First off, I want to get something straight. I know Winter and Fall League performances don't mean a whole lot when it comes to how a player will perform that following Spring. A good season in the Dominican Republic certainly doesn't make a player, but a bad season in Arizona Fall League certainly doesn't break a player either.
However, it is interesting nonetheless to see which players played well and which ones didn't in the "off-season" nonetheless. Like I said before, I'm not putting too much salt into these, but I'm not completely ignoring them as well. Good or bad play should be recognized regardless of the level or season.
That being said, before I go into the "Winners and Losers of Fall and Winter League 2009" I also want to clear two things:
1.) I will not analyze Pablo Sandoval or Nate Schierholtz.
2.) I will only be referring to standard statistics.
For the first issue, we know Panda and Nate are going to be starting next season. Randy Winn looks to be joining New York next season, and unless Schierholtz gets hurt, or John Bowker looks like the second coming of a young Ryan Klesko in Spring Training, Schierholtz will be starting in Right Field come Opening Day. The same goes for Pablo. He's the third baseman, whether he hits .400 or .200 in Venezuela Winter League. What I really want to look at are guys on the cusp of making or being released from the team, for I feel Winter and Fall league play is much more important for those guys than ones who pretty much have a guaranteed position on next season's squad.
As for issues number two, that simply comes from what I have available. I wish Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs had GB/FB rates for Dominican Winter League, but unfortunately, they have much bigger fish to fry than finding out what Geno Espineli's Pitch Value in PWL play was. So, for the most part, I'll be using standard statistics (batting average, OPS, WHIP, ERA, etc.) for this evaluation of these players in Fall and Winter League.
Okay, now that all that stuff is out of the way, onto the "Winners and Losers of Fall/Winter League 2009" for the San Francisco Giants! (I'm only doing the Giants by the way, so don't think I'm doing this for the Mariners, Rangers etc; I don't care how Justin Smoak did, even though I think Justin Smoak is a hell of player).
(Note: the post ran long, so I split it into two. Check out the "Losers" in the following post tomorrow).
Frandsen is on the cusp of being jettisoned from San Francisco. All the signs point to it: the acquisition of Freddy Sanchez at the July Trade Deadline last season, the re-signing of Sanchez and Juan Uribe this off-season, Emmanuel Burriss coming back from injury. Frandsen, who had a solid campaign in 2007, hasn't seemed to recover from the 2008 Achilles injury that derailed him that season. In 2009, He was either buried in Fresno, or buried on the Giants' bench.
However, if Frandsen wanted to send a message to general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy that he can be a solid option for the Giants in 2010, then his Winter League play may have been it. In PWL (Puerto Rican Winter League) play, he posted a .337 batting average, a .396 OBP, a .907 OPS, hit two homers and drove in 14 RBI. Frandsen was a force of nature in Puerto Rico, and finally started to show some of the promise that many Giants fans saw during that stretch run in 2007.
Now, the jury is still out whether or not Frandsen will still be wanted come Opening Day. With a team chock-full of infielders, Frandsen may not have a spot on this team in general and may just be the odd-man out. However, Frandsen needed to show Giants brass this off-season that he was still worth keeping on the roster, and fortunately for Frandsen, he proved it and then some.
You want to know why the Giants' shortstop of the future got an invite to Spring Training this year? I guarantee you his season in Arizona Fall League play was probably the culprit. Crawford absolutely tore it up for the Scottsdale team this fall, as evidenced by his .312 batting average, two home runs, 10 RBI, 12 BB, .396 OBP and .850 OPS. Crawford proved to be a real star this Fall, and also gave comfort to Giants fans that the Giants organization doesn't just produce Brian Bococks at shortstop in the farm system.
Granted, Crawford is still young (he just turned 23) and is probably a long shot to make the roster with Edgar Renteria still under contract for this season. However, after a stellar Fall in Scottsdale, Crawford should be a guy to watch this Spring Training. It definitely isn't impossible to think that he could be competing for the Giants' shortstop position as early as 2011 if he continues the progress he made in AFL play.
Pill not only earned an invitation to Spring Training this year, but he also earned a spot on the 40-man roster this year, and seems to be in a good position to compete for the starting position with Travis Ishikawa in 2011 after Aubrey Huff is gone. While many Giants fans questioned the release of Jesus Guzman, Pill certainly makes the decision easier to swallow. Pill put up solid numbers in Venezuela Winter League as he had a .303 batting average, a .385 OBP, and a .901 OPS. He also showed some power, as evidenced by his five home runs and 19 RBI.
Is Pill ready to contribute to the Giants next year? Probably not. He only had nine walks in 89 AB in VWL play, so he could use some time in the minors to work on his plate patience. That being said, Pill proved to be a surprise this Winter League season, and should not only be carefully watched this Spring Training, but in 2010 as well. If the Huff experiment falters, don't be surprised to see Pill giving Ishikawa a spell from time to time.
Casilla is coming off two bad seasons in Oakland, and thankfully, his Winter campaign in the Dominican Winter League gave Giants fans a little bit of hope that his acquisition may not be a waste of money. In 14.1 IP, Casilla has 13 strikeouts, a 2.51 ERA and a WHIP of 0.98. 0.98! That's dominating, regardless of the fact it is Winter League play.
Casilla definitely has the ability to strike guys out, and he also has decent control (he only walked five guys in DWL play). That being said, Casilla has tanked in Oakland the past couple of years, and at 30-years-old, he isn't exactly on the upswing in terms of his career either. Hopefully, his solid numbers in the Dominican Republic, as well as a change of scenery (though not much of a change, for he's just coming across the Bay) will rejuvenate Casilla in 2010. With Alex Hinshaw and Kevin Pucetas on thin ice in terms of making the roster, Casilla, with a strong Spring, could definitely be a contributor to the Giants bullpen come Opening Day.
Tony Pena Jr.:
I know I made fun of him. I know that he used to be a shortstop and now converted to a pitcher. Regardless of the fact that he was once dubbed the Kansas City Royals' "Shortstop of the Future," Pena may actually have a decent career as a relief pitcher.
In 18 IP in DWL play, Pena absolutely tore it up. He allowed only 13 hits and seven walks, and he also managed to strike out 13 in addition to posting a 1.11 WHIP. Those numbers are not only surprising, but comforting, especially considering most Giants fans don't think Pena will contribute at all considering he spent most of his career as a shortstop.
To look at the situation realistically though,Pena is definitely a little raw as a pitcher, and for him to start out in the bullpen for the Giants in 2010 is also a longshot. However, if Pena can put up solid numbers in Fresno to start the year, don't be surprised to see the former "bust" infielder get a chance to show what he can do as a pitcher at the Major League level. It would be like Rick Ankiel in St. Louis, only reverse.