While most baseball players take the winter months off, some head south to play in the Caribbean Leagues. This off season, four members of the Washington Nationals 40 man roster are plying their trade in two different leagues. They are minor league third baseman Carlos Rivero, relief pitcher Henry Rodriguez and catchers Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano.
Rivero and Rodriguez are playing for Leonos Del Caracas of the Venezuelan League. Rivero is still working his way up to the major leagues while Rodriguez is trying to hone his skills for another shot at the Nationals closers role.
The 24 year old Rivero was claimed by Washington after the Philadelphia Phillies put him on waivers in 2011. Because of his contract, he had to be placed on the 40 man roster. Rivero spent the entire 2012 season at Triple A Syracuse where he batted .303 with 10 home runs and 64 RBI.
The Nationals may have brought him in as insurance in case Ryan Zimmerman could not come back from shoulder surgery. Zimmerman seems on schedule with his rehab, so Rivero’s chances of moving up are slim. This has not stopped him from having a good winter as he is batting .283 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI.
Rodriguez is trying to bounce back after losing the closers role to Tyler Clippard last season. The 25 year old finished 2012 with a 1-3 record and 9 saves. Though Rodriguez has not thrown much this winter, he has been efficient. In three innings of work, Rodriguez has not given up a hit while striking out four and walking one. Washington hopes that this consistency will continue into spring training where the closers role is still open.
Leon is also playing in the Venezuelan League with Aguilas del Zulia. After coming back from a serious ankle injury suffered in his first big league game, he batted .267 in 12 games with the Nationals. In 32 games this winter, Leon is batting .244 with one home run and 10 RBI. Leon will try to keep his name in the logjam of Washington catchers this spring which includes Solano, Kurt Suzuki, and Wilson Ramos. Jesus Flores was not tendered a contract and is up for arbitration.
After playing 12 games for Washington last season, Solano joined Leonos del Escogito of the Dominican League. In 36 at bats, he is hitting .333 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI.
For many players from the Caribbean, playing winter ball is nothing more than an extension of their pro seasons. Before the days of million dollar contracts they were joined by many of their American contemporaries. This is no longer the case which may be a good thing for Rivero, Rodriguez, Leon and Solano. All are getting the much needed playing time that will make them better players.
So far, each is having a measure of success in the Caribbean which the Nationals hope carries over to spring training and the 2013 season.