A's Winter League Notebook – December 6, 2004

Find out how A's prospects and players are faring in their respective winter leagues and which A's regulars are set to start playing winter ball in a few short weeks in this edition of <i>Winter League Notebook</i>...

Mexican Winter League

Midland starter Steve Smyth has been competing in the Mexican Winter League as a member of Los Mochis. Smyth, who was a sixth year minor league free agent at the beginning of this off-season, re-signed with Oakland in early November. The former Chicago Cub has made 10 starts for Los Mochis and has compiled a 3-4 record with a 6.15 ERA in 52.2 innings pitched. Smyth has struck out 39 batters but has walked 29 over that span. Smyth signed with the A's organization midway through the 2004 season and made 20 appearances for AA-Midland, going 5-4 with a 4.70 ERA. While Smyth isn't likely to make the A's 25-man roster, he will likely add veteran depth to the Sacramento RiverCats' pitching staff next season.

Reigning PCL MVP Dan Johnson is back with Hermosillo after being temporarily released as part of a mid-season shake-up that also cost A's prospect Matt Watson a spot on the Orange Growers' roster. The Orange Growers have not improved their play on the field despite the shake-up, but Johnson has not made them sorry for bringing him back. Johnson has been one of Hermosillo's most powerful hitters this season, compiling a team-leading .568 slugging percentage. He has clubbed 9 homeruns and 7 doubles in 111 at-bats.

Johnson has also held his own in the breaking ball happy Mexican league, showing excellent patience at the plate. Johnson has laid off bad pitches and has also managed to work 26 walks against only 15 strikeouts. He has a .393 OBP despite having only a .261 BA. Johnson has spent some time in leftfield for the Orange Growers, but has looked shaky at times in the outfield. It is expected that Johnson will get the majority of his playing time at first base and designated hitter with Oakland next season, although he may be used in leftfield in an emergency.

One of the players Johnson figures to compete with for playing time in Oakland next season will be joining the Hermosillo roster soon. A's designated hitter Erubiel Durazo plans to play for his native Hermosillo as soon as his contract situation is resolved with Oakland. The A's are in negotiations with Durazo on a multi-year deal. Durazo, who is coming off of his best year as a major leaguer, will be arbitration-eligible if he and the A's cannot come to an agreement by December 19. It is believed that the A's will offer Durazo arbitration if they can't work out a multi-year deal. Durazo played with Hermosillo before catching on with the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization in 1997.

A's relief prospect Chris Mabeus made two appearances for Hermosillo, but hasn't been used since the second appearance when he gave up 3 runs in 1.2 innings pitched. He has been removed from the Hermosillo roster listing on their official web page. Mabeus is expected to compete with Justin Lehr, Huston Street, Tim Harikkala, Seth Etherton and others for a spot in the A's bullpen in 2005.

Puerto Rican Winter League

New A's minor league free agent signing Hiram Bocachica is continuing a strong early season effort for the Ponce Leones of the Puerto Rican Winter League. The former Dodger, Tiger and Mariner has a .967 OPS in 18 games. Bocachica is hitting .288 with a team-leading three homeruns and 9 runs batted in. The speedy utility player has shown good plate discipline, walking nine times against 12 strikeouts. Bocachica will have a chance to make the A's roster as a fifth outfielder/utility player in the spring. He has spent time at third base, as well as the outfield so far this winter league season. Bocachica has also played some second base during his major league career.

Venezuelan Winter League

A's second baseman Marco Scutaro is putting in his winter league time in his native Venezuela. Scutaro has played in 28 games for the Caracas Leones and has a .283 BA with 10 extra-base hits in only 106 at-bats. Scutaro did an excellent job filling in for the injured Mark Ellis in Oakland last season, but the A's wanted to see Scutaro improve his plate discipline and stop swinging for the fences in every at-bat. Scutaro has shown marketed improvement in those areas thus far in his winter league season. He has already walked 16 times in 28 games, which is the same number of walks Scutaro accumulated for the A's in 137 games last season. Scutaro is sporting a .384 OBP.

While Scutaro is likely to be the A's back-up middle infielder next season, he can increase his playing time by showing patience at the plate. The A's liked his ability to go the other way with the ball and he also showed a flair for the dramatic with numerous late-game hits in close ballgames. With Ellis' health still in doubt going into spring training, Scutaro can only help his stock with the team with a strong winter league showing.

Shortstop Gregorio Petit, who spent the 2004 season in Vancouver, was injured diving for a ball last week and will miss most, if not all, of the remaining Venezuelan Winter League games. Petit hit .251 for Vancouver last season and is considered a strong fielder. He is expected to be fully recovered by spring training.

Dominican Winter League

Rightfield prospect Nelson Cruz is continuing to open eyes with his outstanding play for the Gigantes of the Dominican Winter League. Cruz, who hit a combined 26 homeruns for three A's minor league affiliates in a breakthrough 2004 campaign, is quickly becoming one of Oakland's best high-level minor league outfielders. Cruz is hitting .362 with 18 RBI and 3 HR in 47 at-bats for the Gigantes. Cruz has the most RBIs of any of the Gigantes with less than 100 at-bats and is three away from the team lead. Cruz was added to the A's 40-man roster in October and could figure in the A's future in the outfield or could be used as trade bait in a mid-season deal.

Relief prospect Jairo Garcia has not had as much success as Cruz in the Dominican Winter League so far. He has continued to struggle with his control, allowing 11 walks in 11.1 innings pitched. Garcia is still striking out batters at a high rate (13 in 11.1 innings pitched), but the walks and high number of hits allowed have resulted in a 4.76 ERA. Garcia is almost assured of starting the season in Sacramento, likely as the RiverCats' closer.

A's leftfielder Eric Byrnes has made a second career of starring in the Dominican Winter League over the past few seasons. "Captain America", as he is known in the Caribbean country, is scheduled to play in the league once again this off-season. He, like Durazo, will start his winter league season once his contract situation with the A's is resolved. Byrnes is scheduled to play for the Licey Tigers.

Byrnes is arbitration-eligible and is expected to command upwards of $1 million next season. The expected increase in pay has led to speculation that Byrnes might be traded, perhaps as part of a larger package for a power-hitting corner outfielder. If he does return to Oakland, Byrnes will likely start in leftfield for the A's.

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