Oakland A's Winter League Notebook – 12/15

Find out how A's players and prospects are faring in their respective Winter Leagues in this edition of <i>Winter League Notebook</i>.

Mexican Winter League

First base prospect Dan Johnson hasn't played since the last edition of Winter League Notebook. It isn't clear whether he is still playing for the Orange Growers. He is still on their active roster and the Mexican media has not reported that Johnson has left the team.

More details have emerged to explain Johnson's brief mid-season departure from Hermosillo and Matt Watson's release. Johnson left the team for about a week in November to tend to his pregnant wife, who was experiencing false labor. When it appeared that his wife wasn't going to give birth at that time, Johnson returned to Mexico. He has been one of the bright spots for an otherwise dismal season for the Orange Growers. Johnson sports a 953 OPS on the season.

Watson left the team at the same time as Johnson, but for different reasons. The outfield prospect struggled much of the season and the Mexican press reported that the Orange Growers had released Watson due to a lack of production. However, it appears that Watson's poor performance may have been because he was ill. In fact, by mid-November, Watson decided it would be better for himself and the team if he returned to the United States to recover from his illness. He should be 100% by the start of spring training.

Midland starter Steve Smyth has had an up and down season for Los Mochis of the Mexican Winter League. The left-handed starter has made 12 starts and has totaled 64 innings pitched for Los Mochis. He has a 4-5 record with a 5.77 ERA. Walks and homeruns have been Smyth's downfall, as he has walked 34 and has allowed nine homeruns in those 64 innings. He has struck out 46.

A's DH Erubiel Durazo is expected to debut for Hermosillo this week.

Dominican Winter League

A's middle infield prospect Francis Gomez has started playing in the Dominican League. The defensive specialist is playing for Azucareros, a team that also features former A's farmhand Esteban German. Gomez, who is widely considered to have the best infield throwing arm in the A's system, is not a particularly strong hitter. He is off to a typically slow start at the plate for Azucareros, as he is hitting only .200 through his first 20 at-bats. Gomez has walked only once, while striking out eight times. He is only 23 years old, but he'll need to demonstrate an ability to swing the bat better to have a future in the major leagues. His glove is major league-ready, however, and he is widely considered to be an excellent base-runner.

Outfield prospect Nelson Cruz has cooled a bit at the plate, but he is still having one of the strongest offensive seasons on his Dominican Winter League team, Gigantes. Cruz, in 63 at-bats, is hitting .349 with six extra-base hits and 18 runs batted in. Cruz has struggled with his strikeout to walk ratio so far this winter league season, continuing a trend from his regular season at Modesto and Midland. Nelson has a chance to make an impact in the major leagues as soon as mid-season 2005, but his plate discipline will need to improve before the A's trust him with significant playing time at the major league level.

Relief prospect Jairo Garcia's season for Escogido is continuing to be hampered by control problems. He has averaged nearly one strikeout per inning (14 in 14.1 IP), but he has also walked nearly one batter per inning (13 in 14.1 IP). His record stands at 2-1 with a 4.40 ERA.

Puerto Rican Winter League

Minor league free agent pick-up Hiram Bocachica has continued his strong Puerto Rican Winter League season. Bocachica is second in the league in homeruns with four. He has a 942 OPS through 24 games. The utilityman has appeared in games at third, second and in the outfield. His versatility may land him a spot on the Oakland bench in 2005.

One of Bocachica's teammates on Ponce is former A's first-round draft pick Chris Enochs. Encochs, who was the A's top pick in 1997 (the same year they drafted Tim Hudson in the sixth round), struggled with injuries and inconsistency during his time with the Oakland organization. He was let go in 2004 and has recently been signed by Pittsburgh after spending time in the Houston organization. The right-handed pitcher has started four games and has an 0-1 record with a 3.38 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 21.1 innings.

Venezuelan Winter League

Second baseman Marco Scutaro is third in the league in hitting. "Scooter" has a .338 batting average and a handsome 939 OPS in 34 games played. Scutaro has displayed encouraging signs of increased plate discipline, as he has drawn 20 walks while striking out only 23 times. Unless the A's trade for another second baseman, Scutaro will enter the 2005 season in-line to share playing time at second with Mark Ellis, who missed last season with a torn labrum and may not be able to play everyday as he continues to recover from the injury.

Former Sacramento reliever Wayne Gomes is a teammate of Scutaro's on Caracas. He has struggled so far, compiling a gaudy 8.03 ERA in 14 innings pitched. The former Phillies' first-round pick has walked eight and struck out 11 over that span.

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