Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, MiLB.com will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. Past recaps include the Dominican Winter League and the Mexican Pacific League.
Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, MiLB.com will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. Past recaps include the <a href="https://www.milb.com/milb/news/winter-ball-roundup-dominican-republic" target="blank" >Dominican Winter League and the Mexican Pacific League._
Still reeling from the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico was presented with new widespread challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic last year. Baseball on the island was not unaffected.
The Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente, the island’s top level circuit, ordinarily fields six teams including legendary franchises like Clemente’s old team, the Cangrejeros de Santurce. Due to financial issues, the Cangrejeros were one of three clubs that opted out of the 2020-21 LBPRC season, along with the Gigantes de Carolina and Tiburones de Aguadilla.
That left the circuit with only four: the Atenienses de Manatí, Criollos de Caguas, Indios de Mayagüez and a developmental team known as RA12 after its founder, Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, which shared Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan with the Criollos.
An abbreviated campaign opened on Dec. 8 with only 18 regular-season games followed by two rounds of playoffs. Caguas finished the shortened fixture as the league’s regular-season champs with a 14-4 record and quickly dispatched RA12 (2-16) in a best-of-7 league semifinal from Jan. 2-7.
On the other side of the bracket, things were more complicated. After Mayagüez opened its series with a Game 1 win over Manatí on Jan. 2, that best-of-7 set was forced into 15-day halt due to COVID-19 reasons. Upon its resumption on Jan. 17, Mayagüez rolled to a sweep with a 30-8 shellacking in Game 2 and 20-7 rout in Game 3 before holding on for a 3-2 win in the decisive finale.
Despite waiting two weeks for their championship series opponent, the Criollos weren’t rusty. Caguas cruised to a four-game sweep of Mayagüez, hanging on for a 7-6 win in Game 4 to seize the crown. That game, according to the World Baseball Softball Confederation, was “described by the local press as ‘not advisable for those who suffer from a heart condition.’” Mayagüez trailed throughout before rallying with four runs in the bottom of the seventh to carry a 6-5 lead to the ninth in a bid to grab its first win of the series. Caguas immediately responded with two runs to retake the lead and closed out the sweep on a save by former Royals and Cubs prospect Fernando Cruz.
The championship was the Criollos’ 19th all-time -- the most in league history -- and third in the past five seasons.
Eighth-ranked Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran stole the show for Caguas during the LBPRC postseason after an up-and-down regular season. Eight games into his season, Duran was batting .087/.323/.087. On Dec. 18, the outfielder began a five-game hitting streak during which he went 11-for-22 with two doubles, nine runs scored and eight RBIs to lift his slash line to .289/.431/.333.
Duran’s playoff run was just as impressive. Over seven games, the 2018 seventh-round pick hit .280/.406/.640 in the Criollos’ two series sweeps. The championship series was his most impressive showing. After an 0-for-3 Game 1, he went 5-for-12 with his first two homers of the LBPRC season, two doubles, six runs scored and six RBIs en route to capturing series MVP honors.
Even after the LBPRC season was over, Duran continued his strong work. At the Caribbean Series, the Long Beach State product batted .400/.500/.640 in seven games, helping to lead Puerto Rico to the championship game, where the team fell to the Dominican Republic.
Minnesota’s No. 21 prospect Jose Miranda, Duran’s teammate with the Criollos, was stellar during the regular season with a .302/.377/.472 line in 15 games. Like Duran, he also surged in the playoffs on the way to the league title, batting .318/.429/.545. The infielder spent 118 games with Class A Advanced Fort Myers in 2019, hitting .248/.299/.364 after starting the season at age 20.
On the pitcher’s mound, No. 11 Yankees prospect Luis Medina was one of the most impressive arms on the circuit. In four starts for the Indios, Medina struck out an eye-popping 32 batters while walking only six over 16 2/3 innings, posting a 0.54 ERA with one earned run allowed and stifling opponents to a .125 average against. The right-hander, who signed with the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, hits triple-digits with his 75-grade fastball according to MLB Pipeline and should pitch at the upper Minors in 2021.
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.