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The Dominican Diamondbacks in 2021: LIDOM Winter League round-up

2020 déja vû: no D-Backs diamonds in the República Dominicana.

Daily Life In The Dominican Republic Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

After almost a year, we return to the Dominican Winter League again: the LIDOM. Like you might remember from last year’s article, this is probably the toughest winter league. It is a mix of non-professional and professional baseball players, where the latter consist mostly out of Dominican prospects and former MLB and fringe MLB players.

This year we can see the likes of Jose Quintana, Neftalí Feliz, Randall Delgado, Melky Cabrera, Johan Camargo, John Nogowski and Yoan Lopez (all with the Águilas Cibaeñas), Socrates Brito and Robinson Canó (both at Estrellas Orientales), Matt Joyce and Marcell Ozuna (both with Gigantes del Cibao, led by Luis Urueta), 2020 ALDS game 5 hero Mike Brosseau, Estevan Florial, Aaron Hicks, Albert Pujols, Iván Nova, Fernando Rodney and Pedro Strop (all with Leones del Escogido), Aristides Aquino, Delino DeShields, Yermin Mercedes, Chris Owings and Hanley Ramirez (playing for Tigres del Licey) and Vidal Brujan, Yasiel Puig and Josh Reddick (Toros del Este). Just to name a few.

Last year COVID pushed back the start of the league to mid November, but this season the LIDOM started by the end of October and will wrap up the regular season next week. So we are already 30+ games into the season. It is a tight race and we can already see which Diamondbacks performed well and which ones didn’t leave an impression.

But first, let us return to those D-Backs that were still with us last year in the LIDOM but no longer pertain to the organisation. Who were they and where are they now?

Luis Castillo was last year’s revelation in the LIDOM. He transitioned into the closer role for champions Águilas Cibaeñas and was a big part of the success of the team. He is continuing the success in this year’s LIDOM with a minuscule ERA and WHIP and has been one of the top performers. With the Diamondbacks he started the season in 2021 in Amarillo. He had trouble keeping the batters of the base and paid that dearly after getting a promotion to Reno. He was Rule 5 eligible and was released at the beginning of November.

Domingo Leyba is no longer with us after being claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles in June 2021. That came after a long streak of light-hitting which was also visible in the LIDOM last year after a strong start to the season. Apparently his hitting woes haven’t ceased to exist with the Estrellas de Oriente this year.

Junior García is still with the Diamondbacks but not pitching in the LIDOM this year. He is currently assigned to Triple A Reno where he has been able to keep himself alive but the stats don’t look good.

Keury Mella is surprisingly not in the LIDOM either. He is currently without a team after being released by the Diamondbacks in July and in October by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Finally we have Michael de la Cruz who is a respected catcher in the LIDOM for Dominican’s most popular team Tigres de Licey. For the Diamondbacks he wasn’t much more than organisational depth and he split time between Amarillo and Reno before being released at the beginning of November. The 28-year old is a regular for Licey and getting on base regularly this season.

Now let’s take a look at those who are with us this year and in the LIDOM.

Jesús Liranzo, RHP, Águilas Cibaeñas

DOB: 03/07/1995

In organisation since: 06/05/2021

Status: Assigned to AAA (Reno Aces)

Liranzo was a late 2021 signing and shortly after getting signed Liranzo was put on the restricted list. We don’t know what happened there but it delayed his minor league debut for the organisation until end July 2021. That was in Reno and his results were good. In a short stint of 17.2 innings for the Aces he pitched to a 3.06 ERA with a 1.019 WHIP. He struck out 11.2 batters per 9 innings and had a tiny 1.5 BB/9. Those stats are way better than his minor league career averages.

He hasn’t been able to translate that partial success to the LIDOM thus far this season. For the defending champions he has pitched to a somewhat acceptable 4.32 but with a 6.5 K/9 he isn’t putting batters away. On the other hand, in 11 innings he hasn’t given up a homerun either so his performance is having some value.

I understand Liranzo will be pitching in Reno in 2022 thanks to some early success in the organisation. But a 5.2 BB/9 over 8 minor seasons shows there are some control issues here so on the long term one can wonder if a second season in the PCL will be as kind to him as were the last couple of months.

Chester Pimentel, RHP, Estrellas de Oriente

DOB: 11/12/1995

In organisation since: 10/03/2013

Status: Assigned to AAA (Reno Aces)

As expected Chester Pimentel started the season in AA for the Amarillo Pod Soodles. At that level the Rule 5 eligible reliever continued the good success he had in previous seasons, but got knocked around a bit after a promotion to Reno.

Just like last season he is having a poor showing in the LIDOM for his team Estrellas de Oriente, who are currently league leader. He has already been tagged with 2 losses in 9 appearances so that doesn’t bode really well for his future usage.

As for his 2022 outlook he will have to settle down in Reno and find success there but the odds of him ever getting a call-up to the big leagues aren’t big.

