A's Winter League Notebook – December 30, 2004

'Captain America' makes his debut in the Dominican Winter Leagues; Dan Johnson continues to power up; and more, in this edition of <i>Winter League Notebook</i>...

Mexican Winter League

Firstbase prospect Dan Johnson has continued his power and patience approach in Mexico. The lefthanded slugger clubbed his 12th homerun this past week and now sports a hefty .545 slugging percentage. Johnson has also displayed an incredible level of patience, as he continues to rack up walks at a prodigious pace. The 2001 draft pick has drawn 39 walks against only 25 strikeouts. Johnson leads the Orange Growers in walks and on-base percentage.

A's DH Erubiel Durazo is off to a slow start in his winter league season. After picking up two hits in his first game, Durazo has only collected one additional hit over the next five games. He has picked up three walks and has been hit by two pitches during that time. At this moment, Durazo's contract status is still up in the air. Mexican media had reported last week that the slugger was on the verge of signing a multi-year extension with the A's. However, A's Assistant General Manager David Forst was quoted in the Oakland Tribune on Tuesday saying that the A's were not on the verge of announcing an extension and that the team was only looking to give Durazo a one-year deal. We'll see how this story develops over the next few weeks. Durazo was offered arbitration on December 20, so he will return to Oakland next season, barring a trade.

Midland starter Steve Smyth has continued to struggle with the bases on balls during his winter league season. Smyth has a 5-7 record and a 6.19 ERA in 15 starts. Smyth has walked 41 batters in 75.2 innings, which has made it difficult for him to avoid the big inning. Former Sacramento hurler Mario Ramos is a teammate of Smyth's on Los Mochis. Ramos, a minor league free agent who has yet to sign, has had a bit more success than Smyth. He sports a 5-3 record with a 5.68 ERA in 12 starts. The former A's top prospect has allowed 12 homeruns in 63.1 innings pitched, although he has a respectable 60:35 K:BB ratio.

As a side note, former A's first round draft pick Ariel Prieto is burning up the Mexican League this winter. The righthander has compiled an 8-1 record with a 2.09 ERA in 13 starts. He has struckout 53 and walked only 16 in 82 innings pitched. Prieto is hoping to parlay his strong play this winter into one more shot in a major league rotation.

Puerto Rican Winter League

Utilityman Hiram Bocachica has heated up again after a mid-season slump. The minor league free agent signee is now hitting .295 with seven homeruns and 16 runs batted in over 36 games played. He is the current league leader in homeruns. Bocachica seems to have embraced the A's hitting philosophy as he is sporting a .386 on base percentage and has 16 walks against 19 strikeouts. With the addition of Charles Thomas to the A's roster, Bocachica is facing an up-hill battle to make the team this spring. However, his versatility would be a useful asset to the A's roster, so it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Bocachica will spend some of next season with the A's.

Venezuelan Winter League

The Venezuelan Winter League regular season has come to an end and a round-robin playoff tournament has begun. A's secondbaseman Marco Scutaro finished off a strong regular season campaign. The Venezuelan native hit a robust .335 on the year with a 920 OPS. Scutaro may have lost his hold on a 25-man roster spot with the addition of Keith Ginter, but his performance in the winter league certainly hasn't hurt his chances to make the team. Scutaro displayed good plate discipline, something he did not have with the A's last season. If Mark Ellis is not healthy to start the year, Scutaro will likely battle with Bocachica and Jermaine Clark for the back-up middle infield spot.

Dominican Winter League

New acquisition Charles Thomas has had a rough season at the plate for the Gigantes of the Dominican Winter League. Thomas has a .170 BA over 47 plate appearances. He has shown good speed, however, as he has seven stolen bases on the season. Gigantes teammate Nelson Cruz, who was traded from the A's to the Brewers in early December, has fallen off of his torrid early season pace. Cruz, who was hitting in the high .340s at one point this season, is now hitting .310. He has struggled with his strikeout to walk ratio, as he has struckout 29 times and walked only nine times.

"Captain America" Eric Byrnes has made his much anticipated debut for the Licey Tigres. The A's outfielder has become a folk hero in the Dominican over the past few years for his high level of play. Byrnes has collected three hits over his first eight at-bats (.375 BA) and he has clubbed a homerun. Byrnes will enter spring training as the A's starting leftfielder, barring a late off-season trade.

Since we last checked in with reliever Jairo Garcia, the young flamethrower has had two scoreless appearances. He has thrown 2.1 innings, during which time he has struckout three while walking only one. He didn't allow a hit over that span.

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