Manny Ramirez homered in his first at-bat with the Aguilas Cibaeñas, which also welcomed Joaquin Arias this week to make a move on the Estrellas Orientales for the top spot in the standings as the Dominican Winter League heads into the second half of its regular season.
Ramirez, playing in the Dominican League for the first time in 17 years, homered on the first pitch he saw from Escogido Leones starter Daniel Cabrera, the league’s ERA leader, and has since gone 4-for-10 in three games.
An apparent ankle sprain forced him to the bench for the weekend, but Ramirez is scheduled to return on Tuesday, when the Aguilas take on the Licey Tigres, a team which showed promise early but has since plummeted to the bottom of the standings.
Despite productive starts from Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon and Mike Olt, who figures prominently in the Texas Rangers’ plans, Licey has not prospered as its pitching staff has given up 231 hits and 148 runs in 24 games. The only bright spot has been New York Yankees minor leaguer Juan Cedeno, who has two of Licey’s eight wins, both coming out of the bullpen.
But the story thus far this season has been the Estrellas’ bullpen, especially the left-right combination of Rommie Lewis and Jerry Gil. Lewis, who pitched in independent league ball this summer in Bridgeport, Conn., after spending part of 2010 and 2011 with the Blue Jays, is 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA while Gil, who was 7-1 at Triple-A Las Vegas for the Blue Jays in 2012, is 1-0 with six saves as he hopes to audition for a bullpen role with the new-look Blue Jays in the spring.
Offensively, the Estrellas have been relying on Junior Lake, who continues to lead the league in hitting with a .342 average, just slightly higher than the Aguilas’ Hector Luna, who is hitting .337.
Elsewhere in the league, the defending champion Escogido Leones announced that Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana will enter regular-season play on Nov. 25.
Wrigley fueling Caracas’ run to the top
Tampa Bay Rays prospect Henry Wrigley has had an impressive week for the Caracas Leones to help his team climb in the standings and put his name atop every offensive category.
Wrigley, who has played both the outfield and first base (positions in which the Rays have gaping holes), is leading the Venezuelen League in hits and RBIs, is tied for the lead in home runs with Philadelphia Phillies prospect Darin Ruf, and is eighth in average at .331.
His offense, along with the bats of Josh Kroeger and Brandon Barnes, is a key reason the Leones, after faltering early, are within three games of the lead, currently held by the Magallanes Navegantes.
Magallanes, which has counted on solid offensive output from Carlos Maldonado, Eliezer Alfonso and veteran minor leaguer Chris Nowak, acquired Victor Zambrano over the weekend in a trade with the Anzoategui Caribes to bolster the starting rotation, currently led by Sergio Perez, Gustavo Chacin and Eric Junge.
Meanwhile, the Zulia Aguilas remain a game and a half off the pace mainly due to the league’s best offense led by Freddy Galvis, Jose Flores and Ernesto Mejia. Through 30 games, the Aguilas are batting a collective .287 with an on-base percentage of .351.
Culiacan relinquishes lead in Mexican League
The Culiacan Tomateros, who started the season on a 10-game win streak, lost 13 of 20 games and now find themselves in second place behind the surging Guasave Algodoneros, who capitalized on the power from Issmael Salas, the speed of Gil Velazquez and the entrance of Antonio Lamas into play to take over first place.
Salas, once a Chicago Cubs prospect and currently a Mexican Summer League mainstay, has clubbed eight homers with 23 RBIs while Velazquez is hitting .321 with seven stolen bases. Lamas is hitting .361 in his last 13 games with a 1.078 OPS. Also contributing to Guasave’s run up the standings are Chris Colabello and Baltimore Orioles prospect Zelous Wheeler, hitting .349 and .346, respectively.
Meanwhile, former Cincinnati Reds prospect Jesse Gutierrez is keeping the Hermosillo Naranjeros in the fight for the playoffs almost single-handedly by making a run at the Mexican League triple crown along with Obregon’s Barbaro Canizares and Culiacan’s Cory Aldridge.
Gutierrez and Aldridge are tied for the league lead in homers with 12 to Canizares’ 10, but Canizares is leading the league in RBIs with 30, while Gutierrez and Aldridge have 26 apiece.
Yasiel Puig makes his debut in Puerto Rico
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ highly-touted outfield prospect Yasiel Puig -- a Cuban defector who signed a seven-year, $42 million deal and is considered to have similar tools as Yoenis Cespedes -- suited up for the Mayaguez Indios and is expected to play until at least the end of the regular season in January.
Puig hit .354 in 23 games between the Arizona Rookie League and Class A Rancho Cucamonga this summer and was expected to play in the Arizona Fall League, but an injured right elbow kept him from action.
Also making his debut in Puerto Rico this week was former Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels starter Scott Kazmir, who threw four innings of shutout baseball for the Carolina Gigantes against the Ponce Leones.