February 1, 2000
AL East Notebook
Winter ball seasons have come to a close, and there are a number of players in the AL East who have played well enough to improve their chances of tripling their per diem in 2000.
It's possible that the winter-league story with the highest profile is that of Morgan Burkhart. Burkhart is a 28-year-old with exactly one skill: he can crush baseballs. After four years ripping up the Frontier League, the Red Sox finally signed him for the 1999 season, and he posted a .286 EqA at Sarasota before cooling off at Trenton. He's short and stocky--think of a switch-hitting Matt Stairs--and limited to first base or DH defensively.
Burkhart hit .315/.461/.591 for Navajoa in the Mexican League after the season, and may have forced his way into Boston's first base/DH mix. Remember, Dan Duquette has shown a willingness to seek out and play reclamation projects, and has struck gold with Troy O'Leary, Reggie Jefferson and most recently, Brian Daubach. There's not a whole lot of difference between Brian Daubach one year ago and Burkhart right now.
The Blue Jays' best pitching prospect may have sped up his arrival by pitching in Venezuela. John Sneed, a right-hander who pitched primarily for Dunedin in the Florida State League in 1999, posted a 2.37 ERA for Lara in the Venezuelan League, striking out just over eight batters per nine innings. Sneed isn't going to make the Jays out of spring training; his performance should shorten his stay at Double-A, however, and line him up for a September callup.
No listing of the biggest winter-ball stories would be complete without a mention of Yankee prospect D'Angelo Jimenez. Jimenez, who was expected to be the Yankees' fourth infielder this year and who we regard as one of the top 15 prospects in baseball, suffered a broken neck in a car accident last week. He is now expected to miss most, if not all, of the 2000 season, and it's an open question how the injury will affect his career beyond that. The best wishes of everyone at Baseball Prospectus go out to Jimenez and his family for a speedy and full recovery.
While the Devil Rays were pursuing the difficult goal of making themselves even older and slower, they were getting a surprising performance from someone young and fast. Center fielder Alex Sanchez went to Venezuela, coming off a .188 EqA season at Double-A Orlando. Nominally a high-average burner, he walked just 26 times in a full season in the Eastern League. Something may have clicked, however, as he nearly matched that total for Occidente, walking 25 times and posting a .413 OBP.
Sanchez isn't likely to make an impact in Tampa Bay in 2000. The Devil Rays have signed Gerald Williams and traded for Greg Vaughn, and they still have people like Quinton McCracken and Randy Winn around. Sanchez is also likely to hit a wall this year, as he's played nearly full-time since March of 1999. Still, he's at least given the D-Rays some indication that he can post an acceptable walk rate. Whether anyone in the organization cares is an open question.