The rosters of the Dominican Winter League feature many named players, past and present. Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Placido Polanco, Alfonso Soriano are all on rosters but they are probably there more for ceremony than anything else. I did see Bartolo Colon and Armando Benitez on a roster, maybe trying to revive their careers (I hope not). There are also many interesting names in terms of deep fantasy leagues including some potential sleepers and of course prospects.
Before I get to sleepers and prospects I have to mention Ubaldo Jimenez. Granted he is probably already gone in your league, but if he’s not I think he is very undervalued and worth targeting. I think he is about to emerge as a consistent 200 innings a year starter who will flirt with 200 Ks each year. He has only started one game so far in the Dominican going five innings, allowing three hits, a walk and one run with 7 strikeouts. He’s a pitcher that I think you will be able to get for around $25 and you’ll renew for the next several seasons.
Another player to note is Francisco Liriano. Right now the Twins don’t have a fifth starter. While Liriano has been pitching well in the Dominican as a starter (1.54 ERA and 17 Ks in three starts and 11.2 innings), some believe he will work out of the bullpen becuase he hasn’t been able to stick in the rotation after getting several chances to do so and his contract has incentives based on his performance as a reliever. That may encourage the Twins to start him but all in all I’d stay away. I think he is a tremendous talent but I feel like owners who spend the money on him (and his talent has meant he never goes for cheap) never get what they pay for. Why take the risk?
Two players in the Dominican that I think could be fantasy sleepers are Conor Jackson and Julio Lugo. Conor Jackson was there to prove that he is healthy. He left early but put up great numbers while he was there boasting a batting line of .425/.561/.589 in 94 plate appearances. He will be the starting LF for the Diamondbacks and I think completely healthy after his bout with Valley Fever last season. Some owners may stay away from him because he only played in 30 games last season so I think if you can get him for $1o or under it will be a huge steal. Julio Lugo hasn’t put up great numbers in awhile but I think that he finds his comfort level in his second year with the Cardinals. He won’t give you any power numbers but I see him contributing by hitting .275 or greater, with 80+ runs and 20+ steals. Not killer numbers but for a starting shortstop who you might be able to get for $5-$7, I’d take it.
In addition to the Major Leaguers discussed above the Dominican League also features some very intriguing prospects. The prospect I have been following the most this off season is Starlin Castro who followed his incredible AFL performance with a fairly weak performance in the Dominican hitting .182 in eight games. Slated as the Cubs shortstop of the future many scouts are enamored with his bat but he also steals bases. He only hit six homeruns last season but at 19 years of age many believe he will grow into more power. He’ll probably return to AA to start 2010 but if he continues the success he had last season he may get promoted to AAA and potentially earn a September call up. He has a greater chance of making a fantasy impact in 2011 but grab him now before he’s gone.
Two prospects that I think will significant time in the Majors in 2010 is Alex Avila and Ian Desmond. Avila will backup Gerald Laird in Detroit but I think he will get almost half the starts next season and eventually take over the position. He has not had a great showing in the Dominican but I think he is definitely worth a flier.
Ian Desmond should take over the SS duties for the Nationals in 2010. Last season he hit .321 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs between AA and the Majors. He is not hitting as well in the Dominican, .213 in 17 games but he does have 10 RBIs. It can be tough as an fantasy baseball owner to draft a Washington National but that may help you get Desmond for cheap. If I could get him in the $6-$9 range I’d take it.
James McDonald is a pitcher who has been a highly ranked prospect who saw some time in the Majors last season. He is projected as a starter but has seen more time as a reliever. McDonald is a player that I drafted a couple of seasons ago and I’ve held on to because the Dodgers always seem to have openings in their rotation. Even so he hasn’t done much with his chances and he’s shown more success as a reliever, which compounds the frustration of fantasy owners. He has had a very poor showing in the Dominican this winter with an ERA of 5.40 in 28.1 innings. Even though the fifth spot in the Dodgers rotation is still wide open I’m cutting him loose this off season.
Fernando Martinez finished with an ugly .191 batting average and 13 strikeouts in 47 at-bats for Escogido of the Dominican Winter League. Martinez underwent season-ending knee surgery last July and is still working his way back to full strength. Still, he’s been unimpressive in most professional settings and is likely to spend most of the 2010 season with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate. The 21-year-old hit .176/.242/.275 with one home run and eight RBI in 91 at-bats on the big league level last year. I had high hopes for Fernando Martinez but I’ve read that some scouts are starting to think that he won’t be more than a 4th outfielder.