While most of us wait for spring baseball, the Seattle Mariners have more than a dozen players in Venezuela and Dominican Republic winter leagues.
Traditionally, winter ball innings and at-bats come against stronger competition than players face in the minor leagues because so many big leaguers living in those countries participate.
So young pitchers like Dan Cortes, Cesar Jimenez and Edward Paredes are getting on-the-job bullpen experience that may help them in spring training and beyond.
“There’s a reason these kids are in winter ball,” Mariners farm director Pedro Grifol said. “If they didn’t need the experience, they’d be at home.”
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Cortes, a candidate to return to the Seattle bullpen he worked out of last September, has had control issues in Venezuela - and pitched out of every jam he’s created.
Eight for eight in save opportunities, Cortes has walked 13 batters in 14 2/3 innings, struck out 10 and posted a 2.45 earned run average.
“What’s happened is typical Cortes, he walks guys and gets into trouble, finds himself and gets through it,” Grifol said. “When you top out at 100 mph, that happens. If he can’t figure out the strike zone, he’ll probably have to do it in Tacoma.”
Left-hander Jimenez is out of options, so he’ll either make the Mariners team in spring or have an opportunity to become a free agent. Pitching in Venezuela - for Mariners bullpen coach Jamie Navarro, Jimenez has been overmatching hitters.
Fifteen appearances, 16 2/3 innings - and Jimenez has struck out 17, allowed a .179 batting average and gone 1-0 with a 0.54 ERA.
“He’s been coming in, facing one left-handed hitter, maybe a right-handed hitter and another lefty,” Grifol said. “He’s doing everything we could ask of him.”
Paredes has pitched short relief, eight innings in 12 games in the Dominican, but his control has been the bright spot: nine strikeouts and only one walk. He’s allowed one run.
Offensively, the Mariners have players of interest, too. Not surprisingly, few are excelling. As Grifol said, if they didn't need the experience of winter ball, they'd be home.
Michael Saunders is in Venezuela, but missed time after being hit with a throw breaking up a double play and has played in only seven games. He’s hit .250 in just 20 at-bats.
Johermyn Chavez, the outielder acquired in the Brandon Morrow trade, hit .315 with 32 home runs and 96 RBI in high Class A last season. Playing in Venezuela, Chaez has batted .290 in 93 at-bats, with two home runs and 13 RBI.
“He just continues to impress everyone who sees him,” Grifol said.