Pirates' Hanson flourishing in winter ball as playoffs arrive
Pittsburgh's No. 6 prospect had five RBIs last week, is getting reps at second base
By Teddy Cahill
As the calendar flipped to January last week, the playoffs got underway in winter leagues throughout Latin America. While the stakes have been raised, many prospects continue to play key roles for their winter teams.
Below is a look at how some of the top prospects playing in winter leagues have fared.
• Alen Hanson, the Pirates' No. 6 prospect, began the winter playing for Toros del Este in his native Dominican Republic, but was hit by a pitch Oct. 26 and was limited to just seven games in the regular season. Now that the playoffs have begun, Hanson, ranked No. 73 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, is back on the field for Este. In four games last week, he went 3-for-16 and drove in five runs. Though Hanson has primarily played shortstop during his Minor League career, Este has used him mostly as a second baseman, which some scouts feel is a better fit for him in the long run.
• Building on his solid regular season for Gigantes del Cibao in his native Dominican Republic, Maikel Franco has gotten off to a hot start in the playoffs. The Phillies' No. 3 prospect started all five of Cibao's games last week and collected at least one hit in four of them, finishing the week 5-for-20 with a run and a triple. Franco, ranked No. 54 on the Top 100, is hitting .310/.310/.483 in the playoffs and has helped Cibao start the round-robin stage of the playoffs a league-best 5-2. During the regular season, he hit .272/.335/.469 with seven home runs in 38 games. He has continued to split his time between third base and first base, as he did this year for Triple-A Lehigh Valley and during his Major League debut in September.
• Catcher A.J. Jimenez, the Blue Jays' No. 14 prospect, finished fourth in the batting race in Puerto Rico, hitting .311/.372/.437 in 32 games for Cangrejeros de Santurce. He continued his strong performance over the weekend as the playoffs began. Santurce won its first three games of the round-robin stage of the playoffs and Jimenez was a driving force. He collected multiple hits in all three games, combining to go 7-for-12 with a grand slam and three doubles. He also scored three runs and drove in seven. Jimenez's grand slam Sunday was his second home run in four games, following a homer in his final appearance of the regular season. He isn't known for his power and didn't homer in his first 31 games of winter ball after hitting just three in 83 games in the Minor Leagues this year.
• Catcher Carlos Perez, the Angels' No. 11 prospect, came out slugging for Aguilas del Zulia in the Venezuelan playoffs. In Saturday's opener, he went 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and drove in five runs. While Zulia lost that game, 12-11, to Aragua, it bounced back the next day with a victory. Perez finished the regular season hitting .329/.365/.500 with four home runs in 41 games. He helped Zulia to a third-place finish in the regular season and, though he didn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, he would have finished sixth in batting average and seventh in slugging percentage.
• As the regular season ended in Venezuela last week, shortstop Orlando Arcia, the Brewers' No. 2 prospect, completed an impressive first winter season in his homeland. He hit .265/.335/.445 with seven home runs in 55 games and helped Caribes de Anzoategui finish in first place. His play put him in contention for the league's Rookie of the Year award, though he will receive strong competition from Odubel Herrera, a second baseman in the Rangers system, who hit .372/.432/.556 in 58 games for Tiburones de La Guaira and won the batting title.
Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.