Worth A Look

Giants sign Texas League batting champ as minor league free agent




The buzz of the offseason likely will stay on the heels of others, of bigger names, of more talented prospects, even though he created quite the ruckus this year in winning the Texas League batting title.

But just when it seemed safe to assume the winter would quiet down around third baseman Jesus Guzman comes this line next to his name out of the Venezuelan League: .371/.464/.661.

How about 11 home runs, 15 doubles and 58 RBIs? All in 186 at-bats?

For the Giants, who recently signed Guzman to a minor league deal then watched him skate through the Rule 5 draft, they'll certainly sink their teeth into those stats while kicking the tires on whether he can be a human tourniquet at the hot corner.

He's already got a big league invite.

"He's certainly shown promise with the bat the last couple of years," Giants scouting director Bobby Evans said, but then offered a bit of caution. "I'll admit, our information from our scouts is very positive. But sometimes you've got to see him first hand."

Not due to turn 25 until next June, Guzman already has traveled down a well-worn path usually congested by older veterans who then veered back to prospect status.

It's been an odd journey. The Mariners  in 2007 demoted him to high Class A after two mediocre years at Double-A San Antonio in which he hit no better than .258 either season. He recorded 18 doubles and nine home runs both years.

Back in the California League for '07, Guzman batted .301/.370/.539 for High Desert, and his power began to show as he hit 25 home runs and drove in 112.

Oakland signed Guzman as a minor league free agent for 2008, and he proved that he wasn't a one-hit wonder. This past season, Guzman hit .364/.419/.500 with 14 home runs, 21 doubles and 76 RBIs at Midland, although he struggled in a three-week, 59 at-bat audition at Triple-A Sacramento.

He then chose to sign with the Giants rather than return to the A's system.

"We're kind of open-minded with a player like this," Evans said. "We don't know exactly what has been the difference. We had interest in him after '07, yet we ended up not trying to sign him. But with his success this year, we thought, 'Let's bring him in here.' We're willing to give him every opportunity to show us."

The Giants' interst in Guzman is understandable because they have no real solution at the hot corner in the majors and could be willing to live with his so-so defense. Jose Castillo and Rich Aurilia split time at third in 2008, but Aurilia is swimming in free agent waters and Castillo is an Astro.

The Giants have Ryan Rohlinger, a sixth-round pick in 2006, on the 40-man. But they had to be disappointed with his time in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit a meager .238/.304/.349. He was 3-for-32 in a six-week stay in the majors this year after moving from high Class A San Jose to Double-A Connecticut.

DOMINICAN LEAGUE

• Susumi Kawai, a lefthander from Japan, worked out for some clubs while pitching in the Dominican League, where the free agent was 2-2, 4.41 with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks in his first 35 innings for Escogido.

He is 28, but a National League scout said he looked slightly out of shape. Kawai is listed at 5-foot-8 and 158 pounds. The scout said his fastball was below-average, registering roughly 87-88 mph and had trouble commanding it.

"He looked not up to par. He was a little out of conditioning," the scout said. "His curveball looked good. But just by being out of conditioning he didn't have his control. But a times it had real good rotation and real good bite."

PUERTO RICAN LEAGUE

• When the Cardinals announced plans to send Bryan Anderson to the Puerto Rican League, they also were excited to talk about righthander P.J. Walters.

Walters, an 11th-round pick from South Alabama in 2006 whose got a squirrelly changeup, will be in his protection year next season. He already has accumulated more than 207 innings in the high minors, with 18 wins and a 3.44 ERA in the past season and a half in Double-A and Triple-A.

"My command's got to get a little better than it was, and it has since I got here," said the 23-year-old Walters, who had 18 strikeouts and four walks in his first 152⁄3 innings while pitching for Carolina. "(At Memphis), I had too many walks and that led to a big inning."

Walters struck out 34 and issued only eight walks in 36 innings at Double-A Springfield this year, then went 9-4, 4.87 in 122 innings at Triple-A Memphis, where he had 122 strikeouts and 62 walks.