So, let's get right into the news and stats. In this report, we'll focus on 15 players competing at the higher levels across the four countries, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela, and dig into the Cardinals' entry in the Liga Paralela in Venezuela next time around.
Catcher Yadier Molina. The biggest news in this report is the decision by the Cardinals catcher to report to his hometown Carolina Giants to play Winter Ball. The Giants' 8-11 record at the time may have increased the local pressure for Molina to suit up.
This is at least Molina's third consecutive season playing in Puerto Rico and at least the second in a row in which he did despite the Cardinals specifically recommending that he sit out the winter and rest instead. However, it is ultimately the player's call.
Molina reported this past Tuesday the fifth and debuted Wednesday. So far, Yadi is 0-for-6, including a strikeout and his team has lost three more, dropping to 8-14. He was in the line-up catching for the Puerto Rican team that faced the Dominican Republic in the annual All-Star Game held in the Dominican on Sunday the 10th.
His catching brother Jose also reported to the Ponce Lions last week, so perhaps this was a group family decision. Let's hope it has no negative ramifications for 2007.
Outfielder Miguel "Mickey" Negron. The Cards' recent minor league signee was leading the entire league in hitting before "dropping" to .441 in 59 at bats. He has a nice balance, with two home runs and ten RBI to go along with six stolen bases for Caguas Criollos.
The outfielder agreed to a minor league deal with the Cards, despite reports that the White Sox, Dodgers, Brewers and even the Cubs, who had removed him from their 40-man roster last month, also wanted to sign him.
We have also learned that Negron blamed his drop-off near the end of 2006 season on an ankle injury that is now completely healed. His results on the field this winter seem to bear out that contention.
Outfielder John Rodriguez. J-Rod has returned to the same club for whom he played last winter, Manati. To date, he has three hits in five at-bats for a tidy .600 average, including a double. Rodriguez also has drawn two walks in a good start to his winter workout.
Right-handed Pitcher Gustavo Martinez. The 18-year old Colombian made a huge step up this winter, joining the Escogido Lions after playing for the Cardinals' entry in the Dominican Summer League in 2006.
So far, it hasn't gone well as Martinez allowed 12 runs, of which ten were earned, in his 10-2/3 innings on the mound. Control is a problem with eight walks to go along with nine strikeouts.
Right-handed Pitcher Mike Smith. The Cards' recent minor league signee is currently pitching well for the Azucareros del Este. In 39-1/3 innings, Smith has posted a 1.83 ERA to go along with 22 strikeouts and just five walks.
The 29-year old Massachusetts native came to the Cardinals organization as a minor league free agent from the Minnesota Twins, for whom he won a career-high 11 games at Triple-A in 2006.
Right-handed Pitcher Mark Worrell. As we reported in an earlier update, Springfield's 2006 closer joined the Cibao Gigantes (Giants) on a second-half contract.
In limited action, just 1-2/3 innings over two games, Worrell has allowed one run. He seems to be struggling a bit with his command, with three walks to go along with two strikeouts.
Left-handed Pitcher Troy Cate. As we also noted before, the 26-year old Cate joined the Mazatlan Venados (Deer) as planned. He pitched on Sunday the 30th, then got his first start two nights later, when he allowed just three hits over four shutout innings. In his last outing on Friday night, he allowed three runs in 5-2/3 innings of relief.
Overall, he has fanned ten and walked four in 10-1/3 innings of action over three outings, holding opposing hitters to a .162 batting mark. If Cate continues to start and/or get prolonged outings, this will warrant special scrutiny due to its implication for 2007.
Right-handed Pitcher Andy Cavazos. As previously reported here, Cavazos was pitching in the first half of the winter season only for the Guasave Algodoneros of the Mexican Pacific League and completed his assignment on November 15. Overall, he posted a 2-0 record with a 4.20 ERA and three saves in 14 appearances.
Cavazos struck out eight and walked eight in 15 innings while holding opposing hitters to a paltry .140 batting average.
Outfielder Ian Church. In limited action for Guasave back in October, the Independent Leagues' Player of the Year in 2006 hit .250 in 12 at-bats. The 25-year old Church just agreed to his first non-independent league contract ever with the Cardinals.
Left-handed Pitcher Jaime Garcia. The 20-year-old left-hander is one of the Cardinals organization's very, very best prospects. To date, Garcia is 1-0 with a 4.66 ERA over seven relief appearances for the Hermosillo Naranjeros. He has struggled with his control, walking nine in 9-2/3 innings, while fanning eight.
After just joining the La Guaira Tiburones this past week, too, Contreras has only two pinch-running appearances so far, with one run scored.
Right-handed Pitcher Jose Garcia. The 25-year old has a 0-1 record with a 5.63 ERA over 16 relief appearances and 24 innings for the Oriente Caribes. He has experienced control problems, with 15 walks to go with 14 strikeouts.
Shortstop Rayner Laya. Early in the campaign, the 26-year-old moved to the Zulia Aguilas via trade. Overall, playing part-time, he is batting .170 with one double in 53 at-bats. Laya has two stolen bases and six RBI and has been playing second base in winter ball.
Shortstop Juan Lucena. After not appearing for nearly a month, the 22-year old shortstop rejoined the Aragua Tigres for one game in late November, but hasn't played since. The Venezuelan native is batting .241 with no extra-base hits in 29 total at-bats and has apparently been playing second base in winter ball.
Second Baseman Jose Martinez. The 20-year old Venezuelan has 11 singles in 44 at-bats for the Aragua Tigres for a .250 batting average and slugging percentage. Apparently, he is playing shortstop for Aragua, the first-place squad in the Western Division.
Martinez played for Quad Cities in 2006, his second season of play in the US and ranks among our Top 40 prospects here at Scout.com.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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