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Winter Baseball Serves Its Purpose for Yanks Prospects

By Jed Weisberger ~ October 22nd, 2010. Filed under: Yanks Minors.

As many fans know, baseball doesn’t stop with the playoffs and World Series. Beginning with the Arizona Fall League, Winter Baseball takes center stage.

The AFL, Venezuelan League and Mexican Pacific League are in full swing, while the Dominican and Puerto Rican Leagues are poised to start.

There are a few purposes to Winter Baseball. Some players simply want to play in their home countries for a bit. Others are working on new positions, while others need to get more playing time in for certain reasons.

The Yankees have 16 prospects presently in action, while the Mets have 15. Seven Yankees are in the AFL.  Brandon Laird and Manny Banuelos are there for a major purpose.

Laird, who established himself in 2010, batting .281 (149-for-531) with 25 homers and 102 RBIs between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, is learning to play the outfield. Given his top two positions are first and third, he had blocks bigger than the Maginot Line with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez there.

So, the Yankees shipped him to Tampa for a week to work on outfield play.

“Now I’m here,’’ said Laird, batting .333 (10-for-30) with two homers and eight RBIs in seven games with the Phoenix Desert Dogs. “I feel comfortable playing the outfield. Now, with the ability to play first and third, right and left and DH, I’m a bit more versatile.

“The throws are different from third base, but I’m getting it.’’

Where Laird fits in the Yankees plans – he’ll start 2011 in the Scranton outfield – is unknown, but he has impressed the brass with his bat.

An appendectomy limited the 19-year-old Banuelos in 2010, as he pitched just 64.2 innings among the Gulf Coast Yankees, Class-A Advanced Tampa and Double-A Trenton.  He is in Phoenix to get innings, and is 0-0, 3.00 ion two appearances and six innings.

Two reports indicate lefty Banuelos, who will begin 2011 in the Trenton rotation, is throwing the ball very well, with a fastball that is reaching 95 mph. Mix that with his off-speed offerings and poise, and it’s easy to see a bright future for the Mexican hurler.

Other Yankees prospects playing Winter Ball:

Right-hander Craig Heyer, who finished the season strong, is 0-1, 2.25 in two appearances with Phoenix.  He’ll start at Trenton in 2011.

Right-hander George Kontos also needs innings. Now a reliever, he is 0-0, 4.15 in three Phoenix appearances and will start 2011 in Scranton.

Right-hander Ryan Pope, who switched to the bullpen, has thrown a trio of scoreless innings. He led Trenton with 16 saves and may return there to start 2011.

Righty Josh Schmidt is 0-0, 4.50 with Zulia of the Venezuelan League. He should go to Scranton in 2011. He has 11 strikeouts in five innings.

Righty Eric Wordekemper, who pitched well the second half of last season, is 0-0, 19.29 with Culiacan in Mexico. He’s allowed five earned runs in 2.1 innings.

Righty Francisco Gil is 0-0, 36.00 with Hermosillo in Mexico, having allowed four runs in his only inning.

Catcher Austin Romine is working on his defensive skills and batting .280 (6-for-20) with Phoenix. Indications are he will return to Trenton to start 2011, with Jesus Montero beginning in Scranton.  Montero will likely play some games in Venezuela.

Catcher Jose Gil, who is making a name for himself, is off to a hot start in Venezuela, batting .435 (10-for-23) in six games. Gil, who is quite capable, sonetimes gets lost in the Yankees system. He will go to Trenton in 2011.

Infielder Walter Ibarra is batting .250 (7-for-28) with Hermosillo in Mexico. He’s ticketed for Trenton in 2011.

Infielder Luis Nunez is battiing .200 (2-for-10) with Zulia of the Venezuelan League. Scranton is his likely 2011 destination.

Infielder Jose Pirela is batting .100 (2-for-20) for Phoenix in the Arizona Fall League. Trenton is his likely 2011 spot.

Veteran Justin Christian is hitting .324 (12-for-37) for Mochis in Mexico.

Veteran infielder Marcos Vechionacchi is batting .300 (6-for-20) for Magallanes in Venezuela.

Veteran outfielder Edwar Gonzalez is 1-for-2 with Lara in Venezuela.

Jed spent 35 years in the newspaper business working as both a writer and editor, in both sports and news under tight deadline pressure. As both sports editor at the Indiana (Pa.) Gazette and a copy editor/columnist at The Times of Trenton, he made daily decisions on overall coverage and designed and produced thousands of pages and special sections. Since accepting a buyout from The Times, he has concentrated on broadening his writing and editing horizons to the medical, academic and business fields. Anyone is welcome to Google Jed to see the different places in print, on the Web and in front of the camera his professional expertise has spread to.
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