AFL/Winter League Update: 11/14

The <b>Arizona Fall League</b> brings in prospects from all 30 teams and while some teams prefer to use it to get experience for recently drafted players, others use it for their more highly regarded prospects.

Even Delmon Young is far from a sure thing when all is said and done. The Devil Rays' prospect, widely regarded to be one of the top hitters in all of the minor leagues, is hitting just .253/.341/.333 through 21 games with the Mesa Solar Sox. Adam Wainwright, a former top prospect with the Braves and current St. Louis farmhand, has a 5.23 ERA and opponents are hitting around .350 off of him.

While giving a nod to the high status of current prospects but acknowledging individual performances in the short season, the 2004 Arizona Fall League All-Star Team:

Ryan Garko, C/1B, Javelinas, CLE
.337/.378/.545, 9 2B, 4 HR
Ryan Howard, 1B, Phoenix, PHI
.347/.406/.559, 41 H, 14 2B
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Scottsdale, MIL
.382/.520/.737, 6 HR, 17 BB
Omar Quintanilla, SS, Phoenix, OAK
.393/.424/.536, 8 2B, 16 RBI
Mark Teahen, 3B, Phoenix, KC
.387/.450/.570, 5 2B, 3 3B
Conor Jackson, OF, Scottsdale, ARI
.340/.446/.630, 8 HR, 26 RBI
Reid Gorecki, CF, Mesa, STL
.390/474/.610, 6 2B, 4 HR
Chris Shelton, DH, Grand Canyon, DET
.400/.466/.690, 6 HR, 32 RBI
Bill Keplinger, LHP, Phoenix, KC
3.15 ERA, 20.0 IP, 4 W, 17 H
Russ Rohlecik, LHP, Mesa, CHC
2.70 ERA, 16.2 IP, 14 H, 22 K
Scott Baker, RHP, Grand Canyon, MIN
2.96 ERA, 24.1 IP, 5 BB, 26 K
Huston Street, RHP, Phoenix, OAK
0.56 ERA, 16.0 IP, 5 S, 10 H

If you had been making one of these lists in week two or three, you could have put any one of the M's hitters in the lineup, but none of the three have fully bounced back from midseason slumps. With their team fully out of contention, they'll have to look forward to their remaining time in Arizona before their final official game coming this Thursday.

For Shin-Soo Choo, the second to last week wraps up with a performance where he managed to do everything to carry his team over the top. Wednesday afternoon, the Javelinas faced off against the Saguaros in one of their final meetings of the season. With his team down 7-9 in the top of the seventh, Choo blasted a three-run bomb, his third of the season, to put the Javelinas on top 10-9. The lead was short-lived, as the Saguaros rallied back to tie it in the bottom of the frame. The next time the 22-year-old stepped to the plate, it was game time. While a double by Padres prospect Josh Barfield put them up 11-10, no lead is ever certain in Arizona, and Choo doubled Barfield in to put the score at 12-10, the final nail in the coffin. Entering the final week, Choo is batting .279/.398/.441.

Greg Dobbs also played his own part in Wednesday's victory. Like Barfield, Dobbs had three hits in the game, and scored a couple of runs, even stealing a base at one point. This pushed his average back up to .295/.337/.389 and his runs scored to 19, third on the team to San Diego prospect Paul McAnulty. As good as Wednesday was to the 26-year-old, Tuesday might have been a bit better, had he gotten a full game in. Dobbs appeared as a pinch hitter for Montreal shortstop Trey Webb in the later innings and immediately got a single. Remaining in the game as the third baseman, Dobbs singled again in the eighth and would score later as a key part of a six-run rally by the Javelinas. They would go on to fin the game, 11-5.

