Prospects Emerge In Latin Leagues

Most top prospects don't need to go to any great lengths in the offseason to get the attention of their teams' top officials.

Perhaps a stop in the Arizona Fall League, if anything, and then back home for the rest of the winter to rest and work out on their own is all that's on the winter agenda for many priority prospects.

For minors leaguers further on the fringe, sometimes more has to be done. The Latin American winter leagues, which feature several current and former big leaguers, can provide a proving ground in a competitive environment for lower-profile prospects to stand out. While the winter leagues in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela do have some of the game's top prospects, the ones with the most riding on their performances are often the more borderline prospects, who can change their 2011 Opening Day assignments and organizational opinion with a great winter.

Here's a look at four prospects who aren't household names but are raising their stock in winter ball with strong showings:

1. Aneury Rodriguez, rhp, Rays

The Rockies have shown an eye for finding talented arms in Latin America, and three years ago Rodriguez appeared to be their latest prize. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Rodriguez reached low Class A Asheville in 2007 and struck out 160 batters in 152 innings as a 19-year-old while running his fastball up to 90-94 mph. Traded to the Rays for righthander Jason Hammel prior to spring training in 2009, Rodriguez didn't develop as some scouts had expected, but he might be turning things around.

Rodriguez put together a solid year at Triple-A Durham with a 3.80 ERA in 114 innings and 7.4 strikeouts per nine, but many times he would battle his mechanics, rushing his delivery and not getting on top of the ball. Pitching for Toros del Este in the Dominican League, Rodriguez has been more in control with an ERA of 0.98 in 18 innings through his first three starts, with a 23-4 K-BB mark.

Rodriguez throws an 88-92 mph fastball with fringe secondary offerings, though his high-70s curve and low-80s changeup both flash as average pitches at times. Still just 22, Rodriguez has projection remaining and could develop into a back-end starter with three average pitches or move to the bullpen, where his stuff could play up a tick.

2. Brandon Guyer, of, Cubs

Guyer hitting well in winter ball isn't a huge surprise. After all, the righthanded hitter batted .344/.398/.588 with Double-A Tennessee this year, leading the Southern League in slugging and OPS. Still, Guyer's continued strong performance for Aragua in the Venezuelan League—he was hitting .348/.444/.435 in 81 plate appearances—is more reason to believe he's taken a real step forward since struggling in Double-A in 2009.

A fifth-round pick in 2007 out of Virginia, Guyer is 24 but ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the SL after showing solid all-around tools. Guyer is still refining his plate discipline but he has a quick bat, makes contact and has solid power. His best tool is his plus speed, which combined with good instincts and a strong, accurate arm gives him a good chance to contribute to a big league club in some capacity soon.

3. Darin Mastroianni, of, Blue Jays

Mastroianni turned 25 in August and returned to Double-A New Hampshire for a second straight season. That's not the typical resume of a prospect, and while Mastroianni doesn't have a high ceiling, he does have a chance to carve out a niche on a big league roster.

Mastroianni, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound righthanded batter who hit .301/.390/.398 in 132 games for Double-A New Hampshire, was off to one of the best starts in the Venezuelan League. Mastroianni led the league in steals (nine) and OBP and ranked second in slugging through 95 plate appearances, batting .450/.521/.575.
Mastroianni is a quiet, balanced hitter with a good feel for the strike zone. He can hit and get on base at a high clip, though his power is limited, which would likely cut into his walks against major league pitching unless he develops more pop. With his size and so-so bat speed, that doesn't seem likely, but he has plus speed and good defensive instincts, so he could carve out a big league role as a reserve outfielder.

4. Josh Judy, rhp, Indians

The Indians had several promising arms in their Triple-A Columbus bullpen this year, and Judy is among a group of young relievers who could be helping the Indians in Cleveland as soon as 2011. Judy, a 34th-round pick out of Indiana Tech in 2007, had a 2.68 ERA in 47 inning with Columbus, averaging 10.5 walks and 2.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Pitching for Aguilas in the Dominican League, Judy showed a 90-94 mph fastball with plus sink and had a 2.84 ERA in 61⁄3 innings. Judy, who had yet to walk any of the 25 hitters he faced in the Dominican Republic, complements his fastball with a slider that has hard, late two-plane break. When it's on, the slider can be a swing-and-miss pitch, although it can get sweepy. Judy's two-pitch mix is also difficult for hitters to pick up because of the sneaky deception his delivery provides.