Winter baseball is in full swing in this part of the world. The Puerto Rican league got underway, joining the Dominican, Venezuelan, and Mexican leagues in Latin America. Both the Arizona Fall League and Hawaii Winter Baseball are still playing, so we're at peak activity.
As the Winter moves on, we'll get the Caribbean Series, which is a fun tournament, followed by the second edition of the World Baseball Classic. Next thing you know, it will be opening day.
The Cubs' organization has had a lot of players already seeing action, but, as of Thursday, several of those guys are now minor-league free agents. Jason Dubois, apparently on the DL for Mexicali, is one recognizable name on the list, having made his return to the (Iowa) Cubs in 2008.
Most notable is Josh Kroeger, once a hot prospect with the D-backs, got a cup of coffee but eventually became a minor-league free agent. That's how he came to the Cubs, and, after a solid year in Iowa, Kroeger continues to kill the ball and draw walks, for Caracas, the "Yankees of Venezuela".
Rich Hill has been awful in Venezuela. Combining his 2008 numbers, you find a guy who made 22 starts, but averaged less than four innings a shot. You also find a guy who strikes out 8.9 per nine innings (that's almost three starts to you and me) but walks 8.2 over the same span. That's right, almost a walk per inning. In Rich's most recent start, he walked six in four innings. Commandicus Disappearicus.
Angel Guzman made his third start for Magallenes in Venezuela on Friday. In his second straight five-inning appearance, Angel issued just one walk, but allowed two runs on seven hits, without a single strike out. He did earn his second win, but, working on six days rest, this clearly wasn't a strong outing. In 13 innings, Angel has issued just two walks while striking out eight. His ERA is 2.08.
Jake Fox and Felix Pie are playing for another prestigious team, Licey, in the Dominican Republic. Pie recently joined, and looks to be a No. 8 hitter in a center-field platoon. I really think his days as a Cub are numbered. He's so far off the radar screen, Fukudome is in line to be the lefty half of the Cubs platoon.
Fox, meanwhile, is batting over .500 with power, playing first and DH. It is hard to take him seriously as a prospect at this point, but maybe Hendry can trade him to the A's or some other A.L. team.
In Arizona, the Mesa Solar Sox have come back from a slow start, driven by offense, and just lost two straight to relinquish a share of the lead in their half of the AFL. Nate Spears and Steve Clevenger have contributed at the plate. Clevenger, one of the Cubs stable of young catchers which includes Wellington Castillo (riding the pines for Licey), has cooled off.
Spears is basically a singles hitter but keeps getting on base. Darwin Barney has been getting some at-bats as the lead-off hitter and has improved his performance of late. Spears and Barney currently provide some organizational depth in the middle infield, but Barney, the Oregon State star, appears to be moving up quickly.
Also playing for the Solar Sox are four Cubs pitching prospects. Rockey Roquet, Donald Veal, Esmalin Caridad and Jesse Estrada.
Caridad is an interesting prospect, and I hope the Cubs trade Veal.
I've only touched on a few of the players the Cubs have on Winter-league rosters. You can get all the stats, and more, on the Winter leagues at MLB.com. I've also got a running post of notes, updates, and links.