When the last out was recorded in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets, that signaled the end of the baseball season, right? Well, yes and no. While it did mean the end of Major League Baseball until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next February, there is plenty of winter league ball being played by players aspiring to either get to the big dance for the first time—or to return to the big leagues for a second shot at fame. The latter case pertains to many of the Bridgeport Bluefish, charter members of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball—widely accepted as the top independent circuit in the land. Currently, eleven ‘Fish from the 2015 roster are continuing to fine tune their game in warmer weather. Most are playing against other Bluefish in the same league, and some even together on the same team.
In the Mexican Pacific League, outfielder Welington Dotel, recently named the 2015 Atlantic League Player of the Year, and infielder C.J. Retherford are together on the Águilas de Mexicali (Mexicali Eagles) roster. Their Bluefish teammate, outfielder Nick Van Stratten, plays for the Tomateros de Culiacán (Tomato Growers of Culiacán)
While with the Bluefish, Dotel played 133 games, batting .340—the second highest BA in the Atlantic League—with 68 runs scored, eight home runs, 68 RBIs, and 45 stolen bases. He was a 2015 Atlantic League All-Star, and came in first place in the All-Star Home Run Derby, held during the All-Star festivities at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. At season’s end, Dotel was selected to the first-ever Red, White, & Blue All-Defensive Team. Currently, he is putting up impressive numbers in Mexico, as he leads the league with a .446 batting average, a .707 slugging percentage, and a .485 on-base percentage. In 22 games, he has two home runs, 16 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.
Retherford played just 17 games with the Bluefish, but drove in 12 runs and scored four runs while hitting .226. In Mexico, he is doing substantially better at the plate, hitting.321 with three homers, 16 RBIs, and 12 runs scored.
Van Stratten began the 2015 season with the Bluefish and played 30 games before his contract was purchased by Reynosa of the Mexican League. While with the ‘Fish, he hit .352 with 20 RBI, 23 runs scored, and 9 stolen bases. Van Stratten played just three games in Culiacán before suffering a wrist injury, which he is still recovering from. Dotel and Retherford have matched up against Van Stratten three times so far this season, with three games scheduled for later this month and three more in December.
In the Venezuelan League, right-handed pitcher Cory Riordan plays for the Leones del Caracas (Caracas Lions), against infielder Luis Antonio Rodriguez with the Navegantes del Magallanes (Magallanes Navigators) and infielder Ildemaro Vargas with the Cardenales de Lara (Lara Cardinals).
Riordan made 18 appearances with the ‘Fish (17 starts) and finished with five wins, 82 strikeouts and a 3.61 ERA in 117.0 innings. In Venezuela, he has made six starts and collected three wins with a 4.45 ERA, striking out 15 batters in 30.1 innings.
With the Bluefish, Rodriguez played in 59 games, collecting a .305 batting average with 19 RBI and 21 runs scored. He is currently batting .295 in Magallenes, with one home run, eight RBI and 10 runs scored in 23 games.
Vargas played the first 30 games of the season with the Bluefish. He hit .273, drove in eight runs, crossed the plate 17 times, and stole seven bases. With Lara, he is hitting .279 with four RBI and eight runs scored in 11 games.
Four Bluefish hurlers are participating in the Dominican League – southpaw Robert Carson and righty Parker Frazier are with the Gigantes del Cibao (Cibao Giants), while lefties Wander Perez and Greg Smith are tossing for the Estrellas de Oriente (literal translation: “Of the Eastern Star” – based in San Pedro de Macorís).
While with the ‘Fish, Carson was a standout reliever who eventually had the chance to start 12 games on the mound. In 23 total appearances, he collected seven wins with a 2.88 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 78.0 innings pitched. He has struck out seven batters in 5.1 innings pitched with Cibao.
Frazier was with the Bluefish early on in the 2015 season, appearing in just six games (all starts), and recording an impressive 1.80 ERA with three wins and 15 strikeouts in 35.0 innings. With Cibao, he has started one game, when he struck out five batters in 4.0 innings and did not allow a run.
Perez pitched just 5.2 innings for Bridgeport, giving up no runs and striking out one batter. Now, with Oriente, he has struck out three batters in 2.2 innings.
Greg Smith didn’t even make an appearance in a regular-season Bluefish game before his contract was purchased by the Atlanta Braves organization. With three starts and one victory, Smith has a 0.75 ERA with five strikeouts in 12.0 innings.
Finally, catcher Jobduan Morales is the lone ‘Fish in the Roberto Clemente League in Puerto Rico, playing for the Gigantes de Carolina (Carolina Giants). While with Bridgeport, Morales played 87 games and hit .257 with three home runs, 33 RBI and 23 runs scored. He has played in two games so far in Carolina, and has a .250 batting average with one RBI.
*All stats are as of November 5, 2015.