Now that the Caribbean World Series has ended (with the Escogido Lions of the Domincan Winter League winning the title) and Giants' pitchers and catchers will be officially opening spring training in less less than 10 days, I thought it would be a good time to highlight the 2 best winter league performances by Giant prospects this offseason.
Both Hector Sanchez and Gregor Blanco had tremendous offensive seasons for the La Guaira Tiburones in the Venezuela Winter League over a 14 week period from October through January. They led their team to regular season division crown and all the way to the championship series (which they ended up losing 4 games to 2). Hector started out on fire and was leading the league in almost every offensive category throughout most of the season before fading slightly in the last 2+ weeks of the regular season and in the playoffs. Gregor Blanco, on the other hand, started out the first 3 weeks of the season hitting fairly well, but then he went on an offensive explosion for the rest of the regular season and all of the playoffs after the Giants signed him to a minor league contract on November 16th, and gave him an invite to the major league spring training camp. Blanco upped his game by so much that he ended up being named the MVP of the entire league at the end of the season.
To give you an idea what the level of competition is in the VWL, most evaluators would say that the level of play is comparable to an AA level American minor league, with the level fluctuating each year depending on which players are participating. They have a fair share of major league veterans, but the teams typically consist of mid- to upper-level minor league prospects. Like all of the winter leagues, the offense almost always dominates in the VWL due to the tendency for the best starting pitchers and starting pitcher prospects to skip winter league play. That being established, let's look at the specifics on how Hector and Gregor did.
Hector Sanchez(in 51 regular season games):
.339/.402/.548/.950 in 177 ABs, ISOp=.209, H=60, 2B=10, 3B=0, HR=9, BB=18 (9%), K=37 (18.6%)
Hector Sanchez(in 19 playoff games):
.279/.353/.459/.812 in 61 ABs, ISOp=.180, H=17, 2B=3, 3B=1, HR=2, BB=7 (10.3%), K=17 (25%)
You can see that Hector was able to hit for excellent power and average while putting up an above-average walk rate, which is something that he hasn't been able to do in his previous minor league seasons. The one worrisome thing to take note of was that his K-rate was a bit too high.
Gregor Blanco (in 57 regular season games):
.337/.478/.520/.998 in 196 ABs, ISOp=.183, H=66, 2B=14, 3B=5, HR=4, BB=47 (18.9%), K=46 (18.5%), SB=18 of 25 (72%)
Gregor Blancoafter signing with the Giants on Nov. 16th (in 32 games):
.376/.514/.578/1.092 in 109 ABs, ISOp=.202, H=41, 2B=8, 3B=4, HR=2, BB=27 (19.1%), K=23 (16.3%), SB=11 of 16 (69%)
Gregor Blanco (in 23 postseason games):
.322/.446/.567/1.013 in 90 ABs, ISOp=.245, H=29, 2B=2, 3B=1, HR=6, BB=20 (17.9%), K=21 (18.8%), SB=4 of 6 (68%)
As you can see, Blanco can be a prototypical leadoff hitter. He takes a ton of pitches and walks at elite rates, and he is also a speedy runner with excellent bat control. He is almost the exact opposite of what we've seen out of Andres Torres in the leadoff role over the past 2.5 seasons. Gregor chokes well up on his bat and usually takes short and controlled swings at pitches. Looking at his above stats, you can see that Gregor took his game to an elite level once he signed with the Giants in November. Not only did he significantly increase his BA and power output, but he actually managed to reach base in over half of his plate appearances. Blanco has always been a walk machine, but he took it to amazing levels this offseason. Then, he muscled up and hit 6 HRs in only 23 games during his run through the postseason. The main concerns with Blanco is that his k-rate was a bit too high and his basestealing success rate wasn't good.
To put their stats in perspective with what other hitters in the league did, let's look at the regular season numbers.
Hector ended up 2nd in BA; 3rd in OPS; 5th in HR; 7th in OBP.
Gregor ended up 1st in OBP, OPS, BB and SB; 4th in BA and SLG.
Both Hector and Gregor were rewarded after the season during the Venezuelan Winter League awards show. Gregor was named the MVP of the league, and Hector was named the Rookie of the Year as well as the Catcher of the Year (they only player to win 2 awards).