2B-R Yung Chi Chen, Peoria Javelinas (Mariners)

Signed out of Taiwan in 2004, Chen had a bit of a breakout campaign last year, splitting time between High- and Double-A and hitting .324/.380/.468 in the process. This year, all momentum was lost, as Chen severely dislocated his shoulder one week into the season, and surgery to repair it cost him the remainder of the season. With his playing just five games on the year, the Mariners have sent Chen to Arizona, and he’s started off hot, going 9-for-23 with a home run, four walks and a pair of stolen bases in six contests for the Javelinas. He’s a solid offensive player, but an inability to stay at
shortstop gave his prospect status a big hit. This could be the start of a
rebound, and he’ll start next year at Triple-A in what could be close to a make
or break season.

CF-R Elijah Dukes, Tigres de Licey (Rays)

Well c’mon now, you didn’t think he’d go away forever, did you? After pulling his annual disappearing act this June based on problems in both the clubhouse and the court of law, Dukes appeared in the Dominican this week, playing for the annual Licey powerhouse, and going 5-for-14 with a home run in his first five games. At this point, it’s impossible to project what the future holds, and for anyone other the Dukes or the Devil Rays to try is an exercise in pure conjecture. One thing is pretty clear–the Devil Rays and Dukes are pretty much stuck with each other for a while, so they might as will try to figure out if they can get something positive out of the relationship.

DH/1B-L Erubiel Durazo, Naranjeros de Hermosillo, (FA)

It’s becoming an annual rite at this point–once the Mexican Pacific League begins play, countryman Erubiel Durazo will show up, and he will mash. It happened last year, and the Athletics gave him another shot with a spring training invite. Oakland released him before the season began, and he returned to his home country for their regular season, where once again he dominated (of course), batting .354/.446/.582 in 45 games before the Yankees gave him a shot, and he hit .263/.377/.411 for their Triple-A squad. This winter, playing for his hometown team, Durazo is at it again, going 15-for-38 with five home runs for the orange growers. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that somebody gives him another chance.

RHP Kris Medlen, Honolulu Sharks (Braves)

The Braves drafted Medlen in the 10th round last year out of Santa Ana Junior College. A two-way star for the Dons, Medlen started every game at shortstop, batting .332/.428/.566, and then doubled as the team’s closer, setting a team record with 16 saves. For his pro prospects, scouts far preferred Medlan on the mound, and so far, they’ve been correct, as Medlen began 2007 at
Low-A but finished the year at Double-A, compiling a 1.53 ERA on the way while
striking out 63 in 47 innings. That success has continued in Hawaii, as the 21-year-old has amassed 20 strikeouts in just 10 innings while giving up just five hits. The only knock against Medlen is his size–five-foot-ten and slight of frame, nobody while describe Medlen as projectable, but everyone agrees that he has quality stuff, including a low-90s fastball that touches 94 mph, a very good curve, and a decent changeup. The extra innings this winter could advance his timetable for arriving in the big leagues, and he could move into a middle-inning job by the end of 2008.

C-R Jonathan Lucroy, North Shore Honu (Brewers)

A third-round pick this year out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Lucroy was a late addition to the Brewers’ impressive winter contingent, replacing Angel Salome at the last minute on the North Shore roster. He proved to the organization that he could handle the assignment after hitting .342/.383/.487 in his Pioneer League debut, and has now reinforced the opinion by starting his winter season on a 13-for-32 (.406) run. Some scouts believed that only Matt Wieters eclipsed Lucroy’s offensive abilities from among the catchers in this year’s draft class, but defense is what prevented him from going higher–and he’s thrown out just two of 13 potential base stealers so far. Lucroy might skip Low-A next year and begin the year in the Florida State League, and the team hopes that his work behind the plate can catch up to what may be a very quick-moving bat.

