Many of the winter leagues are heading into the playoffs, and a number of Oakland A's farmhands and 25-man roster players are playing a big role in their teams' chances of winning their respective league titles. One such player is Marco Scutaro, who has made dominating the Venezuelan Winter League an annual rite. The A's back-up middle infielder is leading the league in hitting with a .383 average for his hometown Caracas Lions club. He is also sporting a healthy 981 OPS.
His Caracas teammate Gregorio Petit, an A's farmhand, has lost playing time to Scutaro since Scutaro's arrival to the team in November. Nevertheless, Petit is having a solid first full season as a regular player in the Venezuelan Winter League. The middle infielder has appeared in 33 games and is hitting .271 with a .400 slugging percentage and 19 runs scored.
Sacramento centerfielder Charles Thomas has had an up-and-down season in the Venezuelan League. He had his average back up to the .300 level earlier in the month, but he has slumped since then and is now hitting .250 with a 707 OPS in 39 games.
In Puerto Rico, left-hander Dallas Braden is putting in a fine effort for Mayaguez. The Texas Tech alum was recently invited to the A's big league camp. He has a 2.30 ERA in six appearances (three starts) for Mayaguez. He is 1-0 and he has allowed only 10 hits and he has struck out 19 in 15.2 innings. Braden has struggled with walks, however, having issued 10 free passes.
Longtime Puerto Rican Winter League star Hiram Bocachica is off to a slow start for his hometown Ponce team. In 16 games, the A's back-up outfielder is hitting .222 with one homer and six runs scored. He has walked nine times against 11 strikeouts.
Erubiel Durazo, who the A's recently re-signed to a minor league deal after a year away from the team, is one of the league leaders in hitting in the Mexican Winter League. The left-handed slugger is batting .343 with 18 homers and 55 RBIs in 60 games for the Naranjeros of Hermosillo. The famously patient Durazo has walked 40 times against 37 strikeouts. He has been invited to the A's major league spring training camp to compete for a possible bench job backing up Mike Piazza at DH and Nick Swisher or Dan Johnson at first base.
In the Dominican Winter League, Daric Barton hasn't played in two weeks. If he is done for the winter, the A's first base prospect will finish his first tour in the Dominican Winter League with a .324 batting average and a .447 on-base percentage.
Antonio Perez, the A's back-up infielder, recently made his Dominican Winter League debut with the Gigantes, who finished tied with Licey and Aguilas for the best record in the league. Perez broke his finger during the last weekend of the 2006 season and he missed the start of the Dominican Winter season recovering from the injury. He has now played in four games for the Gigantes and has four hits in 12 at-bats, including a triple. He has also walked twice and has driven-in a run.
Comings and Goings
The A's re-signed minor league right-hander Kevin Olsen to a minor league contract. The 30-year-old went 6-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 13 starts for the Double-A Midland Rockhounds in 2006. Olsen began the year with Sussex of the independent Can-Am League before being signed by Oakland. He is a long-time minor league veteran who has spent parts of three seasons with the Florida Marlins, compiling an 0-5 record and a 5.12 ERA in 28 major league appearances.
Oakland released two minor leaguers: shortstop Wes Long and outfielder Cameron Coughlan. Long was a 29th round pick by the A's in 2004. He played for Low-A Kane County last season, appearing in 84 games and hitting .198 in 247 at-bats. In his minor league career, Long has hit .264 with seven homers in 660 at-bats. Coughlan was a minor league Rule 5 pick by the A's out of the Rangers organization in 2006. He spent the first two weeks of the season with Double-A Midland and then was sent down to High-A Stockton, where he spent most of the rest of the season. He hit .289 with 20 stolen bases in 69 games for the Ports.
Mark Kiger, who was released by the A's earlier this month to clear room on the 40-man roster, was signed by the New York Mets to a minor league contract. Kiger is expected to play for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs in 2007.
Swisher Named Charleston Gazette Sportsman of the Year
Nick Swisher had a breakthrough season for the Oakland A's in 2006, and people took notice throughout the country, including in his home state of West Virginia. The A's second-year slugger was named the Charleston (WV) Gazette newspaper's "Sportsman of the Year" for his efforts getting the A's into the second round of the playoffs in 2006. The award is in its seventh season and is given to the "home-grown West Virginia product who made a positive impact on the national sports scene and who embodies the word ‘sportsman.'"