homers, 50 runs scored, and 49 RBI. Vidal is a veteran to winter ball in general, but appeared in his eighth season in the PRWL, hitting .157 in 32 games.
Juan Echevarria has spent the last two seasons in American Association ball, appearing in 17 games for Chicago in 2021 and pitching 39 times for the Milwaukee Milkmen last season. He has a 5.35 ERA in 56 career appearances in the league. This year, Echevarria made his PRWL debut, rising to the occasion to post a 1.29 ERA in 12 appearances. The right-hander allowed 16 hits and seven walks in 21.0 innings pitched.
Indios de Mayaguez (26-24)
Mayaguez also did not have any American Association players on their club.
Leones de Ponce (25-25)
Ponce had four players from the league playing in the PRWL this last season, including an MVP and a top pitcher runner-up. Jimmy Kerrigan was the MVP of the American Association, hitting .304 with 27 homers in 100 games for the Kane County Cougars. Kerrigan appeared in 30 games for Ponce, hitting just .188.
Minier was one of the top pitchers in the league last season for the Lincoln Saltdogs, posting a breakout season with a 6-6 record and a 2.48 ERA in 19 starts. He struck out 116 in 109.0 innings, allowing 92 hits and 34 walks. This came after an impressive 2021 season that saw the left-hander go 9-4 with a 3.87 ERA. He started 11 games for Ponce in his first season in the PRWL, going 5-5 with a 3.19 ERA.
J.C. Escarra had a solid season for Ponce, hitting .277 with 12 runs scored and 25 RBI in 47 games. He played in 70 games for the Monarchs last season, struggling to start the year but finished strong, hitting .291 with 12 homers and 35 RBI. He also scored 52 runs and boasted an impressive .396 OBP.
Left-hander Joel Huertas also pitched for Leones de Ponce, appearing in eight games. He joined the American Association in 2021, appearing in two games for the Saltdogs and made seven appearances for the Gary SouthShore RailCats last year.
The team owned and operated by Major League Baseball great Robbie Alomar had a disappointing season overall, but Lidge was a standout, hitting .287 in 28 games. This was the first time Lidge played winter ball, and he has been an absolute stud in the American Association over the last two years, hitting .312 in 80 games for the Dogs in 2021, and following that up with 12 homers and a .322 batting average in 95 games last season.
The Puerto Rican Winter League season ended the first week of January, but the Puerto Rican Independent Baseball League begins its signing period on January 31. Their season starts on March 20 and will have members from all four partner leagues, including the American Association, on the coaching staff.
By Robert Pannier