Hawaii. The most sought-after postal route of them all. The air is so dewy-sweet you don’t even have to lick the stamps. ~Newman
The Hawaiian Winter League was brought back a couple of years ago for a good reason, and that is to provide a better alternative to nurse a “project prospect” into getting some extra work in than the Caribbean Leagues. Unlike the dry air of Arizona, the dewy-sweet air of Hawaii makes for a more neutral or even pitcher friendly environment.
The Hawaii League has also more recently has been used for clubs to send some of their late-signing draft picks, but in most cases it’s more for lower level prospects coming off of disappointing years whether it be due to injury or struggles. I wish my job did that. I’d love to hear “Erik, you’ve been really getting your can kicked lately, so we’re sending you to work in Hawaii”.
It’s a mixed league that includes Japanese players, which provides a great test for hitters needing to work on their approach. If you were one of the few and obsessed people like me that took the time to watch Olympic baseball, you noticed Asian pitchers have a tendency to pitch backwards. A hurler from the Far East is more likely drop a breaking ball or a change-up on you in a fastball count, so “dead red” hitters need to be on their toes. The Cardinals sent four players to Hawaii to work on their game, some more interesting than others.
Tyler Herron headlined the group. Kevin Goldstein ranked Herron the 4th best starting pitching prospect headed into the league. Having already thrown a career high 143.1 innings during the regular season, the Sharks took it easy on him, allowing Herron to throw only 13 innings out of the bullpen. He posted a 0.69 ERA, but he allowed 21 base-runners had 6 unearned runs. It’s only a few innings, but his 3.12 FIP tells a more accurate story. He struck out 11 batters. Herron was rushed to AA and it hurt his prospect status some, so it’s nice he can end on a positive note.
I remember when Blake King was exciting, what with his Mickey Mantle bloodlines and high strikeout rates, but King did what he did all season long in Palm Beach, only a little worse. In 16.2 innings, King walked 19 batters and struck out 16. King has long shown the stuff to register K’s with his fastball/slider combo, but his utter lack of command kills him, and it looks like he’ll be repeating High A next season. 5.67 FIP. KG ranked King the 2nd best reliever going into the HWB season.
Tony don’t call me Arnoldi Cruz was shipped out west to get some extra work in after his season was cut short because of a ligament sprain in his left hand. While he had not played since July, Cruz went on an early tear and was for a good part of the season leading the league in batting average. He finished 6th, hitting .323 and his .452 slugging percentage was good for 12th overall. While Cruz makes decent contact (17% K/PA) he didn’t show a lot of patience at the plate, with a 6.8% walk rate. Unfortunately, that has been a theme throughout his career. When catching, Cruz did a good job of cutting down basestealers. In a league with impressive catchers (Buster Posey, Jason Castro), Cruz held his own, with a wOBA of .354.
Kukini James Rapoport also had his season cut short in July and made three separate trips to the DL. He played pretty well in Palm Beach (.331 wOBA) but was rather underwhelming while in Springfield (.278). He continued to be underwhelming in the HWB, hitting for .250/.333/.333 with 4 steals in 7 attempts. I still think he could be a Scott Podsednik type of player, but with better defense. I’m not sure that’s a compliment, but hey…we can hope Kenny Williams still has a GM job when Rapoport is ready.