A couple weeks ago, we talked about some of the random former Yankees spending the offseason playing in the various winter leagues in the Caribbean. Players from the likes of Greg Bird to Vidal Nuno took part this year.
As you may or may not know, the champions of those Caribbean winter leagues then typically advance to play against each other. The 2020 Caribbean Series was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico this year, and some former Yankees not only played, but had crucial roles in the tournament.
On Thursday night, one of the semifinals pitted the Dominican Republic representatives, Toros del Este, against the Puerto Rico representatives, Cangrejeros de Santurce.
Pretty much throughout the tournament, the Dominican’s best player was none other than former Yankees’ prospect and current Atlanta Braves’ non-roster invite Peter O’Brien. Going into the bottom of the eighth inning, O’Brien’s team trailed 3-2. He was due up second, after already being partially responsible for the first two runs.
Earlier, his double drove home another familiar name in Jorge Mateo, he of the Yankees/Athletics Sonny Gray trade. That made it 2-1 at the time, but it was then 3-1 when he came up in the sixth. He led off with a walk and scored after two consecutive singles, helping the Dominican team again get within a run. Then he came up again with his team down to their last six outs in the eighth.
With a runner on first, he doubled off the wall in center field, putting two runners in scoring position. At that point, O’Brien was pinch run for, but he set the stage for what happened next. During the next at-bat, the Puerto Rican team’s pitcher threw a wild pitch, allowing the tying run to score, and the runner representing O’Brien to move up.
The batter during all of that was Abraham Almonte. You may recognize his name from his stints with five different major league teams, but from 2006 to 2012, he played in various levels in the Yankees’ system. He was who the Yankees sent to Seattle in the trade that acquired Shawn Kelley.
Almonte didn’t deliver a big blow, but his fly out was deep enough for the runner to tag up and score, giving the Dominican team the lead. They went on to win 4-3 to advance to the championship game. Arguably the two biggest heroes in the game were two very random Yankees prospects of the past.
In the championship game on Friday, neither of those two provided dramatic heroics. However, both had really good games to lead their team to the title. O’Brien recorded two hits and a walk, while Almonte had three hits also with a walk. Almonte drove in three runs, while the two of them combined to score three of their team’s six runs. They defeated Venezuelan team, Cardenales de Lara, who themselves had a former Yankee in the lineup. Adonis Garcia also recorded two hits and a hit by pitch in a losing effort.
Meanwhile, Ramiro Pena, yes that one, was (strangely if you remember his major league career) one of the best hitters in the Caribbean Series. While playing for the Mexican representative, he went 5-for-16 with a home run and two doubles. His 1.104 OPS is good for second best of any hitter taking part in the tournament, because sure.
Winter leagues are a wonderful place to find names of the past. They’re also a place for said names of the past to become heroes in ways you might not have expected.