The Dominican Winter League had its first ever three-game series in Citi Field this weekend. Named the “Titans of the Caribbean” series, two Dominican rivals, Los Tigres del Licey and Las Águilas Cibaeñas, faced off. In case you are unfamiliar with the Winter League, it is a unique competition because of how much the experience level between players can vary. A team could have a player who is just starting off his career in the Minor Leagues, a player trying to secure his spot back with a Major League team, and a MLB veteran all on the same team.
I had the opportunity to speak with players who were at completely different stages of their careers.
Prospect: RHP Adrian Rodriguez, Texas Rangers
Starting off with the prospect – 22 year old Adrian Rodriguez is a Rule 5 eligible right-handed pitcher in the Texas Rangers system who just finished his first season with their Single-A affiliate.
Rodriguez was ranked 43rd in the Rangers’ system by Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs in his midseason rankings. Rodirguez throws a fastball and a curveball, but had some exciting news about adding a third pitch to his repertoire:
“Right now I’m actually working on my changeup, which is something kind of new for me because the Rangers – last year they wanted me to focus on just my fastball and my curveball for command purposes, as well as just the feel of them — making sure I’m comfortable and confident with everything. So now it’s just the next step of bringing other pitches in, and making sure I’m bringing my game to the next level.”
I saw Rodriguez’s fastball and curveball in-game on Nov. 12, which was Rodriguez’s first start of the year for Licey. Unfortunately, the use of pitchers throughout the series was pretty crazy with constant changes, and Rodriguez only pitched during the first inning.
His 95-97 m.p.h. fastball comes from a 3/4 slot and topped out at 97 m.p.h. His curveball sat 83-84 m.p.h. While he didn’t throw his in-progress changeup during the game, he threw it while warming up.
There isn’t much to say about it right now — he only threw the changeup once during warm-ups, which is not 100% effort. It looks like it has some depth, but it’s tough to form an opinion about the pitch quality right now without any data.
Here’s the Adrian Rodriguez changeup video from the bullpen that I shot at the game.
With a fastball and a curveball, Rodriguez is able to cover the north and south of the zone against both hands. His curveball appeared to have some sweep away from right-handed hitters, so adding the changeup has the potential to provide Rodriguez a more suitable non-fastball option to throw against left-handed hitters once it is fully developed. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this pitch development and, because of the potential, I think it’s worth monitoring as we head into next Minor League season to see how it impacts Rodriguez’s performance.
While there is a challenging path to Major League playing time for Rodriguez ahead, he spoke about working on his confidence, letting things happen, and trusting his skillset. This opportunity for Rodriguez to participate in the Winter League allows him a chance to develop his skills in a competitive atmosphere against hitters of varying experience (as opposed to similar experience levels in low-A). Seeing how excited he was to be given an opportunity to pitch in a game, hopefully Rodriguez will take this as a learning opportunity and be able to carry it into next season.
For those of us who play in dynasty leagues, Rodriguez could be an under the radar name to watch, especially if he’s expanding his pitch mix to strengthen his repertoire vs both hands.
Path Back to Major League Playing Time: LHP Logan Allen, Free Agent
Logan Allen last pitched in a Major League game on May 5th, 2022, with the Orioles. After being designated for assignment, he signed a minor league contract with the Rockies for the remainder of the 2022 season and then signed a minor league contract with the Mariners for the second half of the 2023 season.
Playing in the Dominican Winter League provides Allen another opportunity to be looked at by Major League scouts in hopes of being signed to a contract for next season. I asked him what the biggest difference was in terms of game planning in the Major Leagues as opposed to the Dominican Winter League:
“I would say the biggest difference is you have 38 year old veterans in the lineup; some of them I’ve faced in the big leagues. And then you have 19-year old prospects that might not be in High-A or even Double-A yet that I haven’t heard of, but are still very good players, so we have to use TruMedia and stuff to see what we have.
Some guys I’m familiar with from either playing with or playing against, but the young guys you kind of just have to pitch to your strengths. It teaches you to trust your stuff. There’s not a metric for confidence or delivering your pitches, there’s not a “conviction” metric. In the Dominican you have to have conviction with every pitch you throw because some of the hitters – they might not have stats on them when they last hit in the United States. I’m facing Robinson Cano — the last time I pitched against him was here at this Stadium in 2019. The game planning is trusting your strengths, for their best hitters we can kind of gather a plan together, but you have to mix it up and trust your stuff.”
