As the stateside baseball season comes to a close following the World Series, many talented players from MLB organizations will head south to continue honing their craft in winter ball. Leagues in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Mexico all hit the field with teams stocked full of former and future Major League players. The Dominican Republic’s national winter league, LIDOM, has become the most prominent organization of the bunch, with well-known players and prospects arriving every year to hone their craft.
Earlier this week, LIDOM held its annual rookie draft to select minor league players who have signed up to be in consideration for a spot in the league this year. The six teams from the league selected 96 players out of almost 400 eligible professional players, and the Yankees were well-represented. There are no guarantees of participation, but which Baby Bombers could be packing their bags for the Dominican Republic as fall comes to a close?
Last winter, Tigres del Licey turned out to be a team that Yankees fans probably came across at some point during the winter. The team saw Deivi García, Luis Gil, and Albert Abreu suit up on their roster at different times.
This year, they used two of their picks on young Yankees prospects. In the ninth round of the draft, Tigres del Licey selected Aldenis Sánchez, who the Yankees acquired earlier this season from Tampa Bay in return for Mike Ford. Since joining the Yankees, the speedy outfielder has done nothing but hit, slashing .413/.500/.588 in 23 games for Low-A Tampa. The 22-year-old center fielder has been on the injured list recently and could possibly hit his way onto a winter ball roster to make up for some of those lost at-bats.
Several rounds later, Licey selected hard throwing right-handed pitcher Nicio Rodriguez in the 14th round. Rodriguez has struck out 42 batters in 33 innings this year while pitching in the Florida Complex League and with Low-A Tampa. The team also picked up former Yankees minor leaguers Maikol Escotto, who was traded to Pittsburgh in the Jameson Taillon deal, and Juan Then, who the Yankees both acquired from and traded back to Seattle a few years ago.
Escogido saw some of the best young players in the sport play for their team last winter. At times during the season, they fielded lineups with Vladimir Guerrro Jr., Wander Franco and Seattle uber-prospect Julio Rodríguez. They also had Estevan Florial in their lineup, and he came on strong down the stretch, even batting leadoff for them in the playoffs.
While the status of those players for this winter’s team is unknown, they picked up two of the Yankees’ top hitting prospects during the LIDOM Draft. In the third round, the team selected perhaps the most talented player in the Yankees’ system, Jasson Dominguez. The 18-year-year-old has rebounded from a so-so start and is hitting .313/.405/.500 since August 18th for Low-A Tampa.
Escogido was not done selecting esteemed Yankees prospects, as they then grabbed the team’s first-round pick from 2020, Austin Wells in the 14th round. The catcher has a .269/.394/.490 slash line across two levels this year with 15 home runs.
Another team that Yankees fans saw in highlights over the winter was Toros Del Este. With high-profile Yankees players such as Gary Sánchez, Miguel Andújar, and Domingo Germán on the roster, the team was watched closely by many fans from New York.
This season, they may have another well-known Yankees talent in the fold, as they drafted Double-A Somerset pitcher Luis Medina. The Futures Game participant has had an up-and-down season in 2021. At times, he has displayed his trademark wildness, which has resulted in a 5.0 BB/9 rate, but he has also strung together a streak of over 50 batters faced without a walk.
Last winter, Medina put together a monster campaign pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter League; this year he could be looking to do the same thing and become a more consistent pitcher.
Yea, you know about the fastball, but have we told you about his curve?— Somerset Patriots (@SOMPatriots) June 17, 2021
Medina strikes out over 5.2 innings in his Double-A debut! pic.twitter.com/96IbDaaeO7
Estrellas Orientales was home to current Yankees fan favorite Néstor Cortes Jr. in 2020. He made five starts for the team before joining the Yankees on a minor-league deal and surprisingly becoming one of their most valuable pitchers. The team also made a lot of noise when they were joined late in the season by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Robinson Canó.
This year, Estrellas could have a Yankees prospect in the mix after they selected right-handed Double-A pitcher Randy Vasquez. Vasquez has jumped two levels already this season and is ranked as the team’s 20th-best prospect by MLB.com.
Gigantes del Cibao used their 11th-round pick on Low-A Tampa Tarpons pitcher Blas Castaño. Castaño has pitched his way up to Low-A Tampa this year after starting in the Florida Complex League. In 39.2 innings, he has a 10.9 K/9 against just a 1.8 BB/9 rate.
The last team in this years LIDOM draft, Águilas Cibañas, did not select any Yankees prospects but they did grab former farmhand Ezequiel Duran, who reached High-A with the Yankees before being traded to the Rangers in the Joey Gallo deal.
Winter ball can prove critical to players who are looking for their next step in development. In the past, players like Gio Urshela and Néstor Cortes Jr. have appeared in LIDOM immediately before their breakout seasons. This year, a number of Yankees prospects will have the opportunity to compete for a spot in the league, if they choose to pursue it over the winter months.