A's Winter League Notebook – December 22, 2004

The December 22 edition of <i>Winter League Notebook</i> details the winter league exploits of some of the newest A's acquisitions, as well as providing an update on the rest of the A's who are plying their trade in winter league ball.

Dominican Winter League

Checking in with the Dominican Winter League this week sees some of the newest members of the A's participating in Dominican League play. Newly acquired outfielder Charles Thomas is off to a slow start with the Giants of the Dominican League. Through 34 at-bats, Thomas has only six hits and three runs scored. He has walked five times and has swiped five bases. Thomas will likely start the season as the A's fourth outfielder, but he figures to share a lot of playing time with Eric Byrnes and Nick Swisher in the corner outfield positions. Thomas is coming off a season where he posted a 951 OPS in AAA and an 813 OPS at the major league level.

New reliever Juan Cruz recently made his Dominican League debut for the famous Dominican team, the Licey Tigers. Since joining the Tigers, Cruz has served as the long reliever and has racked up 12 innings pitched in only three appearances. He has 12 strikeouts and six walks and has allowed 11 hits. Cruz's ERA sits at 3.00 for the season. The lanky righthander was one of the better middle relievers in the National League last season, as he posted a 2.75 ERA over 73 innings pitched for the Atlanta Braves.

Sacramento's Ron Flores has joined Cruz in the Licey bullpen. The lefthanded reliever is coming off of a strong season for the River Cats, one in which he earned AAA All-Star honors. Flores has appeared in 3.2 innings over four appearances and has allowed three runs. He has struck out three and walked none. Flores has an outside chance of making the A's bullpen in the spring, but he will most likely start the season in AAA-Sacramento. He could be good insurance if Ricardo Rincon gets injured.

Relief prospect Jairo Garcia's struggles for Escogido have continued. After another shaky outing last week, Garcia's ERA now sits at 6.28 over 14.1 innings pitched. Garcia has walked as many as he has struck out (14) and has allowed 15 hits. The flame-throwing righty will almost certainly need some more seasoning in AAA to get his mechanics back on track. With the A's recent acquisitions of Cruz and Kiko Calero, there will be no need for the A's to rush Garcia up to the major leagues before he is ready.

As a side note, former A's secondbase prospect Esteban German has put together a good season at the plate for Azucareros. The speedy infielder, who signed with the Texas Rangers in the off-season, is hitting .282 with 15 stolen bases and 24 walks against 24 strikeouts. German has an outside chance of making the Rangers' roster as a back-up infielder during spring training. The Rangers let go of back-up infielder Eric Young and are rumored to be interested in trading away starting secondbaseman Alfonso Soriano. German split last season between AAA-Sacramento and Oakland. German has always hit AAA pitching extremely well, but has struggled during his appearances in the major leagues.

Mexican Winter League

Firstbase prospect Dan Johnson is continuing his power assault on Mexican League pitching after a brief hiatus. The slugger clubbed his 10th HR on Sunday and is hitting homers at a rate of one for every 12.2 at-bats. That would translate to 41 HR over a 500 at-bat season. Johnson has also continued to display an eagle eye at the plate. He has 31 walks on the season against only 20 strikeouts. Johnson sports an impressive OPS of 978 on the season. The Minnesota native should be able to secure a significant amount of playing time at first and DH for the A's with a strong showing in spring training.

Puerto Rican Winter League

Minor league free agent acquisition Hiram Bocachica has cooled off a bit since we last checked in with him. The utility player started the season hitting in the mid-.300s, but he has since receded back to a .258 batting average. Bocachica is still among the league leaders in extra-base hits with 14. He has an OPS of 845. Bocachica's chances of making the A's 25-man roster took a big hit this week with the A's acquisition of outfielder Charles Thomas and with their decision to tender contracts to outfielders Bobby Kielty and Eric Byrnes and re-sign infielder Mark Ellis. Unless the A's make a trade involving one of the three outfielders, Bocachica will likely start the season in AAA-Sacramento and will serve as veteran depth in case anyone on the major league roster were to be injured.

Incidentally, former Midland starter/reliever Shane Bazzell is having a stellar Puerto Rican season for Santurce. Bazzell, who was also signed as a minor league free agent by the Texas Rangers, has made six starts and has a 4-1 record. The lefty has allowed nine runs in 32 innings (2.27 ERA) and has struck out 24 over that period. He has given up two homeruns. The Rangers have yet to make any significant pitching additions this off-season, meaning that Bazzell should have a decent chance to make the Rangers as a fifth starter or long reliever out of spring training. Bazzell had a strong season for Midland, winning 15 games and posting a 3.03 ERA.

Venezuelan Winter League

Secondbaseman Marco Scutaro is currently sporting the fifth best batting average in the Venezuelan League. "Scooter" is hitting .333 with three homers, three triples and 10 doubles. He has also driven in 16 runs in 40 games. Scutaro's plate discipline has fallen off, however. Over the past week, Scutaro has struck out six times and has not recorded a walk. Like Bocachica, Scutaro's chances for a spot on the 25-man roster are now in peril based on the A's decision to re-sign former starter Mark Ellis. If Ellis' shoulder is 100% during spring training, he will likely team with new acquisition Keith Ginter to cover secondbase and the back-up shortstop and thirdbase spots. However, it still isn't clear how healthy Ellis' shoulder will be to start the season.

Kane County reliever Brigmer Leon is having an excellent season for Zulia. Leon is tied for the team lead in wins with six and has a 3.07 ERA in 25 relief appearances. He has notched two saves. Leon has 23 strike outs and 16 walks in 44 innings. Leon is a six-year minor league free agent and has yet to sign on with a team for 2005.


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