Rays Winter Ball Recap: Russell Branyan Keeps Looking Unstoppable


To a certain extent, numbers in winter ball don’t matter at all. But when you get to a certain point, sometimes it’s impossible to ignore greatness. Russell Branyan has to keep this going, but after being a solid big league player not that long ago, his incredible performance for the Aguilas de Mexicali has caught someone’s attention.

Dominican Winter League: Tigres del Licey 3, Estrellas de Oriente 2 (13 innings)

In what might amount to a final appeal to the Rays to add him to their 40-man roster on the final day to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, Braulio Lara made his Dominican Winter League debut, for Licey, forcing the only batter he faced to pop up. Doesn’t look like it will be enough. Jesus Colome made an appearance for Licey in this one, going a third of an inning allowing a hit.

Leones del Escogido 3, Aguilas Cibaenas 2

Once a player falls out of affiliated ball to end up in the Mexican League, it is extremely hard to get back. When a player is in the Mexican League for multiple years, the odds of returning get even lower. Juan Sandoval has already overcome those odds, making it into the Rays’ organization last year and having a solid season between Double-A and Triple-A. Now it will be interesting what type of offers he receives as he hopes to do the impossible one more time and make the major leagues. He’s certainly isn’t hurting his case so far with his performance in the Dominican Winter League. Sandoval went 1.2 perfect innings for Cibaenas in this one, getting a huge double play to make sure the Aguilas stayed down just a run in the 5th, and he lowered his ERA to 1.98 in the process. Freddy Guzman went 0 for 2 with 2 walks and a run scored for the Leones in the victory.

Mexican Pacific League: Aguilas de Mexicali 13, Algodoneros de Guasave 1

What has gotten into Russell Branyan? Branyan has been playing out of his mind of late, but on Tuesday he took it to another level. Branyan went 4 for 4 with a homer, a double, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored. It was his second straight game with a homer and third in his last five, and by the way, he also has a six-game hitting streak going. In 50 plate appearance for Mexicali, Branyan has an insane .389/.560/.889 line, swatting 5 homers and 3 doubles while driving in 14 in 11 games. The craziest part may be that Branyan, infamous for his strikeout tendencies and lack of walks, has actually drawn 13 walks while striking out 8 times. Who knows what Branyan’s expectations were entering his stint in winter ball, but now anything less than a minor league offer from a big league organization would have to be a disappointment.

Tomateros de Culiacán 7, Naranjeros de Hermosillo 1

Jorge Cantu had another strong game for the Tomateros in the victory, going 2 for 3 with a walk and an RBI. He is starting to get his legs under him in winter ball as he has hit in his last 3 games, and the walk was his first and hopefully the first of many. Cantu had a big season in the Mexican League in 2013, hitting to a .270/.368/.617 line with 31 homers and a 66-42 strikeout to walk ratio in just 351 plate appearances. Cantu is still just 31, and it will be interesting to see whether he could get another chance if he follows up his strong regular season with an impressive showing for Culiacán.

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League: Cangrejeros de Santurce 8, Idios de Mayaguez 2

Looks like Victor Mateo is officially out of the Santurce rotation after he followed up his strong debut by lasting just a third of an inning in his second start. Relief, though, has suited Mateo just fine. Against Mayaguez, Mateo came through with his second straight strong appearance, allowing just a hit in 1.1 innings pitched, striking out 2 in the process. Mateo was rewarded with the win in the game for his efforts. Mateo broke through in the second half of the year as a starting pitcher for Double-A Montgomery, but it has been interesting seeing him in relief, the role he is likely to play as he hopes to push fora big league spot.

Venezuelan Winter League: Navegantes del Magallanes 4, Leones del Caracas 1

Not sure our Winter Ball Recaps have ever see a sequence like we saw from the Leones in this game. They had no Rays-related players in their starting lineup, but not one, not two, but three of them wound up pinch-hitting. Danny Dorn grounded out, but Bobby Abreu singled and Daniel Mayora had a bases loaded walk. Mayora was mashing for Caracas before a quad injury took him out of commision, and hopefully he’s almost ready to return to their starting lienup. Meanwhile for Magallanes, Robinson Chirinos went 0 for 4 but Jean Machi nailed down his first save, striking out 2 while working around a walk in the 9th. The walk was the bases-loaded one to Mayora after Jose Ortega had loaded the bases in the 9th without recorded an out, but Machi rebounded to strike out the next two batters he saw before forcing a groundout to end it. Interesting that Machi is back in winter ball after a tremendous season in relief for the San Francisco Giants in 2013, but he appears to be making the most of it.