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The month in Arizona baseball: Eric Byrnes released (but don't get too excited), Twitter talk and prospect rankings

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I read last night in Baseball Weekly that former Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez was killed in an incident involving a machine-gun during a Venezuelan triathlon. I was most upset by this, not just because his #0 was the first baseball jersey I ever owned, but more since the piece included quotes from Mrs. SnakePit as an eye-witness, and she hadn't even told me she was going to Venezuela.

Then I woke up. It was all very strange: we probably shouldn't have spent the past few days vacuuming up all 13 episodes from season one of The Sopranos. I mention it here, just in case anything does happen to Mr. Ordonez over the next few days. Anyway, been a while since we've had one of these, so after the jump, we'll see what other stuff can be found in the world of baseball - and, ideally, from slightly more reliable sources than my Soprano-infected subconscious.

Twitter continues to gain traction in the Diamondback worlds, with the news that Justin Upton now has a Twitter feed. He joins Edwin Jackson, though his feed has only a handful of updates since July (but he follows Stephen Colbert, so he's ok by me!). Jarrod Parker has had one for a while, and one of his New Year's resolutions is to get to a thousand followers [he's currently a little shy of 600, which is still ahead of Justin Upton], so let's see if we can help get him to his goal. There's a number of other interesting Diamondback-related Twitterers [Is that right? Or is it Twittees? Or Twats?], so I've added those to the left sidebar, just under the large button where you can subscribe to the SnakePit feed. Let us know if there's any I missed.

Nick Piecoro had updated his view of the D-backs salary state, and suggests that the team is pretty close to done for this off-season, unless salary can be freed up by trading one of the more well-paid members of the roster away. Otherwise, he says, "The sense we get is the Diamondbacks have the flexibility to extend the payroll a little more, but they won’t spend money for the sake of spending it. It would have to be the right player at the right price." One interesting additional tid-bit is that Eric Byrnes rejected an offer by the team to defer some of the $11m he's owed for next this year [must get used to it being 2010!].

Speaking of Byrnes, it appears that he has parted ways with his team in the Dominican League, Tigres del Licey, under a cloud. He played five games for them, going 4-for-16 but his last appearance there was December 19th and this story [thanks to Mrs. SnakePit for the translation] says his below-expected performance led to him being benched in favor of the team's hottest hitter, Timo Perez. Seems this decision did not sit well with "El grandesligas" - I assume that was Arizona - and on Tuesday, Byrnes was apparently seen loading all his equipment into a Jeep and leaving. Not quite the rejuvenated performance we hoped to see from our fourth/fifth outfielder in 2010.

Of the players still with their outfits, Rusty Ryal is leading the way in Venezuela [stay away from the triathlons, Rusty!], posting a line of .291/.355/.545, for a .900 OPS with Leones del Caracas. However, I am a little less impressed with his K:BB ratio, currently sitting at 16:1! Gerardo Parra is doing better in this area (10:5), though his downfall is an almost complete lack of power, with just three extra-base hits, all doubles, in eighteen games. Finally among the hitters, Miguel Montero has turned into a doubles machine for Navegantes del Magallanes: he's only batting .255, but eight of those 13 hits have been two-baggers.

On the pitching front, Josh Ellis has been the busiest of our arms, working 13 games in relief for Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela. He's done not badly, delivering a 3.44 ERA in 16.1 innings, fanning 20 batters and holding them to a .194 average;  however, he has also walked nine men. In Mexico, Leo Rosales has been working for Hermosillo, and they start their first playoff series today, against Navojoa. Rosales has an ERA of 4.50 over 18 innings. Abe Woody is the only other pitcher to have reached 15 innings thus far, also playing in Venezuela with Tigres. However, he hasn't been seen in action since allowing four runs in 0.2 innings on December 22, raising his ERA to 6.00 from 3.77.

My colleague John Sickels has come up with his discussion of our Top 20 Prospects, and I'm sure IHSB and Zephon will chip in with their comments on those rankings before long. Despite the Tommy John surgery, Jarrod Parker is still #1, ahead of Bobby Borchering and Brandon Allen, with Sickels describing the latter as, "probably overhyped this summer. I see him more as a productive slugger than a future All-Star." AJ Pollock and Mike Belfiore round out his choice for our top five, and Sickels concludes that the Diamondbacks "really need to hope that the 2009 draft is as good as they say it is."

Here's an article that's the kind of thing to fuel my love of the game through these cold winter days [Note to AZ readers: cold subject to availability]. Jayson Stark's "Strange but true" feats of the year. There's a number of them which involve Arizona and our players - the 18-inning game against the Padres comes in for some mention. But my favorite is probably this one: "It took 134 years for Arizona's Felipe Lopez to become the first player in history to switch-hit homers from both sides of the plate on Opening Day. It took one inning, in the same game, for Tony Clark to become the second."

Fangraphs.com looks at the arrival of Kelly Johnson, and like the signing a lot, calling him "a perfect breakout candidate. We saw nothing in his plate discipline or isolated power numbers to suggest that 2009 was anything more than a product of poor luck on balls in play." On the other hand, they also try to see what was ailing Chris Young and end up... confused, since "Every statistic is going in a different direction." Overall, they reckon that to justify his place on the field in 2010, "He needs to swing at more pitches in the zone and play better defense." A recovery of Young, even to the 90 OPS+ he produced in 2008, would certainly be helpful. 

Still, I can't leave you on such a note concerning our outfield. So finally, a bold 2010 prediction from Peter Finney, who ppredicts Justin Upton will hit 40 home-runs and lead the National Leaguie in 2010. Here's to that. coming true!