Winter League Studs or Major League Duds?

The CBA Winter League has long been a point of fascination and frustration for players, executives, and fans alike. The opportunity to watch top prospects sink or swim against the headliners of all 30 farm systems is a favorite of many, and it forms a crucial part of the player evaluation system of the CBA offseason. Evaluating stats in Winter League is challenging to say the least – it features players ranging in age and experience from fresh out of high school to veterans looking to get some extra work in against newbies to prepare for spring training. However, for this exercise we are going to use stats, however imprecise, to look at how well effectiveness and domination in Winter League translates to future success in the CBA. For this experiment, I will be looking at winter league stats from 2027 through 2031, with a second part examining 2032-2035 to be released soon. I will be looking at the top batters and pitchers by WAR for each season, ignoring those with already established major league careers or those signed as Major League ready international free agents in the offseason before the tournament started. This is an examination of PROSPECT performance, and so the focus will be limited to prospects.


Batting WAR Leader:

1B Rick Walkowiak, Philadelphia, 4.2 WAR

Walkowiak entered the CBA in the inaugural 2022 season, and spent his entire career with the Liberty. After good seasons at A and B, Walkowiak amassed a staggering 11.9 war in 3 seasons in Reserve ball, and entered the 2027 season as a top 100 prospect in the BL. His hot streak continued, and he finished the WL season with 25 homers and a 1.200 OPS. He continued to seem unstoppable as a prospect, spending his age 24 season at reserves again and amassing a second consecutive 5 WAR season. Unfortunately for Walkowiak, this would be the peak of his career. He never found success at the Major League level, appearing in only 20 games over 3 seasons for the Liberty, and finishing his Major League career with a .246/.347/.323 line and -.1 war. 

Pitching WAR Leader:

P Julio Velasquez, New York Baseball Club, 4.4 WAR

Top pitching prospect Julio Velasquez entered 2027 on a positive note; he had made his Major League debut in 2026, appearing in 21 games in relief for the Roar and sporting an impressive 2.64 ERA. To follow that up, he pitched outstanding in the 2027 Winter League tournament, striking out 163 in 150 innings and amassing a 3.79 ERA. In early April of 2027, he was traded to Boston, where he pitched effectively as a starter for four solid seasons before starting to drop off. However, his talents as a locker room leader have certainly bolstered his value, and at 31 years old he has just been signed by the Golden Bears as a starter. His 10.9 career ML war are certainly nothing spectacular, and his 7.12 ERA last seasons was among the worst for a regular starter in the majors, but Velasquez has carved out a nice little career for himself, even if it’s one that hasn’t quite reached the highs of his potential.


Batting WAR Leader

RF Dan Early, Carolina, 3.6 WAR

The first pick of the 11th round in 2026, Dan Early never had a lot of expectations. With only a .238 and .2 war over 4 seasons at UT, he was a bottom of the barrel prospect coming into the CBA. However, in his age 23 seasons in 2027, Early came out of nowhere to put up a 4.1 war season in Dev. B. This won him an invite to Winter League ball, where he hit 18 home runs en route to a .370/.473/.648 season. His hot streak continued into the 2028 regular season, where he had a fine year at Dev. A. However, as a 25 year old the next season he failed to make the leap, and spent the next 3 seasons bouncing around between Dev. A and Reserves before hanging up his cleats in 2031 at the age of 27.

Pitching WAR Leader

P Albert Castro, Oklahoma, 3.0 WAR

Albert Castro, a stalwart of OKBC over the late 20s-early 30s, had the best seasons of his career at WL, and although he’s never replicated that high, he’s put together some solid seasons since. After a great 2027 in Res., Castro absolutely dominated in the 2028 WL, racking up 116 Ks in only 75 innings, to go along with a superb 2.02 ERA and .93 WHIP. He continued to be hot in his rookie season in the Majors that year, pitching effectively to a 3.12 ERA while pacing the SL with 192 strikeouts. However, the 2029 promotion to PL was a rough one for Castro, and he managed only .2 WAR with an ugly 6.19 ERA. He finished his Oklahoma career after over 6 years in the rotation, with 3.1 WAR over that span. Just this month he signed a minor league contract with Iowa, and his major league career remains in flux but not dead. 


