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
go out to Jimenez and his family for a speedy and full

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.