Yadier Molina, as he often does during the offseason, returned to his native country to participate in a brief winter-ball stint. He made his season debut with the Gigantes de Carolina on Saturday and is expected to remain on the active roster for approximately two weeks.
Molina's winter-ball appearance allows him the opportunity to play in front of adoring fans in Puerto Rico. It also gives Molina a head start in his preparation for Spring Training, which this year will be interrupted by the World Baseball Classic.
Though full Classic rosters won't be released until mid-January, Molina has already publicly committed to playing for the Puerto Rican squad, which will also include Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran.
In 11 at-bats over the weekend, Molina collected two hits and an RBI for a Carolina team that is currently 13-15 and 5 1/2 games behind division leader Caguas. Molina is not the organization's only representative on the club, either.
Outfielder Anthony Garcia, who earned Midwest League postseason All-Star honors after hitting .280 with 74 RBIs for Class A Quad Cities this season, has appeared in 25 games for Carolina. Through those 74 at-bats, Garcia has hit .270 with five extra-base hits and 10 RBIs.
So far this offseason, 35 players from the Cardinals organization have appeared in fall or winter-ball games, including eight who wrapped up play in the Arizona Fall League last month. Five of those 35 players spent time on the Cardinals' Major League roster in 2012. That includes Molina and pitchers Eduardo Sanchez, Victor Marte, Maikel Cleto and Sam Freeman.
The standout winter-ball performer, though, was the same individual who dazzled during the regular season. After earning Player of the Year honors in both the Texas League and the Cardinals' Minor League system, Oscar Taveras extended his year by playing in the Dominican Republic.
As a member of the Aguilas Cibaenas club, Taveras went 46-for-144 (.319 average) with 12 doubles, four homers and 16 RBIs. He played primarily in right field.
Taveras' winter-ball stint ended Dec. 9, allowing the 20-year-old to return home, rest and recharge before the start of Spring Training. Taveras is expected to receive an invitation to Major League camp a year after hitting .321 in 124 games with Double-A Springfield in 2012.
Taveras, who is ranked by MLB.com as the organization's top prospect, could break through and onto the Cardinals' Major League roster in 2013, though he is projected to begin the year in Triple-A. His arrival is already the topic of widespread anticipation.
"He's the most prolific hitter I've seen in this organization since, probably, Albert [Pujols]," general manager John Mozeliak said earlier this offseason. "When his time comes, I imagine he's here for a while. I think we just have to see how we can best use his skills. He's still developing, but he's certainly made strides this year in a very positive way."
Other players from the Cardinals' system to impress in winter ball include: Jermaine Curtis (Mexican League), Mike O'Neill (Arizona Fall League), Kolten Wong (Arizona Fall League), Nick Additon (Mexican League), Seth Blair (Arizona Fall League), Silfredo Garcia (Venezuelan League) and Kevin Siegrist (Arizona Fall League).
To view a full listing of statistics for players representing the Cardinals in winter and fall ball league, visit http://mlb.mlb.com/milb/stats/org.jsp?id=stl.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.