Bowman among standouts in Nicaragua

Shawn Bowman – considered the top third base prospect in the Mets organization – is active in the Nicaraguan League and rebounding nicely from a broken vertebrae in his upper back, coach Donovan Mitchell reports.

"He's doing well down here; actually, he leads the league in home runs," Mitchell said via telephone Thursday.

Mitchell, who managed the Kingsport Mets to a second-place finish in the Appalachian League this season, is in Nicaragua guiding a contingent of Mets prospects playing for Tigres de Chinandega.

Though the team is not officially sanctioned by the Mets, Bowman has been joined by four other farmhands from the system: infielder Wilson Batista, outfielders Ambiorix Concepcion and Caleb Stewart, plus pitcher Chuck Smith, making for a familiar atmosphere.

Bowman was limited to just 32 games with the St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League this season before being sidelined in May with a broken L-5 vertebrae.

The infielder avoided surgery by rehabilitating at the Mets' Tradition Field training complex and moved on to Nicaragua, where he had slugged a league-leading four home runs entering Friday's action. Before taking part in the Instructional League, Bowman told Inside Pitch that he was hoping to avoid returning to St. Lucie in 2006.

"I would love to not be in St. Lucie again," Bowman said in September. "If I'm there, I'm just going to have to prove myself again and prove to the Mets again that I can handle the league, that I'm ready for Double-A."

A strong showing and continued at-bats in Nicaragua would certainly figure to help him in that pursuit. Overall, Bowman is hitting .327 (16-for-49) with a double and eight RBI for Chinandega.

"He's one of the top hitters in the league, certainly," Mitchell said. "You can see that."

Stewart, who played 74 games with St. Lucie in 2006, and Batista, the everyday second baseman for the Binghamton (AA) Mets of the Eastern League this season, have posted identical .354 batting averages (17-for-48) through Chinandega's early action.

Each player is tied for second in the league in hits and has slugged two home runs, with Stewart driving in nine runs and Batista seven.

Meanwhile, Concepcion – who finished the year at Binghamton – has turned around his winter session following a slow start. The free-swinging Concepcion had racked up a team-leading 18 strikeouts in 57 at-bats, but Mitchell said there are signs that the outfielder – batting .263 entering Friday – was turning his session around.

"He's struggling a little bit, but I think he's getting ready to come around," Mitchell said. "His last at-bat (Wednesday) night was a base hit to drive in a run, which is something that he needed. It's good to see him coming around because he was struggling."

Concepcion said in September that his plans were to return home to the Dominican Republic and then play winter ball, with the mindset of reaching New York by the end of 2007.

"I know by the end of the year I want to be in the majors," Concepcion said. "I'm going to keep working hard and go into the offseason with that thought."

Smith pitched at three levels in the Mets system in 2006, beginning and finishing his year at St. Lucie with pit stops at Binghamton and Triple-A Norfolk of the International League. With Chinandega, Smith has gone 1-1 with a 5.56 ERA, striking out five and walking six in 11 1/3 innings.

"Chuck Smith had three starts, and his last start was his best start," Mitchell said. "He went six innings and gave up one run, and that was in the first inning he pitched. He's doing real well."

Mitchell said the experiences and day-to-day minutia of taking on baseball tasks in Nicaragua are "different, very different," than what the players are accustomed to in the United States.

The Nicaraguan professional season runs until January 27, with a final series scheduled for Jan. 30-Feb. 7, at which point players will almost be ready to begin planning for their report dates to Port St. Lucie.

"Hopefully, everybody will stay healthy through this and be ready for spring training," Mitchell said.

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