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February 17, 2000

NL East Notebook

Winter-League Notes

by Joe Sheehan

While the Braves and Mets try to one-up each other in making their teams older for a shot at the division title in 2000, one of the division's have-nots got some good news from the various Caribbean leagues.

The Marlins' Pablo Ozuna, whose off-year in 1999 moved him down many prospect lists, hit .324 for Estrellas in the Dominican. More importantly, he drew 10 walks with just 145 at-bats. That's nearly as many as he drew all season at Double-A. It's still not an acceptable walk rate, but an encouraging sign as Ozuna heads to Triple-A in 2000.

The Marlin bullpen was a disaster in 1999, so the team should be encouraged by the performances of Antonio Alfonseca and Jesus Sanchez. Alfonseca, the probable Marlin closer, allowed just two earned runs in 13 2/3 innings for Aguilas, walking no one and striking out 13. Fantasy players should keep this performance in mind.

Sanchez, moved to the bullpen in 1999 after a disastrous April, posted a 0.84 ERA in 21 1/3 innings, striking out 24. There's no spot for him in the Marlin rotation, but he should be on the roster, and could be either the top left-hander out of the pen or the #6 starter and long man.

One of the best prospects in the game may have accelerated his arrival with a good season. The Braves' Rafael Furcal, #6 on the Baseball Prospectus 2000 Top 40 Prospects list, posted a .421 OBP for Escogido in the Dominican. There is some speculation that at 19, he could challenge for the Braves' shortstop job this spring. A more realistic target is Triple-A, but don't be surprised to see Furcal on TBS late this season.

Some winter-ball warnings: the Expos' Miguel Batista posted a 1.41 ERA for Pollos in the Dominican. While you may hear some people tout that performance, note that he gave up almost as many unearned runs (six) as earned (eight), and had an unimpressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 31/21.

Also, Jose Vidro hit .315/.405/.433 for Ponce in Puerto Rico. Vidro tired badly in September of 1999, and might have been better served by taking the winter off. A similar warning could apply to the Marlins' Ozuna and the Braves' Furcal, who also played full winter seasons. Young players who play year-round do get tired.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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