Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Winter League Action

Monday, December 18, 2006


No notes this week. Instead, here's a rundown of some of the more interesting lines from the winter leagues.

Dominican Winter League

Antonio Alfonseca - RHP Free Agent
1-0, 1 Sv, 2.46 ERA, 5 H, 2/2 K/BB in 7 1/3 IP

After being cut by the Rangers in June, Alfonseca sat out the second half of last season. The extra time off should have done his troublesome elbow some good, and he'll probably be back in a major league bullpen next season. It'd be no surprise to see him join the Marlins as a candidate to close.

Jose Arredondo - RHP Angels
1-0, 0.73 ERA, 7 H, 7/3 K/BB in 12 1/3 IP

It looked like Arredondo made enough progress last season to justify remaining a starter, but with plenty of rotation prospects ahead of him, the Angels are planning on turning the 22-year-old into a reliever next season. He immediately becomes one of baseball's best relief prospects.

Daric Barton - 1B Athletics
.324/.447/.365, 0 HR, 10 RBI, 11/18 K/BB, 0 SB in 74 AB

The lack of power is disturbing, but it's just nice to see Barton back hitting after he missed most of last season with a fractured elbow and strained hamstring. He projects as Oakland's DH in 2008, not that he's been completely given up on as a first baseman.

Melky Cabrera - OF Yankees
.338/.419/.477, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 4/8 K/BB, 1 SB in 65 AB

Six years of Cabrera for a reliever whose arm could go at any minute? It makes some sense for the Yankees, in that Cabrera probably won't be an All-Star and the club is always going to be able to buy someone better. There's no doubt that it works for the Pirates. Sure, Cabrera isn't the power hitter they want, but he's far more likely than Chris Duffy to settle in as a legitimate top-of-the-order hitter.

Fausto Carmona - RHP Indians
1-1, 3.48 ERA, 38 H, 39/5 K/BB in 31 IP

The Indians have added three veteran relievers, leaving little chance that Carmona will begin the season in the bullpen. He was already at a disadvantage because he has options remaining and Fernando Cabrera, Jason Davis and Jeremy Guthrie don't. Barring a trade of Jake Westbrook or Paul Byrd, Carmona is set to join the rotation at Triple-A Buffalo. He almost seems overqualified at this point.

Nelson Cruz - OF Rangers
.271/.390/.504, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 39/22 K/BB, 4 SB in 129 AB

The Rangers could add another outfielder to battle for playing time, but Cruz looks like the clear favorite for the starting job in right field. He'll likely get 20-25 homers if he approaches 500 at-bats, but he strikes out too much to hit for a strong average.

Joel Guzman - 3B Devil Rays
.233/.254/.295, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 26/4 K/BB, 2 SB in 129 AB

Guzman was a big disappointment after arriving from the Dodgers in the Julio Lugo trade, and he's continued to slump in the Dominican Republic. It's doubtful that he has a future at third for the Rays, though that's the position he's concentrating on right now. He'll probably end up at first or in left field.

Matt Kemp - OF Dodgers
.230/.312/.402, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 29/13 K/BB, 5 SB in 122 AB

I'm more concerned about the Dodgers blocking James Loney than I am Kemp. The 22-year-old Kemp is likely to develop into a quality regular, but he's not a center fielder and he could use a few more months in Triple-A to work on hitting or at least laying off breaking balls.

Radhames Liz - RHP Orioles
0-1, 1.80 ERA, 16 H, 31/11 K/BB in 25 IP

Because he's more likely to end up as a reliever than as a starter, Liz is probably the most expendable of the Orioles' top pitching prospects. The hard-throwing 23-year-old could develop into a closer.

Kendry Morales - 1B Angels
.265/.375/.519, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 16/27 K/BB, 0 SB in 162 AB

The Angels don't need Shea Hillenbrand. If they can't bring in an All-Star first baseman -- and they probably can't -- they might as well give Morales and Casey Kotchman a chance to battle it out. Odds are one of the two will at least match Hillenbrand's production.

Felix Pie - OF Cubs
.216/.263/.272, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 25/7 K/BB, 5 SB in 125 AB

The Cubs are making noise about putting Pie in center field next season, which would be a good way to cancel out much of what $138 million man Alfonso Soriano adds to the lineup. There's plenty of potential here, but in 2007, he'd be Corey Patterson at Patterson's absolute worst.


