Guardians prospect among top performers in winter leagues

3:14 PM UTC

Baseball may be a sport traditionally associated with the summer months, but if you look closely enough, you can take in the game year-round.

And if you’re a fan of prospects, some of the elite up-and-comers are still honing their skills in winter leagues across warm-weather countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Mexico. The leagues in Puerto Rico, which is named after Roberto Clemente, and Australia were the last to get underway. (Notably, all LIDOM games can be streamed on MLB.TV.)

Rosters in these leagues are a fun combination of active Major Leaguers, former big leaguers, native stars and prospects. Local fans flood the stadiums to cheer on their hometown teams, creating an electric atmosphere not unlike what we see at the World Baseball Classic — the next event on the global baseball calendar.

A solid group of Top 100 Prospects and players on their organization’s Top 30 are still active, most in their home countries. Here are nine who have stood out so far, with all statistics through Tuesday:

Jackson Chourio, OF, ?guilas del Zulia (Venezuela)MIL No. 1/MLB No. 10

Never forget your roots — Chourio certainly hasn’t. After his breakout season, which saw the 18-year-old reach Double-A despite coming into the year with only Dominican Summer League experience, Chourio returned to his hometown of Maracaibo to join the ?guilas (Eagles in Spanish) for the second straight winter. It’s understandable that Milwaukee’s top prospect hasn’t exactly been able to carry his .288/.342/.538 line into an eighth month of baseball this year, but he’s still hitting a respectable .256 in 21 games.

Elly De La Cruz, SS, Tigres Del Licey (Dominican Republic)CIN No. 1/MLB No. 14

Chourio’s breakout 2022 season may have only been rivaled by De La Cruz, who similarly smashed his way up to Double-A and finished with a .304 average, .945 OPS, 28 home runs and 47 stolen bases in 120 games. He’s carried that momentum down to his native D.R. and been a force in the Tigres’ lineup despite only leaving the yard once so far. De La Cruz is slashing .274/.386/.405 through 24 games and has added nine swipes as well. He’s in a prime position to reach Triple-A and potentially the Majors at just 21 years old next season.

Ceddanne Rafaela, CF, Criollos de Caguas (Puerto Rico)BOS No. 3/MLB No. 96

Sensing a bit of a theme here? Rafaela is another player who burst onto the scene and into the Top 100 with an impressive year and has made his way to the winter leagues. The native of Curacao hit .299 with 21 homers and 28 stolen bases between High-A and Double-A in the Boston system and just recently joined the Criollos (a nickname for the local people of Caguas). Rafaela got off to an excellent start with multihit efforts in three of his first four games and, like he did during the regular season, has seen time at both center field and shortstop.

Maikel Garcia, SS, Tiburones de La Guaira (VZ)KC No. 5

After making a pair of Major League cameos in July and August — he was a solid 7-for-22 with a double and two RBIs — Garcia joined the Tiburones (Sharks) for the third winter in a row. The LVBP is undoubtedly a hitters’ league, but the 22-year-old has been among the circuit’s best, ranking first in runs scored and second in RBIs (behind MLB veteran Hern?n P?rez) to supplement a .316/.422/.526 slash in 24 games. Across 71 games in the three seasons he’s played for La Guaira, Garcia is hitting .332 with 43 RBIs.

Ronny Mauricio, SS, Tigres Del Licey (D.R.)NYM No. 6

The star of the winter league campaign thus far — at least from a prospect standpoint — has far and away been Mauricio, the switch-hitting Mets shortstop. After a fast start for Licey last winter that quickly dissipated, Mauricio has kept up the consistency this year with a .317/.356/.492 line in 30 games. That slugging percentage, as well as his .848 OPS and 25 RBIs, leads the LIDOM. Mauricio’s electrifying style of play has also helped the Tigres to a league-best 21-9 record.

Luis Medina, RHP, Toros del Este (D.R.)OAK No. 11

Medina endured a rough stretch in Double-A to end the regular season after being traded from the Yankees system in the Frankie Montas deal, but the 23-year-old has been in a groove for the Toros (Bulls). Medina owns a 3.24 ERA through six starts, in which he’s struck out 25 — his 13.5 K/9 rate leads all LIDOM arms with at least 15 innings pitched — and walked seven. The 23-year-old is a veteran of the winter league scene, having pitched in Puerto Rico in 2020 and for the Estrellas Orientales in the D.R. last year, and will look to parlay his success into becoming a rotation option for Oakland in 2023.

Jose Tena, SS, Estrellas Orientales (D.R.)CLE No. 16

The 21-year-old Tena has been a fixture in the lineup for the Estrellas (Stars) since the beginning of the winter season, starting at shortstop for the club. Tena was excellent in October, hitting .333 in 14 games with a four-hit night at the end of the month, but has struggled in November with a .192 clip in 14 contests. The 2022 regular season was largely a success for Tena, finishing in Triple-A and putting himself in position to serve as infield depth for the Guardians next year.

Junior Caminero, 3B, Perth Heat (Australia)TB No. 17

Five Rays farmhands headed down under to join Perth for their ABL campaign. Caminero is the highest ranked and has been the most impressive of the group thus far, having posted a .986 OPS through the first eight games of the season. The 19-year-old infielder has already collected a multihomer game and added another blast to tie for the team lead. Caminero was named the MVP of the Florida Complex League champion Rays squad after hitting .326 before a promotion to Single-A Charleston.

Adrian Hernandez, RHP, Ca?eros de los Mochis (Mexico)TOR No. 24

Hernandez was dominant out of the bullpen for the Ca?eros two winters ago and, after a winter off, has been even better this year. Los Mochis, located on the opposite end of Hernandez’s native Escuinapa de Hidalgo in the state of Sinaloa, has used the 22-year-old in a variety of relief roles and he’s been successful in each of them. Hernandez went unscored upon in his first 10 appearances before allowing a run last week, and has 16 strikeouts across 11 2/3 innings pitched.