Several Padres players are taking part in the Dominican Baseball League, including Jorge Mateo.
Due to the shortened regular season’s limitations, more Major League Baseball players are taking part in winter ball this offseason.
Historically, the Dominican Baseball League has served as an avenue for Padres prospects to get more at-bats or injury-prone players to find their footing. Last offseason, Franchy Cordero hit .364 in nine games with Leones del Escogido. He was no stranger to winter ball, having played with Escogido in three consecutive offseasons.
But with the COVID-shortened season wreaking havoc, most players had approximately one-third the at-bats they would have had otherwise. Águilas Cibaeñas features a lineup with names like Victor Robles, Melky Cabrera, Juan Lagares, Robel Garcia, and Wilmer Difo. In non-COVID seasons, the lineups would primarily be filled with lower-level prospects.
Lagares was signed to a minor league with the Padres but elected free agency mid-July before the season commenced. Having said that, one particular contest on Sunday was postponed due to weather and included several Padres players.
Starting lineups for the first game of the LIDOM season. Estrellas vs. Toros starts in a few minutes.
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) November 15, 2020
The Dominican Winter League implements the DH to provide the most opportunities for all hitters to get their at-bats in. And Francisco Mejia was scheduled to serve in that role for Estrellas. Mejia, 25, was expected to transition into a larger role, given the DH being implemented in the National League for the 2020 season.
But he recorded just three hits in 42 plate appearances while only taking one walk. Could he have shown a similar turn around as Jurickson Profar, who started the year 3-for-31? Sure, but the Padres couldn’t afford to have two or three black holes in the lineup, including Austin Hedges.
Mejia was optioned to the team’s alternate training site in mid-September when Austin Nola and Jason Castro proved no opportunities for Mejia to see the field. Castro is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Mejia could have a loose grip on the backup role for 2021, but Luis Campusano will push for a roster spot of his own.
And for Toros, Abraham Almonte and Jorge Mateo were scheduled to play in centerfield and at shortstop, respectively. Almonte, 31, signed a minor league deal with the Padres in January but wasn’t promoted to the active roster until early August. He hit .091 in just seven games and was designated for assignment on October 6. He opted for free agency and likely won’t be back next year.
Almonte is certainly no stranger to playing in winter ball. He’s spent the last 10 offseasons playing in the Dominican baseball leagues. Last year, he played in seven games for the DR in the Caribbean Series, hitting .350 with four doubles. Almonte is a serviceable fourth or fifth outfielder for a Major League team. With a strong showcasing, he could garner another minor league deal from another club with an invite to spring training.
Mateo was acquired a month before the shortened season began. The Padres recently completed the trade, sending Julio Perez to Oakland as the player-to-be-named later. Mateo was limited to 22 games in 2020 because of a positive COVID test. And he hit just .154 with nearly a 40 percent strikeout rate.
The 25-year-old played for Toros last offseason, hitting .197 in 37 games with 10 RBI’s. Mateo’s role on the 2021 roster remains unclear, but he can come into spring training with a lot of confidence with a strong showing in winter ball.