Jan 3rd, 2010
Winter Leagues Update
By Matt Cassidy
For die hard baseball fans, the winter months can be tough. Sure, there’s the hot stove to watch, but usually all that provides is a couple days of simmering and a whole lot of watched pots. So let’s turn our attention south, where the weather is actually suitable for outdoor activity, and where some White Sox talent (both major league and minor league) is getting in some work… The Caribbean Winter Leagues.
Players put time in the Winter Leagues for various reasons – getting in reps after an injury-shortened season, face time for the home crowd, getting the attention of other major league teams, or trying out some new pitches or tweaks to the swing are just a few possible motives. The Sox have over 20 players in the organization that are on rosters for teams among the four winter baseball venues – Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic – that started play in October, and are finishing up this week. We will focus our update on players who are likely or definite for the major league roster in 2010, and prospects who are getting in significant time down south.
Liga De Beisbol Dominicano
There are a number of Sox minor leaguers playing in the DR this winter. Reliever Jhonny Nunez, who was acquired from the Yankees in the Swisher deal last off-season, is among the crowd likely to vie for the final bullpen slot in Spring Training. He has struck out 11 batters and allowed a .235 average against him in 9.1 innings, to go with a nice 1.29 WHIP but a disappointing 4.82 ERA. The lack of innings makes those numbers fuzzy, but the strikeout total is nice. Another relief pitching prospect, 25-year-old Santo Luis (High-A Winston-Salem last season), has put up solid core numbers (1.15 WHIP, .159 AvgA, 3.46 ERA), but his peripherals (8 BB vs 4 K in 13 IP) leave something to be desired.
The Sox were high enough on the potential of outfielder Stefan Gartrell that they recently added him to the 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule V draft. But so far, his numbers aren’t looking like those of a top-flight prospect: in limited action, he’s hitting .208 with a .240 OBP and just one walk against nine strikeouts, though two of his five hits are home runs. Another member of the 40-man roster playing on the island is catcher Cole Armstrong, who remains a potential candidate for backup catching duties behind AJ Pierzynski (unless the Sox sign a veteran, or decide to promote uber-prospect Tyler Flowers despite the lack of playing time). Cole is hitting .278 with a .339 OBP in 54 AB, but without any power numbers, as shown by a .319 slugging percentage. Recent signee, outfielder Alejandro De Aza, who the Sox see competing for the final bench spot in spring training, has been less than impressive, posting a .123/.219/.228/.447 line and 15 strikeouts in 57 at bats.
Liga Besibol Venezuela Profesional
Venezuela is another popular destination for Sox players this offseason. Probable fifth starter Freddy Garcia made a show-the-flag appearance, pitching just three innings of 1-run baseball, walking none and striking out three. Clevelan Santeliz (AA Birmingham this past season), a hard-throwing right-hander who the Sox seem to like, has struck out 27 batters in 24.1 innings of work, to go with a 2.92 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a scant .193 average against him. He’s also managed to keep his walk rate under control, issing 10 free passes in those 24+ innings, which is an improvement for him. Miguel Socolovich (23 years old, finished at AA Birmingham in 2009) has been just as impressive, posting a 2.87 ERA, .193 AvgA, and a skinny 0.96 WHIP, striking out 17 batters in 15.2 IP.
Looking at position players, 20-year-old prospect Eduardo Escobar, considered highly for his glove at shortstop, has posted a respectable .269 average in limited action (26 at bats), and 3 of his 7 hits have been for extra bases. Outfielder Josh Kroeger (minor league free agent, can sign anywhere), who impressed manager Ozzie Guillen in Spring Training last year and spent 2009 in Charlotte, has been piling on the offense: a .289/.386/.478/.864 line including 4 homeruns among his 19 extra-base hits in 159 at bats, and adding in a 9-for-10 rate in stolen base attempts for good measure.
Liga Mexicana del Pacifico
The Sox have just a couple players in the organization who are seeing time in the Mexican League this winter. Jesus Avila, a 21 year old middle infielder who repeated with Great Falls (Rookie league) last year, is playing for his home town Caneros de los Mochis, but not having much success – his .095 average, .130 OBP and .190 OPS in 21 at bats are worst on his team, and he’s made three errors in just 13 games.
The other name is more familiar to Sox fans – Ehren Wassermann. After a solid 2007 rookie campaign, this side-arming right-hander struggled in 2008 while bouncing between AAA and the majors, and spent all of 2009 in Charlotte. Given the crowd of arms the Sox are looking at for the 2010 bullpen, Ehren’s chances of breaking in for 2010 are slim, so he’s probably looking to catch another team’s eye (he is a minor league free agent and can sign anywhere). He’s put up some decent numbers so far – a 3.12 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, with 24 strike outs in 34 innings, and he’s started four games.
Liga de Beisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico also has just a couple Sox representatives seeing playing time. One, left-handed pitching prospect Hector Santiago (a reliever with High A Winston-Salem last year), hasn’t looked too good – in 8 games, pitching 6.1 innings, he’s sporting a 7.11 ERA, 2.37 WHIP, and 8 walks against 4 strikeouts. But Miguel Negron, a minor league free agent outfielder who spent last year at AAA Charlotte, is among the league’s offensive leaders, sporting a .337/.461/.458/.919 line, with more walks (18) than strikeouts (15) in 83 at bats. The 27-year-old Negron is a long shot at best for Chicago’s bench in 2010 (barring injuries ahead of him), so he’s auditioning for the rest of the league as much as he is the Sox.