Edwin Uceta, RHP, Estrellas de Oriente

DOB: 01/09/1998

In organisation since: 10/26/2021

Status: 40-man roster

Despite a -0.5 bWAR for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a couple of poor performances against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Edwin Uceta was claimed off waivers by the D-Backs end October. Uceta is about to turn 24 and has an interesting sinker, curve and change-up and was last year ranked #33 by Fangraphs in their farm review of the Dodgers. He worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the 2021 Dodgers, but is seen as a back-end of the rotation starter type.

That starter profile can also be seen in the LIDOM where he has started 5 games thus far and has seen success in keeping batters off base, proven by a 0.577 WHIP, despite a dip in strike-out rates. That doesn’t make him team or league leader, all Estrellas’ starters have been quite successful, but still a very valuable member of Fernando Tatis Sr.’s team.

Uceta will probably see a fair amount of time in Triple A and will probably be one of those players that will be regularly moved up and down between Reno and Phoenix. It’ll be interesting to see if the D-Backs want to throw him out there as a starter or use him exclusively as a reliever and maybe add some power to his fastball/sinker.

Jeison Guzman, SS, Estrellas de Oriente

DOB: 10/08/1998

In organisation since: 11/24/2021

Status: Assigned to AAA (Reno Aces)

Jeison Guzman is another interesting pick-up by the Diamondbacks. He was released by the Kansas City Royals this off-season, but is not an absolute nobody. Fangraphs was really bullish on him, ranking the Dominican #9 in their farm system review of the Royals in May 2021. Despite Fangraphs valuing his hitting tool positively, so far Guzmán has a .307 OBP in 5 minors seasons, bringing up some serious questions about his bat. But defensively Guzmán is seen as plus-glove, which is probably the reason why the D-Backs decided to sign the switch hitter to a minor league contract.

This year Guzmán switched sides in the LIDOM, going from the Leones del Escogido to the Estrellas de Oriente. He has gotten more opportunities to show off his skills, but the offensive performance has been a disappointment and Jeison currently sports an abysmal .179/.207/.179 slash line.

His glove is the reason why Jeison Guzmán is with the Diamondbacks and the club needed some depth at shortstop after the departure of Juniel Querecuto. The odds of breaking into the majors are rather slim with both Nick Ahmed and Geraldo Perdomo on the 40-man roster. I can see Guzmán getting an invite to spring training with a couple of reps but if he sticks around longer than just a year with the organisation remains to be seen.

Juan Graterol, C, Toros del Este

DOB: 02/14/1989

In organisation since: 11/13/2021

Status: Assigned to AAA (Reno Aces)

Graterol normally plays in the Venezuelan Winter League but it might be that travel problems have kept him from returning to his home country and instead chose to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. For the Toros, however, he is nothing more than a back-up catcher and as such has appeared in only 3 games so far.

Juan Graterol enters the organisation after the departure of Michael de la Cruz. You can’t completely exclude the Venezuelan from getting a cup of coffee in the majors, just like Bryan Holaday got one in 2021, since the 32-year old has appeared in the past in 4 seasons in the MLB for the Angels and Reds. But ever since the addition of Jose Herrera to the 40-man roster and the presence of both Carson Kelly and Daulton Varsho (and even Cooper Hummel in case of emergency), it is probably safer to assume we won’t see the likes of Graterol in a D-Backs uniform in 2022.

Mack Lemieux, LHP, Toros del Este

DOB: 09/06/1996

In organisation since: 06/13/2016

Status: Assigned to AAA (Reno Aces)

Mack Lemieux appeared a bit more on our radar after a strong showing in Visalia in 2019 (A+ back then). That was necessary after two tough seasons in A for the Kane County Cougars. After a lost 2020 season he started the 2021 season in Amarillo and got a September call-up to Reno. In AA he showed strong strike-out skills, but also walked one too many. In Reno he didn’t really get a chance to show what he has in just 6.1 innings.

To say that he has been able to show of those skills in the LIDOM would be an understatement. The lefty has seen action in just 3 games, totalling to just 1.2 innings of work, and gave up 2 runs.

Lemieux is Rule 5 eligible and, in theory, could be pried away from the club, but that would be highly unlikely. Lemieux will start the season in Reno, but is probably further away from Phoenix than the 750 miles that separates both cities.

Nick Heath, CF, Tigres de Licey

DOB: 11/27/1993

In organisation since: 04/17/2021

Status: Outrighted to AAA (Reno Aces)

We should all know what we need to know about Nick Heath after his review on the AZSnakePit.

Heath is no stranger to the LIDOM since he played for the Licey back in 2019-20 as well. He had a respectable OBP of .336 back then but has been slumping quite a bit for the team this season, struggling to .158/.238/.316 batting line in just 21 PA. Both club and player had probably expected a lot more.