Allen has been practicing what he’s preaching by adapting his pitch mix to try and catch the Dominican hitters off guard. While in the Majors, Allen relied primarily on his slider and fourseam vs. both hands, but has been mixing in his cutter a lot more vs. right-handed hitters in the Dominican because a lot of guys in the league are “free swinging.” He’s also been throwing a sinker a lot more to left-handed hitters because he noticed many of them were waiting for his slider.
Asked free agent pitcher Logan Allen (formerly SD, CLE, BAL, COL, SEA) about the differences in game planning between MLB and the Dominican Winter league: pic.twitter.com/j9p9FMPKCQ
— Andrea (@scoutgirlreport) November 14, 2023
Since he started a game on Nov. 7 in the Dominican Republic, Allen only pitched a short stint in the series opener in Queens, but recorded one strikeout and induced a double play. His adaptability and trust in his stuff seems to be paying off so far – Allen has 2.41 ERA and 19 strikeouts (4 starts) with Licey.
His slider is his best pitch in terms of movement and should be the pitch he leans on most heavily. However, Allen’s been making an effort to get in the habit of mixing in his other pitches in appropriate spots with good command. This tactic might benefit Allen by demonstrating his pitchability.
Rodriguez and Allen are great examples of two players who are working hard this winter, putting themselves out there, and trying to improve in any way they can. There are so many other players in the Dominican league as well who are trying to achieve similar goals.
Orelvis Martinez, for example, is playing with Licey this winter. He’s a top shortstop prospect in the Blue Jays organization and is expected to make his Major League debut next season. This year in Triple-A, Martinez showcased his power and had an incredible .507 SLG in 246 plate appearances.
César Prieto, 14th ranked prospect in the Cardinals system per MLB.com, has been dominating in the Dominican Winter League with Aguilas so far and has a .840 OPS through 55 PA. He’s also expected to make his Major League debut in 2024. He’s a player who has good awareness of the barrel and hits for contact from the left side.
A Note on Nelson Cruz
I had a chance to speak with recently retired Nelson Cruz about advice he’d give to the players who are hoping to make a similar impact as he did to baseball one day. He said it’s a process and you have to go one step at a time. Learning from those who came before are key to shaping the future of a young Dominican player.
Coming from a veteran player, this advice applies to all the players written about in this column and beyond.
Now that Cruz is no longer playing, he told me he was going to focus on his foundation- The Boomstick23 Foundation to help make a difference in the lives of children and young people in situations of social vulnerability.
Elehuris Montero (COL), Tristin English (ARI), and Christopher Morel (CHC) were also playing in the series this weekend. Here are some notes I wrote based on watching them play:
Corner INF Elehuris Montero, Colorado Rockies
Elehuris Montero persisted through a tough first half of the MLB season with a .544 OPS, but made swing adjustments that led him to an above average .844 OPS in the second half. The swing adjustments were on display this series, as Montero looked much more comfortable with his timing at the plate. One adjustment he worked on involved keeping his head steady, to the ball, and on time with the rest of his movements. He recorded two hard-hit base hits in Saturday’s game, the first a line drive and the second a 104 m.p.h. ground ball up the middle.
Corner INF Tristin English, Arizona Diamondbacks (AAA)
26-year old Tristin English had a great season in his first year in Triple A and hit .293/.380/.514 in 371 PA. English stood out to me this weekend because he walked twice in Saturday’s game, showcasing his above average plate discipline. While I don’t have a lot of context for English’s makeup, he showed that he cares about doing the little things right – he gave full effort running out a routine 6-3 ground ball.
INF Christopher Morel, Chicago Cubs
Christopher Morel had a breakout year in 2023 and started hitting the ball a lot harder more consistently. The increased use of power in game paid off, as he finished the year with a .508 SLG and elite hard-hit rate that ranked in the top 8 percent of the league. He walked on Saturday, and then quickly advanced to third on two wild pitches. On Sunday, he hit a single to center field.
There was some discussion at the GM Meetings earlier this month about finding a position for Morel for 2024. While he primarily played second base in 2023, Morel is getting an opportunity to play other positions (like left field) in the Dominican Winter League. Becoming more used to playing other positions during this time may allow the Cubs more options for Morel heading into next season.
(Top photo: Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images; additional photos via Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images; MLB, Andrea Arcadipane)