As mentioned, the Puerto Rican League was full of more veterans than prospects in its return, but it still had plenty of storylines.. Consider:
IAN KENNEDY, RHP, YANKEES
Kennedy had as bad a year in 2008 as he had in 2007, when he shot through three minor league levels and finished his first full pro season in the major leagues. In 2008, he began the year in the Yankees rotation and finished it in the doghouse, posting an 0-4, 8.17 mark.
Sent to Puerto Rico in an attempt to salvage something of his season, Kennedy went 2-2, 1.56 in 34 2/3 innings. He also struck out 31 and issued 12 walks.
"We’re very happy with it," Yankees farm director Mark Newman said, noting that Kennedy made progress in throwing his curveball for strikes. "He excelled at that and pitched well every time out. His fastball command also was very good, better than it was in the regular season." And then Newman added this, "We’re hoping to see the Ian Kennedy that pitched so well in ’07."
Kennedy has solid stuff but must have good command to survive, and a strained lat muscle hindered him in May, when he went on the disabled list. He returned to the majors on Aug. 8 but lasted just two innings against the Angels. He showed signs that his stuff and command had returned in Puerto Rico.
"His curveball, he was throwing it for strikes," an AL scout confirmed. "It was good with rotation."
IVAN DEJESUS JR., SS, Dodgers
De Jesus displayed some of his tools in the Arizona Fall League but also experienced his share of hiccups defensively, committing nine errors in 16 games.
Defensively, he was much better in Puerto Rico, committing just six errors in 39 games. He also hit much better, with a line of .309/.354/.497. His line featured 15 extra-base hits, including five home runs and 16 RBIs. One observer called the 21-year-old the best position player in the league.
"He’s balanced at the plate and has a very good eye," the AL scout said. "He rarely swung at a bad pitch. I think he’s going to hit for average wherever he goes."
De Jesus also got in a few games at second base but needs work on the pivot on turning a double play, the scout said.
Of course, De Jesus’ time came on the heels of a terrific year at Double-A Jacksonville, where he hit .324/.419/.423 with seven home runs, 21 doubles and drove in 58.
DILLON GEE, RHP, Mets
The Mets drafted Gee in the 21st round in 2007 out of Texas-Arlington, and the 6-foot-1 righthander enjoyed a nice 2008 season before opening more eyes in Puerto Rico.
He went 4-0, 2.22 in 48 2/3 innings, finishing third in the circuit in ERA. He struck out 43 and issued 13 walks as he showed a 92-93 mph fastball and a slider with a short break.
"I know Ian Kennedy is a bigger prospect, but I liked Gee more in Puerto Rico," an AL scout said.
In 2008, Gee was 10-6, 2.92 with 114 strikeouts and 24 walks in 154 1/3 innings as he pitched for high Class A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. He’s slated to return to Binghamton in 2009.
BRYAN ANDERSON, C, Cardinals
The Cardinals dispatched Anderson, 22, to Puerto Rico to shadow Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina. However, Anderson struggled at the plate, batting .240/.406/.240 (6-for-25) and returned to the States just before Thanksgiving.
The Cardinals were pleased with the work he put in with Molina. But one scout questioned his defense.
"The weird thing about him was he didn’t play every day," the scout said. "Usually Americans play a lot. But he was struggling defensively. He needs more work, especially with throwing. But I know he can hit."
EDUARDO MORLAN, RHP, Brewers
The Brewers popped Morlan in the Rule 5 after the righthander pitched for Double-A Montgomery (Rays) in 2008, when he struck out 45 and issued 15 walks in 47 innings.
Morlan continued to have success in Puerto Rico as the 22-year-old Cuban struck out 17 and issued five walks in 16 2/3 innings. He also converted three of five save opportunities.
But . . .
"He was a power pitcher in high school, throwing 94-96, but he doesn’t have the power like he had then. Now he’s 88-91," an AL scout said. "The slider, it’s inconsistent but when it’s good, it’s good."
JORGE PADILLA, OF, Nationals
Padilla, 29, hit .317/.400/.399 with 21 extra-base hits, including five home runs, for the Nationals’ Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Columbus affiliates last season. He then hit .317/.421/.612 with 19 extra-base hits, including 10 home runs and 44 RBIs, in 139 at-bats in Puerto Rico.
The righthanded hitter led the league in home runs, RBIs and slugging. A third-round pick in 1998 of the Phillies out of Florida Air Academy High in Melbourne, Fla., Padilla once ranked as high as No. 6 in the Phillies’ top prospect list, following the 2001 season. He has hit .282/.346/.408 in 1,070 minor league games.
"If somebody gives him a chance, he could maybe be a fourth or fifth outfielder," an AL scout said. "He’s very aggressive, and his power has developed. At the beginning of his career, he didn’t show that much power."