Rays Winter Ball Recap: Robinson Cancel Does Un-Catcher Things


There are certain things that catchers simply don’t do–hitting triples and stealing bases rank prominently among those things. In one game, 37 year old ex-catcher Robinson Cancel did both.

Dominican Winter League: Aguilas Cibaenas 13, Gigantes del Cibao 11 (10 innings)

This was a very high-scoring game, but it was a trio of Rays pitchers that made sure it wasn’t worse. The Gigantes were down 8-2 after 4 innings, but they proceeded to score 2 runs and Sergio Espinosa and Jhonny Nunez each tossed a scoreless inning to make sure those runs meant something. Espinosa lowered his ERA to just 0.96 in 9.1 innings pitched so far this winter. Cibao’s pitchers were less effective afterwards, but they were able to overcome it by scoring 7 runs between the 8th and 9th to send the game into extra innings. Juan Sandoval did what he could to stop them in the 9th, but after he entered with 1 out, the bases loaded, and his team ahead by 2, a potential double play ball off the bat of Moises Sierra turned into a Jonathan Villar error to score a run, and a sac fly tied the game at 11. But Sandoval wasn’t rattled when he came back out for the 10th after the Aguilas responded with a pair of runs, working around a single with two groundouts and a strikeout to seal Cibaenas’ win. Sandoval now has a 2.25 ERA in 13 innings pitched, and it will be interesting to see if the Rays decide to bring him back as a minor league free agent.

Mexican Pacific League: Naranjeros de Hermosillo 4, Yaquis de Obregón 3

Correctly determining that a 0.25 ERA in 36 innings at Indepenent ball was insufficient to prove he was worthy of big league teams’ attention, Jason Urquidez has not missed a beat this winter for the Naranjeros. Urquidez walked a pair of batters on Sunday, but he got around them with 3 strikeouts and 2 more groundouts to earn the win and continue his streak of 18 straight scoreless innings to begin Mexican Pacific League play. Urquidez has allowed just 7 hits and 6 walks in those 18 frames, striking out 15 in the process. The one concern is that it looks like the league may be adjusting to Urquidez as his strikeout to walk ratio has slipped to just 4-4 in his last 6.2 innings pitched, and Urquidez will have to continue proving himself to get the type of interest he hopes to get this offseason.

Aguilas del Mexicali 5, Venados de Mazatlán 1

Russell Branyan just continues to impress since joining the Aguilas, slamming a 2-run homer in this one to give him 4 homers and 12 RBI in just 10 games. Branyan has a .313/.511/.750 line in 45 plate appearances, walking 12 times compared to 8 strikeouts and even hitting successfully in his last 5 games. As recently as 2010, Branyan was a solid big league slugger. Now 37 years old, he is struggling to get one more chance. Henry Mateo went 0 for 4 for the Venados in the loss.

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League: Gigantes de Carolina 4, Leones de Ponce 3

To be fair, Robinson Cancel always was an excellent basestealer for a catcher, delivering 8 double-digit steal seasons including an improbable 28 bases in 32 attempts for Independent Edinburg in 2006. But now he’s 37. He can still steal bases? And triples were never Cancel’s thing at all as he hit just 13 in 20 professional seasons. Nevertheless, Cancel did both to help the Gigantes to victory in this game. Cancel went 2 for 3 with a triple, a walk, a stolen base, nad a run scored, raising his average on the RCPBL season to .306 and his OBP to .405 as he extended his hitting streak to six. Jesus Feliciano also went 0 for 2 with 2 walks and a run scored for Carolina, while Jose Ruiz pinch-hit and delivered an RBI single for Ponce. Then there was a player we haven’t discussed yet, former Devil Rays draft pick Ryan Fraser. Fraser didn’t sign as a 48th round pick by the D-Rays in 2006 before being a 16th round pick by the Mets 4 years later, and he had a nice season between High-A and Double-A in 2012 before struggling in more prolonged exposure to Double-A in 2013. Fraser has really been excellent so far for the Leones, managing a 2.45 ERA and a 5-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 7.1 innings pitched, but this game was unfortunate. Fraser allowed a single and a sac bunt in the 9th before his wildness from the regular season resurfaced and he allowed two straight wild pitches to end the game.

Venezuelan Winter League: Tiburones de La Guaira 5, Aguilas del Zulia 4

If we weren’t sure whether to call Virgil Vasquez a “Ray” after his one season at Triple-A Durham, this game is probably all the proof we needed. Vasquez suffered from Jeremy Hellickson syndrome in this game, tossing 6 shutout innings before collapsing to allow 4 runs while recording just one out in the 7th. It has just been that type of Winter ball for Vasquez, who has a 29-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 40 innings pitched but just 5.63 ERA. For La Guaira, meanwhile, Cesar Suarez rode his two straight strong games to get back into the three-hole for La Guaira and capitalized somewhat on the chance, going 1 for 4 with a run scored. Suarez getting moved all the way down to 7th was likely an overreaction as he’s hitting .284 on the VWL season, but moving back to third was probably an equal overreaction.

Tigres de Aragua 7, Caribes de Anzoátegui 2

Leslie Anderson‘s baby steps to get back on track continued in this game as he went 1  for 4. He now has a 2-game hitting “streak,” his first consecutive games with hits since his 16-gamer ended. He’s still just 5 for his last 28 (.179), and he has to keep hitting if he hopes to finally get the Rays’ attention. Hector Gimenez went 0 for 5 in the Aragua victory and he’s in an even bigger slump, going 1 for his last 17. The difference: he already has 37 major league games under his belt.