WTNYDecember 16, 2004
Down South
By Bryan Smith

Since there is not a lot going on in the baseball world right now, I think now would be a good time to check out what?s happening in the winter leagues. I?m going to need another day to get a Dominican Winter League report out, but for now, I think the Puerto Rican and Venezuelan Leagues will do:

- The best stories in the Puerto Rican League are those involving pitchers on the way back. My favorite, and the most publicized, is Rick Ankiel?s Puerto Rican quests. The St. Louis southpaw has a 3.57 ERA in 22.2 innings overseas, including a fantastic twenty-nine strikeouts. While his 30 hits allowed is a bit of a concern, Ankiel has allowed only three walks and one home run. A career in relief might not satisfy the people that once forecasted him into an ace, but with the images of wild pitches still dancing in our heads, any career would be a blessing.

- Also on the trail back is Jesse Foppert, the old San Francisco Giants? top prospect. After a dynamite debut out of the University of San Francisco, Foppert became one of the game?s best pitching prospects with a fantastic 2002 season. But arm injuries, like they so often do, struck, and Foppert did not get to fulfill his destiny in the 2004 season. On the trail back, Foppert has a 5.12 ERA in the P.R. League in 19.1 innings. But he has struck out 19 batters while only allowing one walk, a positive sign only about 9 months removed from surgery.

- With Mike Matheny signing his absurd contract in San Francisco, the doors are open for Yadier Molina to get the job behind the plate in St. Louis. As a Cubs fan, I pray this happens. No Walt, don?t go get A.J. Pierzynski. Stick with Yadier. Please. The youngest of the trio is hitting all of .246/.259/.282 in just under 60 at-bats in Puerto Rico. While I know, this is a sample size, it?s still intriguing. If he does this against P.R. pitching, what is he gonna do in the Majors? I couldn?t tell you, but I can?t wait to find out.

- Another Major Leaguer playing in the winter leagues is Francisco Rodriguez, who was allowed by the Angels to pitch in the Venezuelan League. The goggle-donned right-hander is flexing his muscle, yet to allow an earned run in 12 innings of work. In that time, K-Rod has allowed only three hits, while striking out 28. Yes, you read that right: twenty-eight batters in twelve innings. And it took this long for him to start getting the ninth inning in Anaheim?

- Probably the top prospect currently pitching in either of these two leagues, since King Felix was prohibited, is Yusmeiro Petit of the Mets. In typical Metropolitan style, the organization made a mistake letting the Venezuelan pitch near his hometown. After a season in which he threw a lot of innings, Petit will cross the 50 inning mark in his next start. But the good thing for Mets fans is that he?s succeeding, with an ERA of just 2.18 so far. His good peripheral numbers speak very highly, and I think Petit could be making September starts next year for sure. That?s if his arm doesn?t fall off.

- Interesting pair of Twins duking it out down south as well. We last talked about Alex Romero as a possible Rule 5 candidate, and prior as a breakout prospect. His numbers stack up favorably with Jason Kubel?s at the same level, though I?ll be the first to tell you he?s not half the player. Still, Romero could be a playmaker that a lot of teams will regret passing up, and his .325/.427/.487 line proves it. I?m not sure the power will ever truly be an asset, but the contact and discipline will be. And while Terry Tiffee might never gain the Gleeman blessing, he?s making an interesting case for the third base job in Venezuela, hitting .293/.356/.488, though it?s just 41 at-bats. I do agree with Aaron that someone else, albeit Joe Randa or Michael Cuddyer, is better suited for the position.

- I never mentioned in my Rule 5 review, but one reason that Shane Victorino might have gotten drafted is his current VWL performance. The speedster is hitting .272/.320/.529, showing uncanny power. But like I warned in my article on Felix Pie recently, don?t get caught up too much in the power, it comes a bit masked. He does have seven triples in just short of 200 at-bats, a number almost impossible to sustain at the Major League level.

That?s all for now guys, be back tomorrow with thoughts on recent transactions and some Dominican Winter League reports.


The word "good" doesn't do justice to Petit's performance/peripherals. I mean, he has a 6.85 k/bb. Six eighty five. Thats unheard of. With that being said, I heard he only had two more starts to go. Hopefully he'll be shut down soon.

Another reason the Phillies, specifically, might have taken Victorino in the Rule 5 draft: his VWL manager is reportedly Ruben Amaro Sr., the former Phillie and father of the Phils assistant GM, Ruben Amaro Jr.

Is anybody watching Jonny Gomes in the Mexican League? Isn't he ripping it up?

Thanks for the updates, Bryan. Just started reading your site, and I wanted to say that I think it's great. As a Mets fan, I agree with your knock on the Metropolitans; I'll take Petit's overuse, however, over him being spun off for Victor Zambrano. Small steps, man.

As of the 14th Gomes was hitting .352 (19-54)/.407/.926! with 9 HR, 5 BB, 17 K.