If the ALCS/NLCS and upcoming World Series isn’t quite satisfying your baseball fix, the fall/winter leagues just kicked off their seasons in the past few weeks.  The Arizona Fall League held their first games on October 4, the Venezuelan Winter League kicked off its season on October 12, and the Dominican Winter League started their season on October 14.

There are a number of Indians players and prospects participating in winter/fall baseball.  You can take a look at the full list here.  The Indians also have participants in the Puerto Rican Winter League (starts November 4), as well as the Panama Winter League and the Colombian Winter League.

I figured I’d take a look at some of the bigger names and intriguing prospects that are participating.

From the Major League club, there are two people playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, but for separate teams – Jeanmar Gomez (Tiburones de la Guaira) and Asdrubal Cabrera (Leones de Caracas).  Gomez showed great improvement toward the end of the season; hopefully he can build upon that in Venezuela this winter.  There are a few noteworthy prospects playing in Venezuela as well – infielder Luis Valbuena (who spent time in the Majors this season), and pitchers Rob Bryson, Paolo Espino, and Hector Rondon.  Rondon is a prospect that I’ve been a fan of for a while; he’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.  If his winter league experience goes well, perhaps he could be in the running for a spot on the Major League roster next spring.

In the Dominican Winter League there are three regulars participating, all with different teams – Fausto Carmona (Aguilas Cibaenas), Ubaldo Jimenez (Tigres del Licey), and Rafael Perez (Gigantes del Cibao).  The Indians hold an option on Fausto Carmona for the 2012 season and have yet to announce whether or not they’ll pick it up.  They said that they’d take their time deciding on Grady Sizemore’s option, perhaps they will take their time with Carmona as well?  It will be interesting to see how he performs in the winter league this off season and if that will have any influence on the decision to pick up the option.  I also hope that Jimenez works to achieve some consistency with his mechanics and performance this off season as well.  In the past, Rafael Perez has pitched as a starter in the winter league, with pretty good results.  (In 2009 he maintained a 0.33 ERA with 25 strikeouts).  When he struggled out of the bullpen in 2010, I kept hoping that the Indians would give him a shot as a starter.  He was a bit more consistent in 2011, and can probably be a bit more valuable out of the bullpen if he maintains his performance in 2012.  Other notable prospect in the Dominican Winter League – outfielder Jerad Head.

The final Major League player in the winter league is Shelley Duncan, who will play in the Panama Winter League for Indios de Mayaguez.  Throughout much of his career, Duncan has performed like the stereotypical Quad-A player (excellent numbers at Triple-A that just does not seem to translate to the Major League level).  In 2009, while a prospect with the New York Yankees, Duncan won the International League’s MVP award with the Yankees’ Triple-A club and set a franchise home run record.  At the end of the season, he really seemed to turn up the heat – perhaps more consistent at-bats will lead to a better performance.  Hopefully the winter league experience will help contribute to this.

Prospect to watch in the Arizona Fall League – pitcher T.J. McFarland.  I’ve been a fan since I followed him with the Kinston Indians.  All of the Indians prospects in the AFL play on the Phoenix Desert Dogs.

If you want to keep track of the Indians players and prospects participating in the various winter leagues, you can check out this site from MLB.  I plan to follow them, as the World Series will be over in a few short weeks.  I just don’t feel like waiting until March for more baseball!

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