Yesterday LIDOM (Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana, the DR’s professional baseball league) held their first-year player draft—the draft de novatos—and six Mariners prospects were chosen over the sixteen rounds. Five of LIDOM’s six teams elected Mariners prospects; only the reigning champions, the Gigantes del Cibao (who took then-Mariners prospect Noelvi Marte in 2019), did not select a Mariner. In order to be eligible for the draft, a player must be Dominican-born or of Dominican ancestry (that’s how Toronto’s Ricky Tiedemann was able to be selected, much to the amusement of the LIDOM fans), and have reached the A ball level by August of this year. Once drafted, a player remains with their team for life until they are traded or released, regardless of whether or not they play in LIDOM in a given year, which adds to the weight of being selected by a team.
The LIDOM draft, and LIDOM play overall, might not make enormous ripples in the MLB-focused baseball world, but it’s incredibly important to these players and to the fans in the Dominican Republic. With only six teams covering the island, fans are passionately attached to their teams; each team has a specific color (red for Escogido, yellow for the Águilas, green for the Estrellas, blue for Licey, orange for the Toros, and maroon for the Gigantes), and something as simple as an orange heart in someone’s bio on social media can tell you they are a Torolio. A tremendous part of one’s identity as a Dominican baseball fan is wrapped up in whether or not you are a Liceista or have sworn allegiance to the República Escarlota of Escogido. This goes for the players, too, and being selected to a team is one of the great honors of their baseball careers, right alongside signing their first professional contracts or making the big leagues. The chance to play in front of friends and family in the league they grew up watching, sometimes even for their hometown teams, has tremendous emotional resonance, and you can see how much it means not only to players but to their families, as well; several players taken in the first round were represented by family members, proud fathers wiping away tears while accepting the hat and jersey, making speeches in voices thick with emotion. If the relatively restrained and sterile environment of the MLB Draft leaves you cold, I highly suggest watching a replay of this year’s LIDOM draft, which you can do for free, here.
The Mariners had six players selected in this year’s draft de novatos, which is the most since at least 2016 (which is also, admittedly, when I stopped counting back; the actual record might stretch back even further). The Mariners had four players taken in 2021 (the Noelvi draft), three in 2019 (the Julio draft), two in 2018, and none in 2017 (the Tatís Jr. draft). With such a bumper crop of selections in this year’s draft, this feels like a validation of Seattle’s improving international system, and also a credit to their player development system.
It is important to note that not every player drafted will play for the team that selected them; this is a draft for the future. MLB teams have to give permission for their players to play in LIDOM, which they don’t always grant based on a player’s health/injury risk. Clubs also tend to shut down starting pitchers, wanting them to rest their arms over the off-season. However, the chance to have players play in winter ball also offers benefits from the MLB side. It can be an opportunity for players who lost time to injury, as Clase did this season, to get some extra reps, and can also be a way to get young players extra exposure to the kind of pitching they’ll face in the upper minors. This could be especially valuable in advancing the career of players who have missed time due to the COVID shutdown, as Clase and Freuddy Batista both did, or also accelerating the timeline for someone like Axel Sánchez, who was only promoted to Modesto for August. Here’s a breakdown of each player from the Mariners system who was selected, and the team they’ll be playing for:
OF Jonatan Clase (2nd round, Toros del Este)
The 20-year-old Clase was the first player selected in the second round, seventh overall. The Mariners signed Clase out of his hometown of Santo Domingo for just $30,000 back in 2018, but “el pequeño,” who was once sent home by a coach in the DR for being “too small” to play, has performed well at every level where he’s been assigned. This year, his 55 stolen bases led the California League, and he combines that with some above-average pop in his bat, while his elite speed allows him to stretch singles into doubles, and doubles into triples (he led the Mariners system this year with 11 of them, almost double what the next-closest player had). LIDOM ball would be a good challenge for Clase in getting him some exposure to tougher pitching, and would also help him make up some time lost after having to miss time this year with some scattered injuries. Clase was able to be in attendance at the draft, and says it was special to be able to share that achievement with his loved ones. “I am grateful to God for allowing me to fulfill one of my dreams, which was to belong to a Dominican team. That moment was very special.”
