Detroit Tigers in winter leagues: Where players, prospects are competing this offseason

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers have several players, including four with experience in the major leagues, competing for teams in Latin America this offseason.

The Mexican Pacific League began Oct. 11, followed by the Dominican Professional Baseball League on Oct. 15, the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League on Oct. 22, the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico) on Nov. 4 and the Colombian Professional Baseball League on Nov. 11.

Two players, as of Dec. 2, are members of the Tigers’ 40-man roster: right-handed reliever Ángel De Jesus and outfielder Bligh Madris. Righty reliever Luis Castillo and infielder Jermaine Palacios were removed from the 40-man in November but are still in the organization.

This list contains Tigers currently playing and expected to play in the winter leagues this offseason. If additional players join the mix, the list will be updated.

WHAT WE THINK: Evaluating each Tigers player entering offseason of change under new leadership

WHAT HAS HAPPENED: Recapping roster moves from Tigers boss Scott Harris so far this offseason

Dominican Winter League

Age: 27.

Team: Águilas Cibaeñas.

The buzz: Most of Castillo’s 2022 season was spent in Triple-A Toledo, where he dominated with a 1.74 ERA, 11 walks and 39 strikeouts over 41⅓ innings in 40 relief appearances. His arm slot — between three-quarters and sidearm — separates him from other depth relievers. The Tigers promoted Castillo, who spent 11 years in the minor leagues, in August for his MLB debut. The 6-foot-3 righty fired 3⅔ scoreless innings and struck out four batters without conceding a walk. He throws a sinker, slider and changeup.

Age: 25.

Team: Gigantes del Cibao.

The buzz: De Jesus bounced between Triple-A Toledo and Detroit last season, pitching as a reliever in 44 games for the Mud Hens and eight games for the Tigers. The 6-4 righty has elite extension and consistently throws in the mid-90s. He primarily relies on sinkers and sliders but also has a changeup. The Tigers kept De Jesus on the 40-man roster amid the November teardown, meaning he could be viewed as a development project. He posted a 2.13 ERA with four walks and seven strikeouts over 12⅔ innings with the Tigers.

Age: 24.

Team: Águilas Cibaeñas.

The buzz: Pena is virtually unknown outside the Tigers’ organization. He signed in March 2019 out of the Dominican Republic and spent most of the 2022 season as a starting pitcher for Low-A Lakeland. He appeared in 19 games (15 starts) for the Flying Tigers, four games (one start) for High-A West Michigan, one game for Double-A Erie and two games for Triple-A Toledo. Spanning all levels, Pena logged a 4.22 ERA with 43 walks and 120 strikeouts over 98 innings in 26 games (16 starts). His fastball averages 90 mph, topping out at 92 mph, but his changeup and curveball have devastated opponents at the lower levels. He also throws a slider.

Mexican Pacific Winter League

Age: 26.

Team: Sultanes de Monterrey.

The buzz: A former ninth-round pick, Madris received his first taste of the big leagues in 2022 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, batting .117 with 10 walks and 31 strikeouts in 39 games. He also hit .297 with 11 home runs, 33 walks and 74 strikeouts across 81 games at the Triple-A level. The Tampa Bay Rays claimed him off waivers in September, then the Tigers did the same in November. He plays both corner outfield positions, along with limited — but serviceable — action at first base. Madris feasts on right-handed pitchers and has two minor-league options remaining.

Venezuelan Winter League

Age: 26.

Team: Cardenales de Lara.

The buzz: The Tigers claimed Palacios off waivers from the Minnesota Twins in October, removed him from the 40-man roster Nov. 10 and re-signed him to a minor-league contract four days later. He provides depth at all four infield positions and corner outfield. Palacios hit .143 with two home runs, four walks and 27 strikeouts in 30 games for the Twins last season, making his MLB debut in late May. He added a .283 batting average with 14 homers, 34 walks and 102 strikeouts in 120 games for Triple-A St. Paul.

Puerto Rican Winter League

Age: 24.

Team: Leones de Ponce.

The buzz: The most notable Tiger in the winter leagues is Cruz, the son of José Cruz Jr. and the grandson of José Cruz. The younger Cruz, a third-round pick in the 2020 draft from Rice, struggled in 2021 (and wasn’t invited to minor-league minicamp in February) but bounced back in 2022. He hit .233 with eight home runs, 76 walks and 111 strikeouts in 109 games for High-A West Michigan. He then joined Double-A Erie for eight games to end the regular season, batting .200 with five walks and seven strikeouts. Cruz is the starting shortstop for Leones de Ponce but can handle second base and third base. His father, grandfather and uncles previously played in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Age: 20.

Team: Criollos de Caguas.

The buzz: The Tigers selected Oliva in the 19th round of the 2022 draft from New Mexico Military Institute. One player from NMMI has reached the big leagues: Tony Phillips, who played 2,161 games and collected 2,023 hits across parts of 18 seasons, including five in Detroit. After the draft, Oliva pitched two games for the rookie-level Tigers in the Florida Complex League. The 6-2 reliever, known for his fastball and curveball, posted a 6.75 ERA with three walks and four strikeouts in 2⅔ innings. He is a long-term project.

Colombian Winter League

Age: 18.

Team: Vaqueros de Montería.

The buzz: Perea joined the Tigers as an international signing in January 2021 and has spent the past two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He hit .169 with seven walks and 33 strikeouts over 22 games in 2021, then .293 with 13 walks and 27 strikeouts over 40 games in 2022.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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