Mariners Winter League Update

InsidethePark's Joseph Yencich brings you all the latest news from the Venezuelan and Puerto Rican winter leagues, where several Mariners farmhands are lighting it up.

Venezuelan Winter League

The reports are true: Rick Guttormson has finally given up a run in Venezuela.  Fortunately, it is now a week later and the sky has yet to come crashing down.

The event in question occurred on December 4th, in what was otherwise a typical victory over the Caribes.  The eighth inning started out without incident, as Guttormson struck out Detroit's Omar Infante looking, as he had done with many other batters over the course of the season.  But then came a most shocking turn of events: with his team down 9-8, Washington outfielder Ron Calloway hit a home run to deep center field, tying the game.  Unfazed and giving the crowd little time to react, Guttormson went after Colorado's Luis Gonzalez and free agent Randall Simon, striking both out looking.  The 27-year-old would go on to win the game, as the Cardinales rallied back in the ninth.

Given his record thus far, it's hard to imagine the first run on Guttormson could have come any other way than a solo shot.  He's only given up 14 hits in his 25 innings, good for a .163 batting average.  It's not as if batters have been reaching base by any other means either; Guttormson has only walked seven, hasn't hit a batter yet, and has struck out 33.  Now, if Calloway had scored due to a bases-loaded walk… then we'd have another story entirely, and a lot more to worry about.

While Guttormson is still the hottest reliever in the league, Jose Lopez is suddenly rising to the top amongst the batters.  The 21-year-old spent the past seven games batting .320 and slugging .800, in no small part due to three doubles and three home runs.  This brings up his season line to .277/.330/.505.

The majority of the damage Lopez did came on December 5th and 6th.  In the 9-2 thrashing of the Navegantes, he hit two-run home runs in consecutive innings, the first coming off of Detroit's Wilfredo Ledezma and the second via Houston prospect Paul Estrada, sparking the offense and leading the Cardinales to 6-0 lead by the end of the third.  For leading this attack, Lopez was plunked in the seventh, preventing him from driving in a runner on second.

But a little soreness hardly slowed Lopez down.  The next day against the Leones, he hit two doubles and scored the only run for the Cardinales in the seventh.  The Leones, unfortunately, had four runs of their own by that time, but woes of the rest of the lineup can hardly be attributed to the young shortstop, who went on to make the reserve list in the division's all-star team.


Puerto Rican Winter League

Fifth-year senior shortstop Erick Monzon signed a contract with the Mariners just before this season's draft.  It wasn't long before he caught the eye of prospect fans by hitting .339/.381/.591 in 31 games with Inland Empire.  Now back playing in his homeland, Monzon is garnering even more attention for himself with the local crowd.

Batting .438/.471/.688 through his first eight games, The Monsoon had pitchers off guard early on and was quickly named one of the league's most promising prospects.  Though he's cooled off a bit to a .296/.345/.444 line, he remains one of the most exciting young players in the league and one of the top hitters on his team.

Though Monzon was primarily a shortstop with Inland Empire, playing one game each at second and third, he has moved to the other side of the bag in Puerto Rico and has taken over as one of Mayaguez' second baseman.  Whether he remains at that position through spring training with the M's is uncertain, but if he does, he has the potential to rise to the top of a relatively thin group.

Drafted by Colorado in 1997, then released by them in 2003 without getting any higher than advanced-A, Melvin Rosario looked to be in need of a career change.  Despite posting a career batting average of .223 and a slugging percentage that wasn't much better at .267, Rosario didn't believe he was quite done yet, and took to roaming the outfields of the independent leagues.

Though his offense slightly improved with the change of scenery, the Mariners came to him this fall with a different idea: a switch to the mound.  So far, it seems like the Seattle scouting department had the right idea, as Rosario is looking like a natural in early play with Mayaguez.

The 26-year-old lefty has made five appearances thus far, totaling nine innings and has given up three runs and held opponents to a .267 average.  It could be worse, though, batters have worked him for six walks compared to four strikeouts, and Rosario has still kept the damage relatively under control.

One could consider his play in Puerto Rico as a bit of a test run to see what he's capable of and allow the M's scouts to figure out exactly what they have in him before assigning a team out of spring training.  For now, it looks like Rosario made the right decision and will be able to continue his baseball career for a while longer.

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