Batting WAR Leader

RF Tony Henry, Oklahoma, 4.7 WAR

One of the most dominant Winter League seasons in history by a prospect, Tony Two-First-Names came into the tournament as a relatively high profile player. A 2nd round pick in 2028 out of the Arizona Western Matadors, Henry had a solid if unspectacular first year in the minors between YA and Dev. B. He hit the ground (and the ball) running in January, hitting an eye popping .407/.491/.642 with 60 RBIs in 246 at bats, for an OPS+ of 221. He was called up to the bigs at the start of the 2028 season, and ended up finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting with .288 average and 22 homers. In 5 seasons in the bigs, he has accrued 8.6 WAR, and at 27 years old he looks to continue to be an important piece of the Mammoths lineup for the foreseeable future. 

Pitching WAR Leader

P Kevin Bourque, GLBC, 4.3 WAR

Everyone knows Kevin Bourque. One of the most hyped prospects in CBA history, Bourque was picked 3rd overall in the 2028 Draft out of Louisville. His domination of all competition started early, with a 2.2 ERA in his first seasons in the minors. Huge things were expected of him coming into the 2029 WL Tournament, and he somehow exceeded them: two 18-K no hitters and a 1.42 ERA over 76 innings were more than enough to secure him a slot in spring training, where he pitched ANOTHER no hitter before starting his Major League career on loan to Arizona. He won the 2031 Seth Paddock BL Pitching award with a 1.49 ERA, and has 18.5 WAR in his nearly 6 seasons in the league. Unfortunately, injuries have taken an early toll on Bourque, and the 29 year old is nowhere near as dominant as he once was. However, his time in the majors is far from over. 


Batting WAR Leader

LF Bryce Palmer, Austin – 3.5 WAR

Another bonafide superstar, Bryce Palmer was the first overall pick of the 2029 Draft and has looked every bit of it since day one. One of the central pieces of Austin’s very successful tank strategy of the late 2020s, the former UVA standout hit the winter leagues as a 23 year old and mashed for .352/.434/.592 with 16 homers. He made his major league debut early in the 2030 season, and ran away with Rookie of the Year with a 4.4 WAR campaign in 90 games. In 5 seasons, he has never had an average below .320 and has amassed 24.6 war, including his legendary 2032 campaign where he batted .383 with 7.4 WAR, winning MVP in a runaway. Only 27 years old, he is on track for a first ballot HOF career and is one of the most exciting young players we have in the game today.

Pitching WAR Leader

P Cory Flemming, Los Angeles, 3.1 WAR

Cory Fleming was another first round pick in 2028, selected 8th overall out of the NJCAA Connor State Cowboys. After two unspectacular seasons in the minors, he entered the 2030 tournament as a 23 year old and pitched like a monster over 84 innings, with a 1.91 ERA in 11 starts. After a superb start to his 2030 regular season at reserves, he was promoted to the bigs in the BL, where he struggled in 22 innings, with a 7.89 ERA and 2.02 WHIP. After struggling to make an impact as a starter, he was moved to the pen, and pitched effectively in that role for two seasons before a torn UCL cost him his entire 2034. He is currently a member of LA’s Reserve team, hoping to return to the majors and improve on his 3.0 career WAR. 


Batting WAR Leader

2B Paul Rudin, Detroit, 3.5 WAR

Rudin just barely makes the list, on account of him having over 250 PAs in Detroit in 2030. However, at 24 years old and as a top prospect, there was still a lot of work to be done and boy did he do it. Drafted two picks after Bryce Palmer in 2029, Rudin worked his way steadily up the minors and hit a solid .289 with 12 homers in his first Major League season. He went on to torch the winter league tournament, hitting .351/.457/.649 with 14 homers in 228 at bats. Though he hasn’t approached Palmer’s levels of brilliance, Rudin has raked on his own terms, with 14.8 war in 5 seasons. Coming off a Black Surge Award at 2nd base, in a season where he achieved a career high 5.3 WAR, Rudin looks like he will stay a star for a long time. 

Pitching WAR Leader

P Zacarias Patoine, Detroit, 3.1 WAR

Detroit fully dominated the 2031 Winter Leagues, and though Patoine hasn’t yet had quite the career of Rudin, he has turned his stellar performance in the tournament into a successful young major league career. A highly touted international prospect as a teenager, he signed with the motors in 2023 and made his CBA debut in 2024 in YA. 2031 was actually his third winter league appearance, and by far his most effective. The now 23 year old Patoine started 12 games and finished the tournament with a 3.05 ERA and .98 WHIP. He made his full season ML debut that year, and since has been a very good, solid starter, with 13.7 war over four and a half years and a 4.44 ERA. With 3 plus-plus pitches and plenty of time on his side, his career is only starting to flourish. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *