Winter ball roundup: Puerto Rican League
Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, MiLB.com will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. Past recaps include the Dominican Winter League and the Mexican Pacific League.
Without a Minor League season in 2020, top prospects headed to various locations across the globe for offseason work. Over the next few weeks, MiLB.com will look at the highlights from winter ball seasons worldwide. Past recaps include the <a href="https://www.milb.com/milb/news/winter-ball-roundup-dominican-republic" target="blank" >Dominican Winter League and the Mexican Pacific League._
Still reeling from the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico was presented with new widespread challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic last year. Baseball on the island was not unaffected.
The Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente, the island’s top level circuit, ordinarily fields six teams including legendary franchises like Clemente’s old team, the Cangrejeros de Santurce. Due to financial issues, the Cangrejeros were one of three clubs that opted out of the 2020-21 LBPRC season, along with the Gigantes de Carolina and Tiburones de Aguadilla.
That left the circuit with only four: the Atenienses de Manatí, Criollos de Caguas, Indios de Mayagüez and a developmental team known as RA12 after its founder, Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, which shared Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan with the Criollos.
An abbreviated campaign opened on Dec. 8 with only 18 regular-season games followed by two rounds of playoffs. Caguas finished the shortened fixture as the league’s regular-season champs with a 14-4 record and quickly dispatched RA12 (2-16) in a best-of-7 league semifinal from Jan. 2-7.
On the other side of the bracket, things were more complicated. After Mayagüez opened its series with a Game 1 win over Manatí on Jan. 2, that best-of-7 set was forced into 15-day halt due to COVID-19 reasons. Upon its resumption on Jan. 17, Mayagüez rolled to a sweep with a 30-8 shellacking in Game 2 and 20-7 rout in Game 3 before holding on for a 3-2 win in the decisive finale.
Despite waiting two weeks for their championship series opponent, the Criollos weren’t rusty. Caguas cruised to a four-game sweep of Mayagüez, hanging on for a 7-6 win in Game 4 to seize the crown. That game, according to the World Baseball Softball Confederation, was “described by the local press as ‘not advisable for those who suffer from a heart condition.’” Mayagüez trailed throughout before rallying with four runs in the bottom of the seventh to carry a 6-5 lead to the ninth in a bid to grab its first win of the series. Caguas immediately responded with two runs to retake the lead and closed out the sweep on a save by former Royals and Cubs prospect Fernando Cruz.
The championship was the Criollos’ 19th all-time -- the most in league history -- and third in the past five seasons.
¡El #1️⃣9️⃣ se siente diferente!🐎— Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente🇵🇷 (@LBPRC) January 25, 2021
🏆@CriollosCaguas 🏆 pic.twitter.com/Ng0sKsIdWo
Eighth-ranked Red Sox prospect
Duran’s playoff run was just as impressive. Over seven games, the 2018 seventh-round pick hit .280/.406/.640 in the Criollos’ two series sweeps. The championship series was his most impressive showing. After an 0-for-3 Game 1, he went 5-for-12 with his first two homers of the LBPRC season, two doubles, six runs scored and six RBIs en route to capturing series MVP honors.
Eighth-ranked #RedSox prospect Jarren Duran is doing more than just trying to will the Caguas to the @LBPRC crown.— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) January 24, 2021
Even after the LBPRC season was over, Duran continued his strong work. At the Caribbean Series, the Long Beach State product batted .400/.500/.640 in seven games, helping to lead Puerto Rico to the championship game, where the team fell to the Dominican Republic.
Minnesota’s No. 21 prospect
On the pitcher’s mound, No. 11 Yankees prospect
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.