With only a few games on Thursday's schedule and only one or two notable prospect performances, I'll take this opportunity to tell you a little about the five prospects in the Venezuelan Winter League most likely to make an impact in the majors next season.
â€¨Evan Gattis, C/LF, Braves (Zulia): .277 BA, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 7 2B, 10 BB, 23 K in 38 games. There are a few scenarios in which the 26 year-old, who now has 26 homers in 420 at-bats between Hi-A, Double-A, and the VWL this year, could find himself in Atlanta in 2013. With Brian McCann expected to start the season on the DL, Gattis could be in the mix to back up Gerald Laird in April. It might be more realistic, however, if he serves as the third string catcher so the Braves could utilize his right-handed power off the bench and in a platoon situation where he's starting in left field against left-handed pitchers. It wouldn't surprise me if he gets a month or two of regular at-bats in Triple-A before the Braves move him into what could be a very challenging part-time role for a rookie.
Carlos Sanchez, 2B, White Sox (La Guaira): 1-for-3, 2B, BB. The 20 year-old switch-hitter made it to Venezuela just in time to be included on my list. It's not like he's been slacking off since the season ended, though. Sanchez hit .299 with 9 walks and 11 stolen bases in 22 games in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League. After impressive stints with Hi-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham during the 2012 season, Sanchez finished the year with 11 games in Triple-A. He''s likely to return there to start the 2013 season but he could force his way to the big leagues rather quickly.
The White Sox have a void at third base, which could be filled this offseason via free agency or trade. If it isn't, they'll likely give Brent Morel, who has a career .611 OPS in 182 big league games, the first chance to take the job and run with it. If that doesn't work out, Sanchez could get the call to play at the hot corner, or he could play second with Gordon Beckham moving to third base.
â€¨Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins (Aragua): .256 BA, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 6 2B, 12 BB, 31 K in 36 games. Yesterday's trade of Denard Span means Ben Revere moves over to center field, making there one less option for the open right field spot. Chris Parmelee is the leading candidate at the moment. The Twins could very well fill the void through free agency or trade. Or they could give the 21 year-old Arcia, who hit .320 with 17 HR, 36 2B, 8 3B, and 51 BB in 124 games between Hi-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain last season, a legitimate chance to win the job out of Spring Training. Expect Arcia to start the season in Triple-A Rochester, while Parmelee and possibly a free agent stop gap try and hold down the right field job for a couple months.
â€¨Avisail Garcia, OF, Tigers (Anzoategui): 4-for-16, 2B, RBI, 2 BB, 3 K. Garcia didn't play in his first VWL game until last weekend, but you'll have to forgive him. After all, he did play in 23 regular season games for the Tigers after a late-season call-up, then logged 25 plate appearances in the post-season. So he deseerved a few weeks off. He's technically already made an impact in the major leagues as a part-time player, especially with his 5-for-11 performance in the ALCS sweep of the Yankees. The question is whether the Tigers allow him to continue developing in the minors, where he's played only 55 games above Hi-A ball, or keep him in the majors where he could platoon with Andy Dirks in left field. I say the answer is no, at least not right away. They should give him regular at-bats in Double-A and/or Triple-A for the first half of the season, and then bring him up to give the Tigers a shot in the arm down the stretch
Bruce Rondon, RHP, Tigers (Anzoategui): 4.63 ERA, 11.2 IP, 11 H, 5 BB, 13 K. Despite rumblings that the Tigers could have interest in free agent Rafael Soriano, General Manager Dave Dombrowski has said that the soon-to-be 22 year-old will have every chance to win the closer's job next season. His bullpen is deep, experienced, and includes several Latin American pitchers, so it's possible that he feels a youngster like Rondon would thrive in the environment.
It helps that he can hit triple digits on the radar gun but it's his improved control that has him on his way to the majors. After walking 34 batters in 40 innings with Lo-A West Michigan in 2011, Rondon walked just 26 over 53 innings between Hi-A, Double-A, and Triple-A in 2012. The walk totals are still high but he also doesn't give up very many hits. Ideally, he could be eased into the big leagues with a middle relief role and jump into the closer's role after he's had a month or two of success.