Oakland A's MLN: Winter League Notebook

While many baseball players are at home resting and getting ready for next season, a number of players are working hard in various winter leagues, including a number with the A's. Find out how those players are faring in the winter leagues, in this edition of Oakland A's Minor League Notebook...

Venezuelan Winter League

Last winter, A's infielder Marco Scutaro returned to his home country of Venezuela determined to work on improving his plate patience. He ended up posting an on-base percentage well above .400 in winter ball and that patience carried over to his 2005 regular season with Oakland, when he walked 20 more times in 19 fewer games and raised his on-base percentage by 13 points despite seeing his average drop nearly 30 points.

Scutaro is back playing winter ball in Venezuela again and he is back to his patient ways for the Leones. In 17 games, "Scooter" has walked 10 times and has reached base at a .438 clip. He is hitting .333 and has nine extra-base hits (including three homers).

Scutaro is joined on the Leones by A's farmhand and top outfield prospect Javier Herrera, who is playing well in his first extended winter ball action. The young outfielder is second in the league with nine stolen bases and he has a 762 OPS. Herrera has seen time in center, right and left for the Leones, although the majority of his appearances have come in left. Herrera is one of the younger players getting regular playing time in the league.

Dominican Winter League

A's top relief prospect Jairo Garcia is turning in a stellar winter league season for the Leones of the Dominican Winter League. The flame-throwing right-hander struggled in winter ball last year, but seems to have turned the corner this season. Garcia, who set a Sacramento franchise record with 20 saves in 2005, has made 12 appearances for the Leones and has thrown 16 innings. In those innings, he has allowed only nine hits and two earned runs. He has struck out 13 and has walked six. He has also notched one save. Although his walk numbers are a little high, they are significantly lower then they were at this time last winter, when Garcia was walking roughly five batters per nine innings.

One of Garcia's teammates on the Leones is Adam Johnson, who just re-signed with the A's to a minor league contract. Johnson, who is the former 2000 Twins' number one pick, has a 2.25 ERA in 7.2 innings, although he has walked five and has struck out only three. He spent the last two months of the 2005 season with the Sacramento River Cats. Alex Santos, another recent minor league free agent re-signee, has thrown one inning for the Leones. Santos had a breakout season in the A's minor league system in 2005, leading the Midland Rockhounds in saves.

Enigmatic hurler Juan Cruz has returned to Licey, where he starred last winter as a starter. Cruz has made only one appearance thus far, walking two and giving up a run in a 1.2 inning relief appearance. Mike Saipe, who spent much of the 2005 season with Sacramento, has a 3.65 ERA in 24.2 innings for Azucareros. Saipe's peripheral numbers are not great, however, as he has allowed 12 walks against 14 strikeouts and he has given up 25 hits.

On the offensive-side of the ball, A's utilityman Freddie Bynum has caught on with the Leones and he has appeared in three games. Bynum, who will have an excellent shot at making the A's as the 25th man off of the bench in 2006, has a triple and a single in nine at-bats. Six year minor league free agent and former longtime A's farmhand Francis Gomez has appeared in eight games and has four at-bats with Azucareros. Former A's infield prospect and Sacramento River Cats' star Esteban German is having a big season for the Azucareros, as he is in the top ten in hits (38), stolen bases (21) and batting average (.336).

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