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Winter League Wednesday: Miguel Amaya crushes home run in Puerto Rican Winter League

4 years agoAndy Martinez and Lee Bosch

Spring training may be a couple of months away, but baseball doesn’t have an offseason with winter leagues heating up in the Caribbean and Central and South America. On Winter League Wednesday, we’ll fill you in on how current and former Cubs are performing and how other key NL Central rivals are stacking up. 

Miguel Amaya might not be big-league ready just yet, but he showed his bat-flip game plays at the major-league level. 

The Cubs’ top catching prospect is playing for the Criollos de Caguas in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente — the Puerto Rican Winter League and showed his power and moxie. Amaya crushed a home run to left field, admired it out of the box and threw his bat in celebration. 

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The homer extended the Criollos lead as they went on to beat the Atenienses de Manatí 3-1. Criollos is off to a perfect 7-0 start in the six-team league and takes on second-place Indios de Mayagüez on Wednesday and Thursday. 

It was the first hit of the winter league season for Amaya, who is 2-for-8 with 3 RBI in 3 games and has a .455 on-base percentage with a walk and 2 hit by pitches. 

Amaya spent the 2020 season at the Cubs’ alternate site in South Bend and is the Cubs third-best prospect, per MLB Pipeline. 

Trent Giambrone, who was drafted by the Cubs  in the 25th round of the 2016 draft and spent the 2019 season at Triple-A Iowa, has a 1.028 OPS in 24 plate appearances this season for Criollos.

Underwood Jr. to debut in Puerto Rico on Thursday

The potential for an all-Cubs battery exists on Thursday night for Criollos. 

Duane Underwood Jr., whose rights were acquired by Criollos in July, is scheduled to make his winter league debut Thursday when Criollos plays Indios de Mayagüez. 

“We are super happy with Duane Underwood’s arrival,” Criollos general manager Jesús Feliciano told Puerto Rican newspaper El Vocero. “He arrived in Puerto Rico six days ago. We followed the [COVID-19] security protocols in the correct manner. Wednesday, he will join the team in Mayagüez to be at the game with the boys and [Thursday] he will have his first start.”

Underwood Jr. struck out 27 in 20.2 innings of work with the Cubs in 2020. He had a 5.66 ERA in 17 appearances. 

Young pitching prospect shines in Mexico

Cubs’ pitching prospect Manuel Espinoza led his hometown Tomateros de Culiacán to a 7-0 win Saturday over Mayos de Navojoa in his third Mexican winter league start of the season. Espinoza shined, striking out 9 over 6 shutout innings, allowing 1 hit and walking none to earn his second win in as many starts. The lone hit came in the form of a lead-off single in the top of the 6th.

In his previous start, the 20-year-old worked 5 innings of 1-run ball, scattering 5 hits and striking out 2 in a 9-1 Tomateros win

The young Mexican made his rookie ball debut in 2019 for the Arizona League Cubs, where he held a team-leading 2.49 ERA (min. 10 IP) and team-best 1.7 walks-per-9 innings over 47.0 innings. 

With competitive minor league innings still in flux for 2021, a strong winter showing could pave the way to a 40-man roster spot next December. He will need to be added to it by then to avoid being exposed in the Rule 5 draft.

Espinoza signed with the Cubs for $400,000 in July of 2017, a class that includes current Tomateros teammate, infielder Luis Verdugo.

Other Notes

  • Hernán Pérez, who spent the 2020 season with the Cubs and at their alternate site, was named the player of the week in the Venezuelan Winter League. Pérez, who plays for Tigres de Aragua, was 13-for-28 with a 1.340 OPS, 2 home runs, 7 extra-base hits, 9 RBI and 2 stolen bases. 
  • José Martínez, who the Cubs acquired at the trade deadline from Tampa Bay but non-tendered at the end of the season, is playing in Venezuela for the Tiburones de La Guaira. Martínez is 5-for-16 with a double and 3 RBI in 5 games. 
  • Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martínez will join Aguilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Winter League and will start their game on Friday. Martínez is hoping to keep a place in the Cardinals rotation after missing a chunk of 2020 with COVID-19. 

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