RHP Garrett Mock, Peoria Javelinas (Nationals)

A third-round pick by Arizona in 2004, Mock was a source of frustration to both the Diamondbacks and scouts. He had the frame and the stuff to be a big-time power pitcher, but for whatever reason, it just never seemed to come together for him. Acquired by the Nationals in the Livan Hernandez
trade, Mock was frustrating for a different reason in 2007, as a knee injury
messed with his mechanics, and he couldn’t find a comfortable landing position,
which hindered his effectiveness. Looking to get some more work in, Mock is in
Arizona, finally healthy, and pitching well, allowing just four hits and striking out seven over seven innings in three games. The stuff is still there, and Mock could be going from prospect to disappointment…to sleeper.

RHP Hideo Nomo, Leones del Caracas (FA)

Winter box scores are always full of surprises–where else can you keep up with Roger Cedeno? But an unexpected named showed up in a Venezuela box from Saturday night, as 39-year-old Hideo Nomo started for Caracas. He’s officially attempting a comeback, but we’ll need more evidence to make any judgment, as he pitched just one scoreless inning before the rains came. Nomo,
of course, was a pioneer in the emigration of Japanese stars to the states, and
was outstanding for his first two seasons with the Dodgers, striking out 470
batters in 419 2/3 innings. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2005, when he
had a 7.24 ERA for the Devil Rays, but this is baseball, and teams are always
looking for arms, and if he can find any success in the land of Chavez, someone, somewhere will be picking up the phone.

RHP Brett Sinkbeil, North Shore Honu (Marlins)

The Marlins have spent a significant portion of their top draft picks on pitching of late, and their return on investment has been a minimal one so far. For Sinkbeil, the team’s first-round pick out of Missouri State in 2006, this year was defined by injuries–he missed a month early in the season with arm soreness, and was sidelined from late July until the end of the season due to a back problem. Just as discouraging was the fact that when he was healthy enough to pitch, he didn’t do it especially well, as his 3.42 ERA in 14 Florida State League starts was weakened by his recording just 49 strikeouts in 79 innings. Healthy and looking for some momentum, Sinkbeil has done well so far in Hawaii, allowing just two earned runs of 16 innings across four starts, while limiting opposing hitters to a .172 average. Sinkbeil does two things very well–throw strikes, and generate a significant number of groundballs with his low-90s sinker. He’ll likely begin 2008 at Double-A, and will still rank high in a weak Marlins system come Top 10 time.

RHP Anthony Swarzak, Phoenix Desert Dogs (Twins)

In a Twins system loaded with control specialists, Swarzak fits in as another strike-thrower, but he also has power stuff, including a low-90s fastball
that touches 95, a very good curve, and deceptive change. That puts him among
the elite arms in the system, but he was sidetracked early on this year by a 50-game suspension–the 2004 second-round pick tested positive for a “drug of
abuse.” The upside here is that Swarzak pitched well after his return, said
all the right things about his suspension publicly, and with just 102 innings
pitched on the year, is fresh-armed for the Arizona Fall League. So far, so
good, as Swarzak had his best outing on Saturday with three one-hit innings. A
high school pick who only just turned 22, Swarzak will likely begin next year at
Triple-A, and will likely make his big league debut at some point during the
season as well.

C-S Matt Wieters, Honolulu Sharks (Orioles)

The Orioles made an enormous investment in Wieters, giving the fifth overall pick of the 2007 draft an up-front $6 million dollar bonus. He signed too late
to make his debut, but the Hawaii Winter League serves perfectly for players
like Wieters, allowing them to get their feet wet without providing the same
difficult challenge that debuting Arizona or one of the Latin American league would. So far for the Sharks, Wieters has been as good as advertised, batting .298/.404/.426 in 14 games, and while he’s yet to go deep, six of his 14
hits have gone for two bags, so the power is playing just fine. So is the plate
discipline, as evidence by eight walks and just five strikeouts in 47 at-bats. Greetings to the Orioles’ new number one prospect.

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