Winter Notebook: Nov. 9




With his stuff being marginal at best, White Sox lefthander Heath Phillips doesn't exactly profile as a pitcher you'd want on the mound in a crucial situation.

But Phillips has added several big games to his resume over the last two seasons, most notably when Davey Johnson gave the 25-year-old the ball on three days' rest against Cuba for Team USA in the Olympic qualifier last year in front of a hostile Havana crowd.

Phillips won 16 games in 2006, then went back to Triple-A Charlotte this past year where he finished 13-7, 4.30 while logging 174 innings for the Knights. The White Sox then called him up to pitch out of the depleted major league bullpen where Phillips again held his own. In six appearances, the 2001 10th-round pick went 1-1, 3.68 with a 2.33 ground out/air out ratio over seven innings.

So far this winter, Phillips was 1-1, 3.13 in 23 innings for Mochis in the Mexican Pacific League. He blew up in his last start against Hermosillo, allowing six earned runs over just 2 2/3 innings of work.

"We're still uncertain of what kind of role he's going to ultimately play," White Sox farm director Alan Regier said. "He's a mercenary. He'll go play the game anywhere, and he's one of those guys who feeds off playing tougher and tougher competition."

That gamer mentality has served Phillips well over the years, as his feel for pitching and exploiting hitters' weaknesses has allowed his pedestrian stuff to play up as he's moved along through the system.

Even Phillips' secondary stuff can't truly be classified as such.

"He's a primary command guy that's not going to blow you out of the water," Regier said. "He might run that cutter in on your hands and then set you up soft away with the changeup to get you to roll over, but this is a guy who has to hit his spots. He has to be a surgeon out there to be successful. He knows that, and that's a big reason why he's had so much success at the Triple-A level."

Opportunity Knocking?

After toiling in the minors for eight seasons, the window of opportunity might finally be opening for White Sox second baseman/outfielder Jason Bourgeois.

A second-round pick of the Rangers in 2000, Bourgeois played himself into an excellent position heading into 2008. Chicago signed Bourgeois to a one-year deal as a six-year minor league free agent last offseason, and he went on to hit .306/.365/.440 in 500 at-bats between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte.

Currently a free agent again and also playing for Mochis in Mexico, the White Sox will need to make a decision to put him on the 40-man roster later this month. If they don't protect him on the 40-man, they could re-sign Bourgeois, which would leave him unprotected in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

In 103 at-bats this winter, Bourgeois was hitting .291/.354/.359 while playing center field almost exclusively--which heightens his profile as a valuable utilityman who hits both lefties and righties well.

"He's a pretty complete player, and there wasn't anything he didn't do for us last year," Regier said. "He's an athletic defender at second base and is very good in center field . . . he could even play shortstop in a pinch if you needed him to."

CARIBBEAN DREAMS

• Culiacan raced out to a 19-5 start in the Mexican Pacific League, aided by an 11-game win streak. The Tomateros feature former big leaguer Karim Garcia and the 14th overall pick in 1995, Reggie Taylor. The two outfielders had combined for eight homers and 28 RBIs through the club's first 24 games. Taylor played all of 2006 at independent Lancaster, then spent all of this past season in the Mexican League, where the 30-year-old batted .345/.420/.562 in 386 at-bats for Tabasco. Culiacan also features several of the top pitchers in the MPL, the most interesting of which is Padres' righthander Rolando Valdez. A 21-year-old converted outfielder, Valdez's best pitch is an above-average changeup. His fastball is anywhere from 87-91 mph, but the development of his breaking ball remains a question mark. In 26 innings, Valdez was 3-1, 3.08 with a 26-10 strikeout-walk ratio.

• Red Sox first baseman Chris Carter was leading the Venezuelan Winter League in hitting, raking at a .402/.430/.610 clip through 82 at-bats for La Guaira. A 2004 17th-round pick of the Diamondbacks, Carter was dealt to Boston in the Willy Mo Pena deal that also sent Nationals righthander Emiliano Fruto to Arizona. He wound up the regular season hitting .316/.377/.504 in 550 at-bats between Triple-A Tucson and Pawtucket. "He's not a very good fielder and more of a DH-type guy," said a scout from an AL club. "He's just one of those guys that has a great feel for hitting. He's got kind of goofy actions and not the greatest body in the world, but he can really hit."

• Dodgers' righthander Jesus Rodriguez was off to a fast start for Obregon in the MPL, putting up 2-0, 2.52 numbers through 25 innings. The Mexican righthander, who turned 22 in September, split the regular season between low Class A Great Lakes and high Class A Inland Empire, going 2-2, 3.05 in 91 innings. Though Rodriguez pitched exclusively out of the bullpen during the season, he's moved to a starting role in Mexico. Rodriguez has good sink on his average fastball, which features screwball-like action, and also throws a softer curveball and has a good feel for his developing changeup.