Written by Ben Wilson Photos by MiLB.com
Nate Orf, 2B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Current Winter League Team: Tiburones de La Guaira
When setting out to construct a baseball team (particularly a minor league team), you need players who will put the team above himself and dawn different gloves when needed. Orf is proof of that, having the unique distinction of playing all 9 fielding positions in one game. Primarily playing 2B (612.2 Inn), RF (243.2 Inn), and 3B (99.1 Inn) this past season for AAA Colorado Springs, Orf really stood out on the offensive side of things, where he blasted 9 HR in the last two months of the season.
I had the distinct pleasure of being on a Twitter thread with a few talented writers (who are all a highly recommended follow: Ralph Lifshitz @ProspectJesus, John Calvagno @SALNotes, and Luke Siler @The_Luke_Siler) who dug a little deeper into Orf’s second half performance. Ralph observed that Orf slashed a robust .341/.429/.627 in the second half to go along with his 9 HR, while playing in some unfriendly-neutral HR parks. Luke recognized his 48% fly ball rate to 6.5% swinging strike rate, putting him in elite MLB company with names like Justin Turner, Matt Carpenter, and Anthony Rendon. John looked at his .187 ISO, which puts him in the above average to great range for his offensive and extra-base hit output. We were excited to look through these numbers and reach out to Orf himself. Orf was gracious in responding (really appreciate it, Nate!), and kind and humble in our praise: he credits working with swing guru Rick Strickland (@SwingRehab) on making some swing changes and seeing such positive results. (As a side note: numerous MLB hitters have worked with Strickland on revamping their swing, most notably this year, Matt Adams of the Cardinals/Braves put together a heck of a year from his work with Strickland).
Orf played great down in Venezuela (he wrapped up his tenure just a short time ago), where he put up an impressive .337 AVG to go along with a substantial .451 OBP. With nearly as many BB (14) as K (15), Orf primarily batted out of the 2-hole in the lineup. While Orf did not get selected in the Rule 5 draft as some thought he might, he has the tools and makeup to be a versatile contributor for the Brewers, and a guy that is willing to do his part to help the team win. Plus, he has an 80-grade name. Kudos to Nate for his hard work, and here’s hoping for his continued success!
Rangel Ravelo, 1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Current Winter League Team: Cardenales de Lara
The 25-year-old Cuban-born first baseman/corner outfielder has played in the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and now St. Louis Cardinals minor league systems. Originally drafted by the White Sox as a 6th round pick in 2010, Ravelo was traded to Oakland, along with Marcus Semien, in the Jeff Samardzija deal in December 2014. Ravelo has historically been a high OBP, lower K hitter with a blush of power. While Ravelo has put together some excellent performances in the minor leagues through his professional career, he does not possess the game-changing power that many teams ask of in their first base/corner outfield profile. This is rather unfortunate, since Ravelo has done nothing but be a solid contributor, producing a cumulative .297/.365/.428 through 8 minor league seasons and 675 games. The Cardinals are golden at finding players that peak a little later on in their careers (see, Jose Martinez), and Ravelo’s .395/.455/.565 performance through 124 AB for the Cardinales (wonder if the team placement was a coincidence) is certainly worthy of more attention.
Omar Bencomo, RHP, Free Agent (2017: Miami Marlins)
2017 saw Omar begin the year pitching for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. In three relief apperances, Bencomo surrendered 9 H and 4 ER, with 4BB and 8K over 7.1 IP. After the WBC, Bencomo pitched in the Miami
Jeter’s Marlins system at the AA and AAA levels, pitching primarily as a starter. While the K rate this past year took a significant jump upwards from prior years, Bencomo still surrenders quite a bit of contact. Hopeful to latch on with another organization, the Venezuelan league has been unfortunately tough for Bencomo during his 12 starts, where he has a 4.76 ERA, 1.51 WHIP while allowing 83 H in 64.1 IP. It has been a lot of innings for the soon to be 29 year old right-hander this season, and Bencomo is a name to keep an eye on as a spot starter, long relief or organizational depth candidate.
Alberth Martinez, OF, San Diego Padres
Current Winter League Team: Navegantes del Maglianes
Martinez shot through the Padres system as a 20 year old back in 2011. Playing primarily in rookie ball, he also appeared in a few AAA games that season. However, Martinez’s development has somewhat stalled since then, peaking at the AA level. Approaching his 27th birthday next month, Martinez has put together a reasonable output in the Venezuelan league, with 6 HR and 12 2B to go along with .282/.314/.452 through 47 games (177 AB). He has also chipped in a perfect 4-4 in SB attempts, going along nicely with his minor league career percentage of 71% (68 SB in 96 attempts). The concerning part of Martinez’s profile is his low OBP profile, where he has a K rate north of 20% with only 9 BB in Venezuela. Hence, he is hitting 9th in the Navegantes lineup these days. He did have 4 RBI (3 with 2 outs) in a recent rout of the Tiburones, and here’s hoping that he can move up in the lineup, and in the Padres system this year.
A Bonus Notable Performer:
Freddy Garcia, RHP, Tigres de Aragua
The 41-year-old finesse hurler has opened my eyes for his studly Venezuelan league performance. “The Chief” has a sterling 2.06 ERA, and 31K/3BB in 39.1 IP (9 G, 7 GS). While Shoehi Ohtani has grabbed much of the international pitching attention these days, Garcia is a wonderful pitching story in his native Venezuela right now. A 2x All-Star, the 15-year MLB veteran last pitched with the Atlanta Braves in 2013.
Please follow Ben Wilson on Twitter @TBDubbs11 for more MLB prospect news and updates. Thanks!