First Pitch: What We Know So Far for the Winter Leagues Season

I usually do a winter leagues preview here each year, highlighting which players will be playing winter ball. This is sort of that article, though this year is obviously different. Usually we are in full swing with winter articles by mid-October and they carry us into late January, providing excellent filler during a slow news period called the Pittsburgh Pirates off-season. By October of this year, the only league in action was in Mexico and just as I was about to do a summary for the league last week, they shut down the league for approximately ten days due to a few COVID-19 cases with one team. So I pushed back that update for this particular article.

The big draws this winter will be the performances of Oneil Cruz and Gregory Polanco, at least among the players we know about so far. The leagues in Puerto Rico and Australia are starting later this year, so there could be bigger news down the line. I’m not predicting anything, just leaving open the possibility. Cruz and Polanco are the top draws right now for the Dominican Republic coverage here. They will be joined by Stephen Alemais, who is looking to make up for lost time due to injuries and not being included in the Altoona group this year.

Australia will have Robbie Glendinning, who has tore up the league for three winters (technically it’s summer down there). He will be joined by Solomon Maguire, one of the top 2019-20 international signings for the Pirates. Maguire is the biggest signing for the Pirates out of Australia and this will be the first time we get to see him in action since signing back in February.

Colombia will have infielders Carlos Arroyo and Francisco Acuna, along with some other possibilities. The Dominican Summer League manager for the Pirates is a manager in the Colombian League as well, so he could possibly have more Pirates on his team. Acuna had a great campaign last winter after a strong performance in Bristol in 2019. He was one of the lower level prospects I was looking forward to following this season.

Sergio Umana, who had a big season for the DSL Pirates in 2019, will be pitching in his home country of Nicaragua this winter. The 20-year-old right-hander had a 2.39 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 64 innings over 13 starts last year. The Nicaraguan league got started yesterday.

Finally (for now), we get to Mexico, where three Pirates outfielders and one pitcher are seeing action (league should resume in the next few days). That group is led by Fabricio Macias, who is the most advanced of the three players. He was hitting .286/.333/.429 in 18 games when play was stopped. He has three doubles, one triple, one homer, three steals (in three attempts) and a 2:12 BB/SO ratio. Fernando Villegas is seeing limited time off of the bench, going 1-for-12 with a walk in ten games. Randy Romero, the 2019 DSL MVP, is seeing the same sporadic bench time, being used mostly for his speed and defense. He is 2-for-9 with a walk (no strikeouts) and a stolen base in 12 games. The pitcher is Denny Roman, who is listed as “Brayan”, by the league his middle name. In two appearances, he has allowed one run over three innings.

I’m sure we will see more players once all of the leagues get underway. Our daily winter league recaps will begin either tomorrow night or Monday morning after the first games in the Dominican are completed.

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