Snakes Don't Hibernate: Diamondbacks Winter Ball Update

2010 has ended, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are still unbeaten in 2011. Admittedly, this is because we're still a good two months from them actually playing anything approaching a meaningful game, but I've always been a glass half-full kind of guy. Actually, that's a lie: I'm more of a "Would you mind topping this up, please?" kind of guy, but never mind. While we were lighting fireworks (in the areas of Arizona where such things are not prohibited by city by-laws) and bidding farewell to the old year, some Diamondbacks were getting their winter licks in.

With the regular season just having ended in most places, and the playoffs now gearing up, seems like a good time to see how they've been doing...

I had a "WTF?" moment on looking at the stats, because there was a name there I certainly didn't think was part of the Diamondbacks' 2011 plans. 

Colon_medium

My first thought was that this wasn't "the" Bartolo Colon, just "a" Bartolo Colon - if you like, a semi-colon... However, given this one is aged 37... I think this was probably just someone at MLB.com's idea of a sick prank. Everything else I can see indicates he'll be going to the AL, with the Indians, Rangers and Yankees the leading contenders. So, moving on to the players we actually have, there have been some excellent performances, from our pitchers in particular. A trio working for Leones de Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League have been especially impressive, with Kyler Newby leading the way.

For a guy who was a 50th-round draft pick in 2004 - #1,485 overall - he's done pretty well, posting a 2.97 ERA in his six minor-league seasons, though he hasn't pitched above Double-A. That might change after this winter, since he has a 1.55 ERA over 46.1 innings for the Leones, starting in nine of his ten appearances. He seems to be on a restricted workload, not having thrown more than five frames in any outing, but he has struck out almost a batter per, and has yet to allow a home-run. Perhaps his most impressive feat was starting a game on November 7th, allowing one run in five innings - then throwing 4.1 shutout frames in relief on the 9th, fanning seven.

His team-mate in the Leones rotation, Wes Roemer, has an ERA almost as good, with a 1.64 number over his five starts, and has also yet to let a ball leave the park. However, his peripherals are a good deal shakier. Roemer has struggled a bit with control, having a K:BB ratio of 11:9 in a total of 22.2 innings, and has an overall .300 batting average against. Completing the trio is Tom Layne, who joined the team in December and has made two starts after a couple of bullpen appearances, with a 3.14 ERA over 14.1 innings. Like Newby, he was part of the Mobile rotation, and I like his ground-ball tendencies; Layne had one start for Leones where his GO:AO ratio was 11:1.

Fringy reliever Rafael Rodriguez, part of the Dan Haren trade with Anaheim, has also seen some action, playing for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican League, though hasn't played since December 15. Interestingly, he started five games for them, making me wonder if the Diamondbacks asked for him to be stretched out? [He was initially a starting pitcher, but moved to the bullpen in 2007] However, the results as a starter - eleven ER in twenty innings, with a K:BB ratio of 19:10 - were nothing to write home about, and his last couple of appearances were back as a reliever, suggesting an end to that experiment, if that's what it was.

Juan Gutierrez, potential set-up man for J.J. Putz, has also been getting his work in, playing for Leones del Caracas in his native Venezuela. It's been a bit like 2010 in miniature for Gutierrez. After a very wobbly start, allowing seven runs, all earned, over his first eight innings of work, Gutierrez has settled down greatly, with just one hit and no walks over his last six frames. Though his ERA is still 4.50, he is holding batters to a .231 average and has a decent 1.143 WHIP. Completing the active pitchers with more than a dozen innings is Bryan Henry, who has pitched 20 innings for the Senadores de San Juan in PR, and a 2.70 ERA, with opponents hitting .208 off him.

On the hitting front, there hasn't been so much activity, with only four batters having reached 50 at-bats since the end of the Arizona fall league. There has, however, been a show of power from a surprising corner: new back-up catcher Henry Blanco. While hitting just .222, he has nine home-runs in 126 ABs with Bravos de Margarita in Venezuela, leading his team (one other player had more than two!), and trailed just Luis Antonio Jimenez, who hit 12, in the entire league. I wouldn't be expecting that to continue at the major-league level this year, given Blanco has reached nine homers once there, since making his debut in 1997.

The other player who has been most active is outfielder Gerardo Parra, playing for Aguilas del Zulia, also in Venezuela. He had a line of .287/.371/.373, in 150 at-bats, and finished the regular season strongly, going 11-for-29 over his last eight games. Veteran Andy Tracy, who'll likely be manning first for Reno, got off to a slow start in the Dominican League, with two hits in 29 at-bats, but has picked up the pace since going to Venezuela, hitting .289 and posting a solid .873 OPS there. Finally, probably first-baseman Juan Miranda has had a disappointing campaign in the Dominican, batting .212 over 19 games, though did walk more often than he struck out.

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