Mexican Pacific League

Brian Bannister - RHP Royals
3-2, 3.68 ERA, 40 H, 29/7 K/BB in 36 2/3 IP

I'm skeptical Bannister's stuff will allow him to succeed in the American League, but he might be an adequate fifth starter for the Royals. The club would have been better off keeping Ambiorix Burgos' upside.

Brian Barden - 3B Diamondbacks
.291/.384/.505, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 38/25 K/BB, 1 SB in 182 AB

Barden could battle Alberto Callaspo for a starting job at third base in the event that the Diamondbacks deal Chad Tracy. Both would be upgrades on defense.

Ryan Doumit - C-1B Pirates
.292/.390/.482, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 34/20 K/BB, 4 SB in 137 AB

The Pirates' surprising decision to tender Humberto Cota was made in part because of continued concerns about Doumit's health. Also, with the way the winter is going for the Pirates, Doumit might be needed at first base.

Erubiel Durazo - 1B Free Agent
.340/.457/.576, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 30/37 K/BB, 2 SB in 191 AB

Yet the Mariners felt the need to trade two youngsters to the Nationals in order to make Jose Vidro their DH.

Nick Masset - RHP Rangers
0-2, 15 Sv, 2.61 ERA, 18 H, 22/2 K/BB in 20 2/3 IP

Masset is starting to get recognized as one of the AL's top relief prospects. He'll probably begin the season in Triple-A, but he could end the year as a setup man for the Rangers, assuming that he isn't traded for a veteran starter. The White Sox wanted him in the proposed Jon Garland deal.

Joakim Soria - RHP Royals
9-0, 1.77 ERA, 46 H, 73/19 K/BB in 71 1/3 IP

Soria was hardly on the radar entering the winter. Now he's the Rule 5 pick most likely to stick in the majors next year after the Royals grabbed him out of the San Diego farm system. The 22-year-old could get a chance to pitch some key innings, much like Andrew Sisco did two years ago. And then, following a disappointing 2008 season, he'll be traded for Andy Phillips.

Fernando Valenzuela - LHP Free Agent
5-2, 5.31 ERA, 51 H, 13/13 K/BB in 42 1/3 IP

Just because.


Puerto Rican League

Jason Botts - DH Rangers
.280/.376/.473, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 27/11 K/BB, 0 SB in 93 AB

Botts hit .309/.398/.582 in 220 AB in Triple-A last season and .296/.375/.522 at the same level in 2005, but the Rangers have shown little interest in giving him a real opportunity. A switch-hitter, his best chance of having a role in 2007 is to make the team as a DH against left-handers.

Bruce Chen - LHP Free Agent
4-0, 0.63 ERA, 16 H, 51/5 K/BB in 43 IP

Chen's brilliant winter should allow him to land something more than a minor league deal. He'd be a logical fit in Washington.

Juan Gonzalez - OF Free Agent
.257/.296/.419, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 18/5 K/BB, 0 SB in 74 AB

Gonzalez, on the other hand, has done nothing to impress major league teams. He'll probably get offered a minor league deal or two, but he'll be a long shot to begin the season in the majors.

Gaby Hernandez - RHP Marlins
2-1, 3.78 ERA, 24 H, 33/10 K/BB in 33 1/3 IP

Sort of a forgotten man when it comes to Marlins pitching prospects, Hernandez, 20, continues to flash No. 3-starter potential. He's due to begin next year in Double-A.

Dan Kolb - RHP Free Agent
1-0, 2.76 ERA, 12 H, 9/5 K/BB in 16 1/3 IP

Like Alfonseca, Kolb is a candidate to sign a cheap deal with the Marlins, giving him a chance to potentially win the closer's role. He didn't show anything last year to suggest he'd be adequate, but he still has his quality sinker.

Casey Kotchman - 1B Angels
.229/.257/.308, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3/4 K/BB, 0 SB in 35 AB

It's very early, but Kotchman has yet to do anything to indicate he's all the way back from a 2006 season ruined by mono.

Todd Linden - OF Giants
.341/.456/.541, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 12/18 K/BB, 4 SB in 85 AB

Linden is likely going to enter the season as the Giants' fourth outfielder, a role that could result in him receiving 300-400 at-bats. 12-15 homers and 40-50 RBI would give him some value in NL-only leagues.

