The so-called “Winter Leagues” feature an odd mix of bright young prospects honing their skills, former prospects hoping to get their careers back on track, and veterans just playing out the string. In this series, we’ll take a look at some of the prospects and former prospects and see who’s on their way up. In recent years you could have found prospects such as Carlos Beltran and Ted Lilly, up-and-comers such as Edgardo Alfonzo and Jose Vidro, and guys just looking for a shot such as Benny Agbayani and Erubiel Durazo in these leagues.
This week let’s check out the Mexican Pacific League, which just finished its regular season.
Detroit outfielder Karim Garcia tore the cover off the ball, hitting .336/.380/.656 (BA/OBP/SLG — this format will be used throughout). He still didn’t draw many walks (9 in 128 at bats) but he didn’t strike out much, either (19). Former big leaguer Benji Gil hit .341/.406/.560 in 91 at bats. He has no plate discipline, but good pop for a middle infielder, and he’s still only 27 so anything’s possible. Former White Sox prospect and current Twins hopeful Mario Valdez had a fine winter south of the border, hitting .340/.434/.599. In 147 at bats, he walked 22 times and struck out 31. Forty percent of Valdez’ hits went for extra bases.
On the mound, former big leaguer Reggie Harris dominated the league’s hitters, who batted a pitiful .120 against him. Over 29.2 innings, he posted a 1.52 ERA, striking out 46 against 14 walks. Padres farmhand Rodrigo Lopez enjoyed another fine winter in Mexico. With an ERA of 3.45 in 57.1 innings, Lopez was stingy with the hits (45), although his control could use improvement (35 walks, against just 42 strikeouts).
Jalal Leach and Brad Seitzer put up some nice numbers this winter, again. These guys are way too long in the tooth the be considered prospects, but wouldn’t kill a big-league club as the last guy off the bench. Leach hit .284/.330/.460 in 250 at bats, with 18 walks and 45 strikeouts. He also stole 16 bases in 21 attempts. Seitzer, the younger brother of former big-league infielder Kevin Seitzer, hit .305/.381/.467 in 197 at bats, with 22 walks and 43 strikeouts. Outfielder Roberto Mendez and catcher Noe Munoz are also worth mentioning. I don’t know how old they are or whether they are affiliated with any big-league club, but they put up good numbers in Mexico. Mendez hit .248/.358/.416 in 202 at bats; the 35 walks versus 31 strikeouts is encouraging. In 198 at bats, Munoz hit .273/.353/.414, with 25 walks and 26 strikeouts. These numbers aren’t overwhelming, but it should be noted that the team as a whole hit .246/.325/.369, so perhaps there are park factors at work.
Southpaw Gilberto Gonzalez fashioned a fine 2.90 ERA over 87 innings. Opponents hit just .214 against him, and while he walked a few too many (45), he also struck out his share (82). As with Mendez and Munoz, I don’t know anything else about Gonzalez, but those numbers are certainly noteworthy.
Some real good hitters over here. Juan Canizalez hit .336/.398/.525, with 24 walks against 31 strikeouts in 244 at bats. Again, I know nothing about him other than he tore up the Mexican Pacific League. Cleveland outfielder Jacob Cruz had a solid winter, batting .302/.402/.453, with 26 walks and 25 strikeouts in 159 at bats. With Kenny Lofton expected to miss a big chunk of the 2000 campaign, Cruz is a good bet to get some playing time with the Indians. And of course Erubiel Durazo abused pitchers once again, to the tune of .360/.467/.627 in 150 at bats. He also walked more than he struck out. Yet another unknown, second baseman Miguel Flores, hit .321/.392/.466 in 277 at bats, with a solid 33-to-34 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He stole 12 bases in 15 attempts. Third baseman Bryant Nelson, of the Cubs organization, hit .295/.396/.472 in 176 at bats. He drew 30 walks and struck out just 20 times. The switch-hitter’s pro record is a bit spotty, but he did have a decent 1999 at Double-A West Tenn, at age 25.
Baltimore righthander Javier de la Hoya is too old (30) to be considered a prospect but put together a solid effort this winter. He posted a 3.69 ERA, with 24 walks and 60 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. Opponents hit just .251 against him. Former Pirates righthander Elmer Dessens finished with a cool 3.44 ERA in 49.2 innings. He walked 17 and struck out 38, and the opposition batted .243 against him. The Diamondbacks’ Nelson Figueroa sported a 2.66 ERA, with an outstanding 58-to-20 strikeout-to-walks ratio over 67.2 innings. The 26-year-old righthander acquired from the Mets in the summer of 1998 isn’t a high-ceiling prospect but could have a big-league career. Ageless lefties Angel Moreno and Fernando Valenzuela also pitched for the Hermosillo club.
Former prospect Brent Cookson had his way with pitchers, in limited playing time, hitting a robust .318/.408/.682 in just 66 at bats. Thirteen of his 21 hits went for extra bases. Time is running out for the 30-year-old right-handed slugger. Minor league vet Kevin Grijak hit .262/.328/.493, with 21 walks and 27 strikeouts in 229 at bats. Last seen in the Dodgers organization, the 29-year-old Grijak is another, like Cookson, who could prove useful on a big-league bench. The Cubs’ Eric Hinske didn’t put up big numbers south of the border, but he’s a 22-year-old with just 15 at bats above Class-A ball, so that’s not surprising. The lefty-swinging Hinske can play first or third base, and patrolled the outfield in Mexico this winter. After hitting 28 doubles and 19 homers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 1999, with good plate discipline, he held his own in Mexico. Hinske hit .243/.353/.335 in 173 at bats, with 28 walks and 33 strikeouts. He also stole 10 bases in 11 tries. Brad Tyler is another in the mold of Cookson and Grijak. He hit .253/.348/.430 in 249 at bats, with 37 walks and 46 strikeouts.
