There are a myriad of reasons that players participate in foreign baseball leagues during the winter time. Many return to their home countries after the regular season and are eager for an opportunity to suit up for the teams they grew up watching. Some players head to winter ball to get extra reps if they missed time with an injury during their regular season in MLB-affiliated ball, or if they had a down year performance-wise and are trying to get back on track. Others still are simply looking for an extra paycheck to help supplement the generally poverty-level wages that they earn playing minor league ball in the States.
According to MLB.com’s offseason league stats, the Milwaukee Brewers have 21 players currently in the organization that participated in the various foreign winter leagues during the 2017-18 MLB offseason. That’s not quite as many as last offseason, but now that these leagues have wrapped up and Spring Training is in full swing, let’s take a look at how those players fared this past winter:
2017-18 Winter Ball: Hitters
2017-18 Winter Ball: Pitchers
Now to highlight some of the notable successes:
1B Jesus Aguilar - Leones del Caracas (Venezuela)
Aguilar didn’t even take 100 turns to the plate for Caracas, but his five home runs still placed him among league leaders in the LVBP. If he had enough at-bats to qualify, his .991 OPS would have tied for second-highest on the circuit. Last year, Aguilar turned a successful winter into a hot Spring Training showing that helped secure his spot on the Opening Day roster for Milwaukee. He’ll have to be hoping for the same outcome this time around.
C Alex Hall - Perth Heat (Australia)
One of the two Australian teens that were signed by Milwaukee this winter, Hall posted a terrific season in the ABL. The 18 year old switch-hitter finished among the league’s top-30 batters with his .846 OPS and six home runs. He also nabbed 33% of would-be base thieves and posted a .986 fielding percentage behind the dish. The Brewers will look to continue his development stateside during the upcoming season.
C Christian Bethancourt - Aguilas Cibaenas (Dominican Republic)
Bethancourt recently signed a minor league deal with Milwaukee and only spent a short amount of time playing in the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano, but his club won the country’s championship series and the backstop was named the series MVP.
SS Jesse Williams - Perth Heat (Australia)
The other man from the land down under, Williams’ .310 average placed him in the top-15 of the ABL, while his .780 OPS came in just a few spots below his Perth teammate Alex Hall. He did commit 10 errors in 19 starts at shortstop, so he’ll have to work on shoring up his defense as he works his way up the ladder in the United States.
RHP Jorge Lopez - Indios de Mayaguez (Dominican Republic)
Lopez has pitched in his native Puerto Rico’s winter league (which had an abbreviated season this year, understandably) in the past but this year jumped to the D.R. - and with great success. He paced LIDOM with 68.2 innings pitched and 50 strikeouts, his 1.15 WHIP ranked second on the circuit, and the 2.49 ERA he posted was third among qualifiers. The Brewers began to transition Lopez to the bullpen last summer and he could get a shot to contribute at the MLB level sometime this summer.
RHP Junior Guerra - Tiburones de La Guaira (Venezuela)
We’ve already taken a deeper dive into Guerra’s success in his home country over the winter, including getting selected #1 overall in the postseason draft and helping lead Cardenales de Lara to the championship series. He didn’t have enough regular season innings to qualify but would have finished fifth in the league with his 2.98 ERA and his 1.18 WHIP would’ve placed him fourth. He’s looking to earn a spot in Milwaukee’s starting rotation this spring, and manager Craig Counsell told reporters he was “really encouraged” by how Guerra looked over the winter and so far this spring.
Note: Statistics shown are for regular season only, playoffs are not included.
Statistics courtesy of MLB.com