Russ Ortiz - RHP Free Agent
1-1, 2.14 ERA, 16 H, 15/7 K/BB in 21 IP

Ortiz's velocity is supposed to be up, but I'll believe it when I see it. He'll probably get the major league contract he wants. Little should be expected.

Brian Wilson - RHP Giants
1-0, 10 Sv, 0.00 ERA, 5 H, 16/6 K/BB in 12 1/3 IP

Wilson could be the Giants' closer sooner rather than later. His command wasn't there when he reached the majors last season, but he has plenty of stuff. A major sleeper.


Venezuelan Winter League

Edgardo Alfonzo - INF Free Agent
.200/.321/.286, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 11/13 K/BB, 0 SB in 70 AB

That fork's in there pretty good.

Wladimir Balentien - OF Mariners
.278/.343/.587, 8 HR, 22 RBI, 37/13 K/BB, 2 SB in 126 AB

Balentien has bounced back well from a dreadful finish in which he hit .131 over his final 99 at-bats in Double-A. If Jose Guillen is one and done in Seattle, Balentien could battle Adam Jones for a starting job in 2008.

Gregor Blanco - OF Braves
.311/.431/.424, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 31/28 K/BB, 2 SB in 132 AB

Blanco is positioned behind Matt Diaz, Ryan Langerhans, Scott Thorman and maybe Kelly Johnson in the competition for left-field duties in Atlanta, but that he's the closest thing the team has to a leadoff hitter could make him a candidate to break camp with the team. He had a .403 OBP and 31 steals between Double- and Triple-A last season.

Jose Castillo - 2B Pirates
.328/.426/.522, 5 HR, 35 RBI, 18/25 K/BB, 4 SB in 134 AB

The Pirates have given thought to going with Freddy Sanchez at second base and Jose Bautista at third, making Castillo expendable. Unfortunately, there just isn't any market for second basemen right now. Castillo has been mentioned in some of the rumors involving the Braves, but it's unclear whether Atlanta has any real interest in him.

Emiliano Fruto - RHP Mariners
2-1, 5 Sv, 2.25 ERA, 18 H, 26/11 K/BB in 20 IP

Soon to be RHP Nationals. Fruto throws hard and has a quality splitter. He was given up on as a starter too early by the Mariners, and the Nationals may decide to move him back to the rotation next year. He has upside in either role.

Rich Garces - RHP Free Agent
2-1, 8 Sv, 1.96 ERA, 10 H, 15/10 K/BB in 18 1/3 IP

Boston's replacement for Jonathan Papelbon.

Carlos Gonzalez - OF Diamondbacks
.299/.370/.482, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 27/19 K/BB, 5 SB in 164 AB

Gonzalez slumped after a late promotion to Double-A, but he won't have much difficulty handling the Southern League next year. He could break into the Arizona outfield at the beginning of 2008.

Angel Guzman - RHP Cubs
0-0, 3.46 ERA, 11 H, 11/2 K/BB in 13 IP

Since the Cubs have loaded up on veterans, Guzman, Sean Marshall and Jae-Kuk Ryu could be available in trades. A healthy Guzman is probably a better pitcher than Jason Marquis right now.

Richard Hidalgo - OF Free Agent
.261/.366/.471, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 30/24 K/BB, 4 SB in 153 AB

Hidalgo got hot for a while in November, but his numbers for Magallanes are fairly pedestrian. It's hard to tell whether he's truly committed to making it back.

Edwin Jackson - RHP Devil Rays
3-2, 1.60 ERA, 37 H, 39/23 K/BB in 45 IP

Jackson, who was tried as a reliever by the Rays in the second half of last year, is putting together a very good case for entering 2007 as a starting pitcher. I wouldn't label him a big-time sleeper for next year just yet, but most of his old upside is still there. He's only 23.

Tim Redding - RHP Nationals
2-0, 2.63 ERA, 24 H, 14/12 K/BB in 27 1/3 IP

If the season started tomorrow, Redding would probably be the Nationals' No. 2 starter behind John Patterson. RFK Stadium is going to make him an intriguing $1 pick in NL-only leagues.

Alex Sanchez - OF Marlins
.394/.425/.596, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 12/6 K/BB, 2 SB in 99 AB

It'd be quite a setback for the Marlins if Sanchez became their center fielder next season, but don't rule it out. He's a better hitter than the other internal options. Even if he's not a regular, his ability to hit an empty .300 could land him a bench spot.


Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
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