Mariners prospect Jonatan Clase is the second-round pick of the Toros del Este, and the first player to be in the building to do a live interview. Even if you don't speak Spanish you can see the emotion he feels. pic.twitter.com/MvY7fJn4EY— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 15, 2022
SS Axel Sánchez (5th round, Tigres del Licey)
Licey has a reputation for being the Yankees of the DR, and true to their MLB doppelgänger, made a cagey selection by choosing Sánchez, who was barely eligible for this year’s draft, in the fifth round. The 19-year-old Sánchez was called up to Modesto on July 30 as a replacement for Edwin Arroyo, traded away in the Luis Castillo deal, with limited expectations on the glove-first shortstop in replacing one of the system’s best performers. However, Sánchez shined over his month-plus in Modesto, showing advanced strike-zone awareness for such a young player, and complementing his stellar defensive play with a surprising amount of pop in the box. Sánchez is still young and developing as a pro, but would still benefit enormously from getting to be around the talent Licey packs onto its roster every year. For his part, Sánchez is thrilled to be chosen by Licey, his family team and the team he grew up rooting for. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a child.”
C Freuddy Batista (10th round, Leones del Escogido)
The third catcher taken in the rookie draft, Batista is well-respected in the Mariners system for his leadership and game-calling abilities, as well as his precision behind the dish. At the plate, he fits the mold of the slugging catcher, a three true outcomes player who strikes out a fair amount but also knows how to take a walk. He was delighted to be selected by the Leones del Escogido, fulfilling a wish made by his grandfather, a proud Escogidista. “It was a special moment for me to make my abuelo’s dream come true,” says Freuddy.
What a moment for Freuddy Batista and his family ❤️ Freuddy joins Julio Rodríguez as part of the Escogido family. pic.twitter.com/agj6TFy3li— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 15, 2022
Batista missed some time earlier this season with a shoulder injury, so could very much benefit with some extra reps in LIDOM. As a strong receiver behind the plate, the Leones pitching staff would also benefit from the opportunity to throw to Freuddy.
LHP Raúl Alcántara (11th round, Estrellas Orientales)
Alcántara was somewhat of a surprising selection as he didn’t put up video-game numbers out of Modesto’s bullpen this year, but in his first year stateside in 2021, he struck out almost 30% of batters faced. He still has to get a handle on his walks, but the raw stuff—a fastball that sits 95 and a slider with late movement that elicits a lot of whiffs when he has it working, both of which come from the left side—shows big strikeout potential. Manny Acta, Seattle’s third base coach and former vice president of baseball operations for the Estrellas, might have put Alcántara on the club’s radar.
Raul Alcantara strikes out the side in the 7th. pic.twitter.com/CsHpKbVUdw— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) April 24, 2022
RHP Joseph Hernández (12th round, Águilas Cibaeñas)
Hernández was a workhorse for Modesto this year, leading the California League in strikeouts (and, for those of you who like rate stats over counting stats, striking out almost 30% of batters faced), so it’s hard to see the Mariners granting permission to rack up even more mileage on Hernández’s arm, especially as he had to miss some time late in July with injury. However, as Hernández is just a tad young for the Arizona Fall League, getting him a few challenging innings in LIDOM might be an excellent way to give the young-but-not-that-young pitcher a glimpse at some higher-level competition and perhaps accelerate his developmental timeline, as like most other prospects, Hernández was forced to sit out the 2020 season due to the pandemic. Hernández’s stuff is truly wicked, with wiffleball-like movement, and it would be fun to see him given a chance to shine on a big stage.
11 strikeouts for Joseph Hernandez tonight, who now has 115 on the year so far and is the California League K leader. pic.twitter.com/0DEv0rEmWN— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 12, 2022
RHP Juan Mercedes (14th round, Escogido)
Unlike the other players who came out of Modesto, Mercedes spent this year with the High-A Everett AquaSox, where he threw a seven-inning no-hitter back in May. Mercedes is excellent at controlling the strike zone, and although his strikeout rate took a bit of a hit with the promotion to High-A ball, he still struck out 28% of batters faced, thanks to a combination of a mid-90s fastball, a tight slider, and a nasty, kneebuckling changeup.
Juan Mercedes strikeout #10 in 6 innings. pic.twitter.com/6Tghl7o8e1— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) June 29, 2022
Mercedes said it was a lot of fun to watch the draft at home with his family and to see his friends and teammates be selected. “I was talking to them constantly, and to see their joy and happiness as they were selected was great, and then when my turn came, the whole family was waiting for this moment, it was a moment of happiness for everyone.” Well, almost everyone—thinking the draft only went 11 rounds, Mercedes’s father left the party disappointed and had to be called back later to celebrate with the family. “Then he was happy,” said Juan.