Read the Spanish-language version of this story here.
Following the dramatic Game 7 victory by the Aguilas Cibaeñas over the Tigres del Licey to lock up the Dominican Republic winter title on Wednesday night, the field is set for the 2018 Caribbean Series. The Dominicans will join the championship teams from winter leagues in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and host Mexico in Guadalajara from Feb. 2-8.
The premier international baseball competition of the winter will feature a breadth of interesting storylines for fans looking to get their fix on the eve of Major League Baseball spring training. Here are five things to watch for in the coming week of games:
1. Current and former MLB players on display
There will be plenty of familiar faces for baseball fans to recognize in Guadalajara, as four of the five teams have players with MLB experience on their rosters. Mexico's champion, Tomateros de Culiacán, will feature former Cubs and Yankees hurler Sergio Mitre, as well as ex-Angels infielder Alfredo Amézaga, selected one spot ahead of Albert Pujols in the 1999 draft.
Venezuela's Caribes de Anzoátegui features former Mariners pitcher Freddy García and infielders Alexi Amarista (Angels, Padres, Rockies and Tigers) and Luis Sardiñas (Rangers, Brewers, Mariners, Padres and Orioles), among others. Puerto Rico's representative and current Caribbean Series champ Criollos de Caguas will take former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo, a Cuban native. Panamanian Christian Bethancourt, who pitched and caught for the San Diego Padres last season and is with the Brewers organization, will be included on the Dominican Republic roster.
2. Puerto Rico aims for consecutive titles
The Criollos de Caguas will aim to become the first team to win back-to-back Caribbean Series titles in the same host country. After their dramatic win over the Aguilas de Mexicali in the 2017 edition held in Culiacan, Mexico, the Puerto Rican representatives are back to defend their title, this time looking to win it in Guadalajara. The tournament moved from Venezuela back to Mexico after socioeconomic troubles and violent citizen protests forced Venezuela's top baseball organization to forfeit hosting duties.
Should Caguas win again, they'll also make history becoming just the second Puerto Rican team to win five total Caribbean Series, tying the Cangrejeros de Santurce, a team that last won the tournament in 2000. Caguas snapped a three-decade drought last season and are now looking to be the first repeat champs since the Aguilas Cibaeñas did it in 1997-98.
3. Cuba's Cespedes connection
Granma will be returning to the Caribbean Series after claiming their first berth last year. The Cuban Serie Nacional champions boast a roster comprised of mostly local players, including Yoelkis Céspedes, the half-brother of New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes.
Yoelkis, the youngest of the two, already starred for Granma at last year's tournament in Culiacán. The Cuban club was also home to Yoenis before he defected to the United States and began his MLB career with the Oakland A's.
One player on Granma's roster to watch will be outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, who plays professionally in Japan for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Despaigne is the record holder for single-season home runs in Cuba with 36, according to ESPN Stats and Information. In Japan, he's coming off a season in which he belted 35 round-trippers.
4. The Dominican Republic looks to end its drought
It has been six years since any team from the Dominican Republic has won the Caribbean Series, the longest drought for the country since the tournament resumed its annual nature in 1970.
Furthermore, the Águilas Cibaeñas, this year’s representative, have gone more than a decade without winning it. In 2007, a 5-1 record pushed them toward their fifth title in 10 years, capping a dominant run in which they won the series in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003 and 2007. They haven't figured since, but a championship this year would also mean they are the second-most successful team in history, behind Dominican rivals Tigres del Licey, who have won it 10 times.
5. How and when to watch
Games will be available via ESPN Deportes and MLB Network, and streaming with Spanish-language audio on WatchESPN.
The tournament kicks off Friday, Feb. 2, with two games: Venezuela will face Cuba in the opener at 2 p.m. ET. Following the opening ceremonies from Guadalajara, Puerto Rico will play against Mexico at 9 p.m. ET.
After the preliminary round wraps up on Tuesday, Feb. 6, the top four teams will square off in the semifinals a day later. Winners of those tilts will fight for the championship in the title game at 9 p.m. ET on Feb. 8.
See Caribbean Series stories, standings, schedule and results on ESPNDeportes.com here.