Righthander Miguel del Toro and southpaw Daniel Garibay once again had fine seasons. Del Toro, who pitched briefly for the Giants in 1999, posted a 3.34 ERA over 32.1 innings, with 20 walks and 30 strikeouts. He held opponents to a .222 batting average. In 100.1 innings, Garibay, recently signed by the Chicago Cubs, had a 2.51 ERA, with a fine strikeout-to-walk ratio of 86-to-26. The league hit just .233 against him. Tampa Bay righthander Pablo Ortega notched a 3.08 ERA in 76 innings, while limiting opponents to a .234 batting average; on the downside he walked 44 but struck out just 42.
Third baseman George Arias tore up the league again, batting .276/.395/.654, with 29 walks and 38 strikeouts in 156 at bats. Just 28 years old, he still has a chance at a career but he’d better make his move soon. San Diego outfielder Mike Darr hit .308/.395/.479, with 24 walks and 42 strikeouts in 169 at bats. With the departure of Reggie Sanders to the Braves, Darr figures to get material playing time with the big club in 2000. Australian Aaron Guiel hit .286/.424/.482, with 25 walks and 21 walks in 112 at bats. The 27-year-old outfielder/first baseman is a marginal prospect in the Padres organization. Yet another San Diego farmhand, outfielder Chris Prieto, batted .289/.395/.421 in 242 at bats, with 38 walks against 29 strikeouts. He swiped 23 bases and was caught only 4 times.
Righthander Alonzo Beltran is the best of the moundsmen, having compiled a 3.22 ERA over 72.2 innings. The 28-year-old, who spent 1999 in the Pirates organization, walked 37 and struck out 56, while limiting the opposition to a .246 batting average.
Outfielder Jayson Bass, a power/speed guy in the Mariners chain, hit .251/.324/.484 over 214 at bats. He also stolen 11 bases in 14 tries. Over 40% of his hits were of the extra-base variety, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 57/22 leaves a little to be desired. San Francisco farmhand Jay Canizaro batted .281/.327/.406 in 96 at bats. He struck out three times as often as he walked, and as a 26-year-old stuck behind Jeff Kent, time is not on his side. But he has been highly regarded in the past, and middle infielders who hit 26 homers (even if it’s the PCL) don’t grow on trees, so you never know. The good news for Padres outfielder Ethan Faggett is that he got on base this winter, to the tune of .265/.374/.447 (including 21 walks versus 31 strikeouts in 132 at bats), which is what he needs to do if he’s to take advantage of the one great tool he has — speed; the bad news is, he broke even in 12 in stolen base attempts, which doesn’t get it done. Minor league mainstays J.R. Phillips, Ryan Thompson, and Ernie Young all played here, hoping for one more chance at glory. Phillips hit .302/.384/.640 in 139 at bats, with 18 walks and 29 strikeouts; Thompson hit .248/.319/.424 in 125 at bats; Young hit .249/.332/.525 in 177 at bats. Both Thompson and Young finished with strikeout-to-walk ratios of 2.5-to-1 or worse.
There’s not much in the way of pitching here. Venerable southpaws Teddy Higuera and Ed Vosberg are still kicking around. Vosberg, as a starter, dominated the league with a 1.33 ERA in 47.1 innings. But he’s 38 years old, and Higuera’s probably even older, so don’t get too excited.
Former indy league legend and current Boston farmhand Morgan Burkhart put together another monster season, hitting .315/.461/.591 in 232 at bats, with 56 walks and 58 strikeouts. The 28-year-old Burkhart could pull a Benny Agbayani this season and make a positive contribution off the Red Sox bench at some point. Virgil Chevalier, another in the Boston chain, hit .287/.341/.434 over 272 at bats, with 21 walks against 32 strikeouts. At age 26, he’s a bit old to be a prospect, but he could show up on a big-league bench someday. Charles “Gator” McBride, a former Braves prospect, hit .331/.383/.490 in 239 at bats, with 21 walks and 39 strikeouts. Now 26, time is running out for McBride. Yet another guy I’ve never heard of, Mauricio Zazueta, put up intriguing numbers. Zazueta, a second baseman hit .280/.336/.414 in 239 at bats, with 20 walks and 49 strikeouts. Poor plate discipline, but nice pop for a middle infielder.
The one pitcher worth mentioning is righthander Aaron Quiroz. I couldn’t find anything on him, but he posted a solid 3.19 ERA in 59.1 innings, with a respectable 42-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The best performances here came from veterans such as Mattias Carrillo, John Cotton, Hensley Meulens, and Lee Tinsley. Carrillo, a Mexican League legend, hit .311/.367/.508 in 254 at bats. Cotton, a corner infielder last seen in the Colorado organization, hit .273/.351/.519, with 25 walks and a whopping 66 strikeouts in 231 at bats. At age 29, he’s not really a prospect, but if he gets his foot in the door, anything’s possible at Coors Field. Meulens and Tinsley, former big leaguers, hit .299/.357/.544 and .330/.384/.534 in 204 and 103 at bats, respectively.
Good pitching was hard to find in Obregon this winter. One who pitched fairly well was righthander Alfredo Garcia, who posted a fine 3.38 ERA over 77.1 innings. Opponents hit .268 against him, and he walked 31 while fanning 45. I don’t know how old he is or whether he is affiliated with any big-league club, but he put up decent numbers this winter.