Liga de Beisbol Dominicano Pitcher of the Year, Yunesky Maya and Rookie of the Year, Eury Perez, were both in action last night for the Leones de Escogido as they took on the Gigantes del Cibao in Round Robin Playoff action. Maya, the Cuban-born Nats' 29-year-old right-hander (who signed for 4-years and $6, $7.4 or $8 million depending upon your source) earned POY honors in the DWL after going (4-2) in eight starts and 41.0 IP for the Leones this winter in which he gave up 27 hits, 8 runs, 6 earned and 9 walks while recording 42 K's. Perez, 20, another international free agent signed out of the Dominican Republic, was the second-highest ranked outfielder behind Bryce Harper in the Nationals' system on Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's 2010 list of the Nats' top prospects after he posted a .299/.345/.381 slash line with 64 stolen bases in 77 attempts for the Class-A Hagerstown Suns in 2010 after winning the Gulf Coast League batting title in 2009.
In 37 DWL games this winter, Perez hit .345 with a .397 OBP, .388 SLG and 21 stolen bases in 25 attempts. In last night's Leones' win over the Gigantes, the Nats' prospect was 3 for 4 with his 3rd stolen base four games into the DWL Round Robin Playoffs. Maya struck out four in his first start of the postseason last night and got the win for 6.0 innings of work in which the Escogido starter gave up 4 hits, 2 walks and 1 ER. According to some who were watching and commenting on Twitter including Harry Pavlidis of Cubs f/x.com (@HarryPav) and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and ESPN (@Kevin_Goldstein), however, the right-hander struggled at times:
@Kevin_Goldstein: "#Nationals RHP Yunesky Maya starting to struggle in the 3rd; you can only get so far with 87-89 mph.
@HarryPav: "I've seen Maya a few times now. Best stuff I've seen in winter ball this year, but he gets loose with it in & out of the zone for stretches."
@Kevin_Goldstein: "#Nationals RHP Yunesky Maya scuffling again, just issued a walk to load the bases. When Maya is walking people, you know he's struggling.
@HarryPav: (1) "Maya looks toasty, or past that, at this point. I can't believe he's staying in (loaded, two outs, fifth inning, one run lead)...(2) I should know better. Maya does this all the time. Gets a big curve in the zone for a G3."
Maya gave up a two-out walk in the second, but that's all through the first two. In the third, the right-hander gave up a one-out single by Giants' 22-year-old outfield prospect Francisco Peguero and a two-out RBI double by 32-year-old infielder Wilson Valdez, who played for the Phillies last season. Maya retired the Gigantes' batters in order in the fourth, getting Pedro Feliz looking and popping up Indians' prospect Erick Almonte and journeyman outfielder Rick Thompson. In the fifth, however, as noted above, Maya struggled some, surrendering a leadoff single to 25-year-old Nats' catching prospect Jhonatan Solano, a two-out single to Twins' IF/OF Alexi Casilla and a two-out walk to the aforementioned Mr. Valdez before Wilson Betemit lined out to Cubs' and Leones' shortstop Starlin Castro to leave the bases loaded. Feliz, Almonte and Thompson went down in order again in the sixth and Maya was done...
Braves' infielder Diory Hernandez hit a two-run HR in the 7th to give the Leones a 4-1 lead and eventually secure the win for Maya. 27-year-old former Braves' prospect Nelson Payano (who pitched in the Astros' system last season) allowed a leadoff single by Almonte and a run on a one-out Jhonatan Solano single in the ninth before retiring the Gigantes and earning the save for the Leones, who are 3-1 in the DWL Round Robin Playoffs after the 4-2 Escogido win.
Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein (@Kevin_Goldstein) captured Eury Perez's steal on Twitter, writing, "(1) #Nationals OF Eury Perez w/ one out single for Leones. Chances are excellent I'll get to see him run here...(2) And he's safe. Eury Perez stole 64 bases this year and is worth watching; hit .339/.384/.451 after the break at Low-A in 2010." The distinction between the two halves of Perez's 2010 campaign was one that Baseball America's Aaron Fitt noted in a recent interview with MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr entitled, "Nats' top prospects - No. 8: Eury Perez", in which he was quoted saying that the Nats, "...thought he was going to be sent back down from Hagerstown to Vermont after a terrible first half. Then, Perez turned the corner. He made some adjustments. He still needs to become more disciplined at the plate."
MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo talked about Perez in a recent MLB.com/LIVE Hot Stove report:
"Eury Perez is one of those guys that's kind of interesting to see what happens with him cause he can flat-out run. He made his full season debut just this past season and he hit .299, which is fine, but you don't know how many of those base hits came just because he can flat-out fly. He only slugged .381, but he stole 64 bases which was among the highest in all the minor leagues, and he has kept on doing it in the Dominican. Keep in mind that he's just 20-years-old so he's playing against much older and much more advanced competition. Hit .330 in the Dominican and stolen 20 bases, so he's showing that the speed might be able to play as he moves up the ladder and that's the case with these guys, you have to see whether he can swing the bat well enough."
• Further Reading:
"The Nationals Farm Authority's Brian Oliver had Eury Perez ranked 9th overall amongst the hitters in the Nationals' system in his late December list of the 'NFA Top Prospects', where Mr. Oliver writes that Perez might be, "Possibly the first international free agent to develop for the Nationals."
"Maya, who described himself as, 'an aggressive pitcher who pounds the strike zone and a guy that hits the corners with good command,' also said he hoped, '...to be able to help out at the major league level as soon as possible.'"