01/13/2006 12:31 PM ET
Winter ball serving its purpose
Youngsters, players coming off injury capitalize on opportunity
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com

Some of the statistics might have looked pretty good for several Reds players and prospects that played winter ball this offseason in Latin America. But that wasn't really the point.

For some, it was about playing in front of the fans in their home countries. For many others, it was a chance to face decent competition and attempt to refine their skills.

"The benefits are not measured solely in statistics," Reds general manager Dan O'Brien said.

Younger players like Wily Mo Pena and Edwin Encarnacion, who participated in the Dominican Republic for the Aguilas club, got more at-bats and experience. So did infielder Ray Olmedo, who played for the Venezuelan club La Guaira.

In eight postseason games in a round-robin tournament, Pena hit .286 with one home run and five RBIs. He batted .363 with seven homers for his club during the regular Dominican season.

For Caracas in the Venezuelan league, infielder William Bergolla hit .364 (4-for-11) in four games after batting .308 in 50 regular season games.

"By virtue of their extended season, they'll come to camp in better position to make an impression," O'Brien said.

Winter ball also served a purpose in the rehabilitation of Cincinnati players sidelined by injury. Jung Keun Bong missed all of 2005 with a shoulder injury and pitched this winter in the Dominican. Double-A first baseman Jesse Gutierrez also came back from an injury and slugged 15 homers and drove in 40 runs for Navajoa in the Mexican League.

"Just the fact they could go down there was outstanding," O'Brien said. "They got the innings and exposure to help make up for what they lost in the '05 season. They will benefit in Spring Training '06."