Unfortunately for Michael Morse, he wasn't able to get in on the action as much as his fellow prospects did, and with that, his dreams of hitting .360 in the AFL season may be gone. The 22-year-old had two singles in the week, but nothing else beyond that, and his average has slipped to .296/.337/.346, the first time it's been below .300 all season. All is not lost for the big shortstop, however. The organization sent him to Arizona to fix his defense, and his hard work has translated to just four errors in 21 games, the last of those coming several weeks ago. Morse seems to have finally tapped his abundant physical tools and translated them into a solid defense at one of the tougher positions on the field.

On the pitching end of things, Brett Evert has very quietly transformed into one of the better relievers in a fall league that does not take kindly to pitchers. The batting average for the whole league stands at .292, but Evert, despite intense struggles early on, has held them to .253. For the week, the 24-year-old logged two appearances and between them, six innings where he gave up four hits and struck out four. One of those hits came as a home run, the second Evert has been tagged for, but otherwise the unpleasant 7.52 ERA he's carrying has mostly been the product of those who followed him out of the ‘pen. He will likely enter the 2005 season with an invite to spring training and an outside chance of taking a spot in the Mariners bullpen.

Jared Thomas, on the other hand, may be a year or so away from that. The 24-year-old ran into more struggles on Thursday when he gave up a few runs as the Saguaros rallied for a ten spot between the fifth and sixth innings. The outing bumped Thomas' earned run average up to 8.24 on the season. The last few weeks have been forgettable, to say the least for the Michigan native. Losing control of his stuff, Thomas' has been giving up hits and free passes at an alarming rate, with 28 hits and 12 walks in just 19.2 innings pitched. Write this campaign off as part of a difficult learning process. Hopefully, Thomas will have taken more from it than the numbers indicate.

One of the few starting pitchers in the AFL to stick with the role and one of the younger players on the team, Jon Huber has seen it all over the course of the short season. The struggles were to be expected, given that he was an advanced-A pitcher facing off against double-A and triple-A veterans, but the 24-year-old has continued to attack the zone and strike out hitters through it all. Though Huber's most recent start was nothing to write home about, six runs on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts over three innings, Arizona has not traditionally been kind to pitchers anyway, and his 6.46 ERA is a clear mark of that. Huber recently garnered high praise from Inland Empire broadcaster Mike Saeger as well as fellow pitcher Thom Oldham, so the potential is certainly there. He is on schedule to take the mound in the season finale on Thursday, and is due for a good start, so watch out.

Venezuelan Winter League

Teams in the VWL are comprised mostly of experienced prospects and major league vets, so when Cardenales manager Phil Reagan decided to give a roster spot to a guy who just started pitching this year, and in a summer league no less, no one quite knew what would happen. In spite of his relative inexperience, 20-year-old Mariners' right-hander Edgar Guaramato has been holding his own against hitters far above the level he's used to facing. A converted infielder, Guaramato is armed with a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider with some surprising bite on it. While his control over both is far from perfect, he has put up a 4.50 ERA despite giving up fourteen hits and six walks in ten innings of work. Regan has even used him as a setup man on occasion when the team is ahead. Guaramato and his potent arm are likely to debut stateside in the 2005 season.

The Cardenales don't have a monopoly on Mariners prospects, however, and two other players are sticking it out with their hometown teams. Catcher Luis Oliveros, a San Antonio Mission this past season, has taken the duties of backup catcher for the Caracas Leones. The going hasn't been easy for the 21-year-old, batting just .188/.212/.394 and struggling to build upon a lackluster regular season. The young backstop has shown unusual power in the six hits to his credit thus far. Two of them left the park and another was a double to the warning track.

Another player in the eastern division, shortstop Juan Gonzalez has taken the role of a backup infielder on the Magallanes team. Acquired with Ramon Santiago in the Carlos Guillen trade, Gonzo spent his season in the California League as an infielder with Inland Empire. The 22-year-old has done well in limited playing time, batting .244/.346/.378 in fifteen games and driving in nine runs. Given the league he's playing in, that level of production is right about where he should be, and Gonzalez remains on track to take on San Antonio next season, barring injury.

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