A's Winter League Notebook – November 24, 2004

Johnson and Watson see their Mexican Winter League seasons cut short; Nelson Cruz continues to hit; Jairo Garcia is still looking for the strike zone and more in this edition of <I>Winter League Notebook…</I>

Mexican Winter League

In a surprising development. A's prospects Dan Johnson and Matt Watson were released on November 19 from their Mexican Winter League team, the Hermosillo Orange Growers. Hermosillo is normally a contender for the playoffs and has struggled for much of the first half of the winter league season. In response, the team has undergone a mid-season overhaul and Johnson and Watson were two of the casualties. According to Mexican news sources, the Hermosillo coaching staff felt that the two players were having too much difficulty adjusting to the steady diet of breaking pitches common in the Mexican league.

The move was even more surprising considering that Johnson wasn't having a bad season at the plate. In typical A's fashion, Johnson had a low batting average but good statistics in the majority of the other offensive categories. He finished his Mexican Winter League season with a .241/.362/.519 line. He walked 15 times and struck out 13 times and had six homeruns and 22 RBIs in only 23 games (79 at-bats) played. Johnson committed two errors in his 23 games at first base. Although the A's likely would have preferred to see Johnson have a full winter league season of experience, his early release shouldn't affect his status as a top prospect coming into spring training.

Matt Watson struggled during his time in Mexico even more than Johnson. He posted a .208/.331/.356 line and managed only 4 homeruns in 27 games (101 at-bats) played. Watson also committed three errors in the outfield. He did walk 16 times against 16 strikeouts. Watson would have been a fringe candidate for the A's fifth outfielder roster spot anyway and his performance in the winter league will probably not help him gain that spot. The competition for that last outfield spot increased when the A's signed minor league free agents Hiram Bocachica, Jermaine Clark and Jack Cust last week. Watson will have to prove that he can hit major league pitching and that he can bring a different skill-set to the A's then their other back-up outfielder (likely Bobby Kielty) for Watson to win a roster spot.

Relief prospect Chris Mabeus is also a member of Hermosillo. He began playing in Mexico only last week and has made two appearances thus far. His first appearance was a successful one inning performance where he allowed one hit and no runs. However, his second appearance was not as successful, as he allowed three runs on four hits and one homerun in 1.2 innings pitched. He picked up the loss in that game. Mabeus has yet to strikeout or walk a batter in his two outings. He will enter spring training with a chance to win a middle-relief role in Oakland's bullpen.

Dominican Winter Leagues

When we last checked in on A's relief prospect Jairo Garcia, he had allowed two runs in two early season innings of work. Since that time, Garcia has had seven more appearances and eight more innings of work. So far, the results have been mixed. He has allowed only two more earned runs over those eight innings, and his ERA has dropped to a reasonable 3.60. However, his ERA is perhaps misleading, as he has given up two unearned runs in addition to the four earned ones. Perhaps most disturbing is that Garcia has allowed 11 hits and nine walks in 10 innings of work, which means that he has had to pitch his way out of a lot of jams. On the plus side, Garcia has struck out 12 batters in 10 innings, showing that his stuff still has the ability to "miss bats". Garcia will have to prove that he can find the strike zone consistently before the A's will let him spend a significant amount of time back on the 25-man roster. It is looking more and more likely that Garcia will spend the 2005 season in Sacramento, at least to start. He will only be 22 at the start of next season, however, so he still has plenty of time to get his control back on track.

A's outfield prospect Nelson Cruz just began his winter league season last week, but thus far, he has started up where he left off at the plate during his 2004 minor league campaign – red hot. In 16 at-bats, Cruz has driven in five runs, scored four and hit one homerun. He is hitting .313. He has reached base nine times in 20 total trips to the plate, which translates to a healthy .450 OBP. Cruz will also be in the mix for that fifth outfielder spot on Oakland's 25-man roster during spring training. However, he will likely start the season in AAA, as he has had limited at-bats at that level in his career and the A's will probably want him to play every day rather then have him sit on the bench at this stage in his career.

Puerto Rican and Venezuelan Winter Leagues

New A's minor league free agent acquisition Hiram Bocachica is playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League this off-season. The season has just begun in Puerto Rico, but through seven games for the Ponce Leones, Bocachica is hitting .286 with a .400 OBP and a .667 SLG. He has hit two homeruns in only 21 at-bats. Bocachica is an athletic and versatile outfielder with some major league experience. He would bring speed and a right-handed bat to the A's bench if he were to make the 25-man roster this spring.

A's second baseman Marco Scutaro is back in his home country of Venezuela playing for the Caracas Leones. Through 20 games, Scutaro is hitting .269 with a .352 OBP. He has hit one homerun, four doubles and three triples in 78 at-bats. Unless the A's pick up a veteran starting second baseman this off-season, Scutaro is likely to be on the A's 25-man roster again in 2005, most likely as a back-up middle-infielder.

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