Weinhardt, Wells lead Tigers playing winter ball

Weinhardt, Wells lead Tigers playing winter ball

DETROIT -- Robbie Weinhardt and Casper Wells became recognizable names in Detroit with solid rookie campaigns. Once their first Major League seasons are over, they'll try to carry over what they've learned into winter ball and set themselves up for next year.

Weinhardt and Wells are among the two dozen players from the Tigers organization scheduled for more baseball ahead in the Caribbean. They'll be taking part in the revamped Puerto Rican League with the Senadores of San Juan, while others will head out to the established leagues in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

The list includes prospects such as outfielders Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia, right-handers Luis Marte and Alfredo Figaro, and shortstops Gustavo Nunez and Audy Ciriaco -- many of whom will crack the primary rosters of the clubs in their native countries. It also includes more established players, such as Ramon Santiago -- a regular part of the Gigantes in the Dominican.

Weinhardt and Wells are somewhere in between. They were among the 11 Tigers who made their big league debuts this year, and they've played key parts in Detroit's stretch run. To stick in the Majors, though, they'll have to adjust to what they've picked up this summer and develop a little more.

For Weinhardt, that involves more consistency in keeping his pitches down and getting ground balls from opposing hitters. Though he has allowed just two home runs over 26 2/3 innings as a Tiger, his 1.30 ratio of groundouts to flyouts is significantly lower than the 2-to-1 ratio he posted at Triple-A Toledo.

"We wanted Weinhardt to go over there and continue to work on his slider and sinker," Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila said on Thursday.

Wells is no stranger to playing in what would normally be the offseason. He put on a hitting show in the Arizona Fall League the last two years. He'll get an uptick in competition in Puerto Rico. But more importantly, he'll get regular at-bats to try to carry on the second-half hitting tear that carried him into the big leagues after his first-half struggles.

"He's put together a nice end to the season," Avila said.

Among their former Toledo teammates getting a shot in the Caribbean will be Dirks, whose rise up the Tigers developmental ladder will carry him into a Dominican League assignment with the Toros del Este. The 24-year-old Dirks batted .296 between Double-A Erie and Toledo with 30 doubles, 15 home runs, 63 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.

Dirks was originally expected to play in the Arizona Fall League as a replacement for the injured Ryan Strieby. However, the Tigers changed plans once they were able to secure a full-time assignment in the Dominican with its higher level of competition.

The 19-year-old Garcia will be among a slew of young Tigers prospects trying to earn playing time in their native Venezuela. He's on the roster of the Caribes de Anzoategui, the same club that gave former Tigers prospect Omar Infante his shot years ago. Garcia batted .281 at Class A West Michigan this year with four homers, 63 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

That same team will also feature Brayan Villarreal, the 23-year-old right-hander who struck out 136 batters over 129 1/3 innings between Erie and Class A Lakeland while going 7-8 with a 3.55 ERA. They'll also have Lester Oliveros, the SeaWolves closer, who struck out 60 batters over 44 1/3 innings with 23 saves between Erie and Lakeland.

Here's the current list of winter ball assignments:

Dominican Republic: Audy Ciriaco (Escogido), Andy Dirks (Toros del Este), Alfredo Figaro (Estrellas), Jeff Frazier (Estrellas), Ryan Ketchner (Estrellas), Luis Marte (Escogido), Gustavo Nunez (Escogido), Ramon Santiago (Gigantes)

Venezuela: Alexis Espinoza (Caribes), Avisail Garcia (Caribes), Enrique Gonzalez (Tiburones), Lester Oliveros (Caribes), Jose Ortega (Magallanes), Wilfredo Ramirez (Tiburones), Luis Sanz (Leones), Michael Torrealba (Tiburones), Brayan Villarreal (Caribes), Thad Weber (Leones)

Puerto Rico: Edwin Gomez (Criollas), Miguel Mejia (Giants), Robbie Weinhardt (Senadores), Casper Wells (Senadores)

Mexico: Max Leon (Tomateros)

Colombia: Aldo Navia (Aquilas)

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.