Dominican Winter League Showcases American Association Talent
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 discusses American Association players currently playing in the Dominican Winter League which concluded his regular season in December but enters the playoff phase.
A Great Place to Play Ball
The Dominican Republic has arguably established itself as the greatest baseball nation on the planet. After all, despite having a population of just over 11 million, there were 99 players from the Dominican Republic who joined above the roughly 1000 players who were in the Major Leagues last season.
It is truly remarkable how much of an influence the game has had on the nation and how much the nation has influenced baseball. This is the ticket for many young men to make it big, and rosters across the globe are filled with Dominican born players.
The Dominican Republic is not only the place where great baseball players are born. It is also where Winter league baseball has become a popular destination for many players, including those from the American Association. A dozen played this season on one of the six teams in the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano (DOWL). Here is a look at more great American Association talent impacting baseball beyond the Midwest.
Tigres del Licey (34-16)
The team with the best record in the DOWL has a player who starred in the American Association two seasons ago. Ramon Hernandez hit .324 in 96 games for Cleburne in 2021, finishing in the top three in MVP voting. He played in Mexico last season, hitting .368 in 68 games, and has been outstanding for Licey, hitting .279 was 17 runs scored and 24 RBI in 39 games.
Aguilas Cibaenas (32-18)
Two American Association players helped Aguilas to the second-best regular season record. Left-hander Carlos Diaz only appeared in two games for the club, tossing just 1.1 innings. He began his American Association career in 2017 with the Gary SouthShore RailCats where Diaz was 2-1 with four saves and a 3.83 ERA in 21 appearances. The next three seasons he split time playing for the Kansas City T-Bones/Monarchs before being traded to Lake Country last season Diaz has 40 saves in his time in the American Association.
Former Milwaukee Milkmen ace and Major League Baseball hurler David Holmberg struggled in his two starts for Aguilas before heading for Mexico. He was outstanding in his two seasons for the Milkmen, going 15-5 overall, helping lead the team to the 2020 American Association title.
Gigantes del Cibao (25-25)
Gigantes boasts one of the greatest American Association pitchers in league history, as right-hander Victor Capellan appeared in nine games for the club, going 1-0 with a 6.23 ERA. It was his first season pitching in the Dominican, but he had several outstanding seasons in the American Association, starting with Laredo back in 2014. Capellan then pitched for Joplin before joining the Winnipeg Goldeyes in 2016. He recorded 68 saves for the Goldeyes in his time with the club, helping the team to win two American Association titles.
Estrellas de Oriente (23-27)
Estrellas has a budding American Association star as well as a blast from the past on their club. Buddy Baumann pitched for Lincoln this last season where he went 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA in five starts. The former Major Leaguer was outstanding for the Saltdogs, striking out 40 in 26.2 innings before his contract was purchased by Monclava in the Mexican League.
Mitch Lambson made three appearances for Estrellas, struggling for the club. However, he dominated in the American Association for the Winnipeg Goldeyes for four seasons, winning the Top Pitcher award in 2019 after going 13-4 with a 3.11 ERA. Lambson went 32-17 in his four years with Winnipeg.
Leones del Escogido (18-32)
Three current American Association players and one in recent history joined Escogido this winter. Justin Byrd also played for Lincoln where he was having a monster season before joining Oaxaca in the Mexican League. Byrd hit .337 with 40 runs scored, 10 homers, and 35 RBI in 49 games. Last season was his second with the Saltdogs and fifth in the American Association. Byrd started in 2018 with the Cleburne Railroaders, joined the Texas AirHogs in 2019 before playing for St. Paul in 2020. In his time in independent baseball, Byrd has hit .278 with 254 runs scored and 167 RBI in 349 games. Byrd hit .167 in eight games for Escogido.
Joining Byrd was infielder Nick Franklin, who split time between the Sioux City Explorers and the Kane County Cougars last season. The former Major Leaguer began his American Association career with the Kansas City Monarchs in 2021 and played in eight games for Sioux City later that season. Last year he hit a combined .279 with 13 homers and 44 runs driven in in 49 games. In 15 games for Escogido, Franklin hit .147.
Anyone who is been watching American Association baseball for more than a few years is very familiar with the name Charlie Valerio. The catcher began his American Association career in 2015 with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, hitting .268 in 65 games. He played for the RedHawks and for Joplin in 2016, hitting a combined .304 in 84 games. In 2017 and 2018, Valerio returned to the RedHawks. In 2021, he played 11 games for the Sioux Falls Canaries before heading for Mexico. This was his ninth season playing in the DOWL, hitting .500 in three games for his club.
Monarchs left-hander Matt Hall also played for Escogido. The 2022 American Association Pitcher of the Year had a phenomenal season for Kansas City, setting a league record with a 1.10 ERA after going 10-2 in 14 starts. The former Major Leaguer was playing in the Dominican for the first time, going 0-1 in three appearances.
Toros del Este (18-32)
Two players for Toros have ties to the American Association. That starts with outfielder Mallex Smith who signed late last season with Kansas City, appearing in 27 games where he hit .281 with 22 runs scored and 11 RBI. Smith is a former Major Leaguer with the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays. He appeared in five games for Toros, hitting .125.
Left-hander José José appeared in nine games for Toros, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out eight, posting a 0.00 ERA. José began his American Association career in 2018 with Lincoln where he was 3-3 with 11 saves and a 3.80 ERA in 34 appearances. In 2020 and 2021, the left-hander pitched for Winnipeg, going a combined 3-1 with 11 saves, striking out 47 in 51.1 innings pitched.
The Dominican Winter League ended their regular season on December 21. The playoffs are underway, and you can learn more by visiting the website.
By Robert Pannier