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Winter Wonders

Compiled by Chris Kline
November 29, 2005

Phillies outfielder Chris Roberson's baseball skills have always lagged behind pure athletic ability during his minor league career. A ninth-round pick of the Phillies in 2001 out of Feather River (Calif.) Junior College, it took Roberson four years just to reach Double-A.

The 2005 season at Reading was a breakout year of sorts for the 26-year-old switch-hitter, as he batted .311-15-70 with 34 stolen bases.

Despite this improvement, the 26-year-old California native believes he needs a lot more baseball experience, which is why he is spending his winter with Hermosillo of the Mexican Pacific League.

"I'm here to get more baseball time," Roberson said, "because I haven't played a lot of baseball. I'm here mainly getting more experience recognizing pitches and being patient at the plate."

"Game smarts" is what Roberson calls this added experience.

"I have a lot more respect for the game," Roberson said. "This helps me a lot, because in past offseasons I just went home and worked out. I'm getting more and more baseball experience. When I think back on the season, I'll be a lot smarter on the game."

Roberson believes that the experience gained from facing the type of pitching he's seeing in Mexico will help him as he continues his slow ascent up the ladder in 2006.

"It should make me a lot more patient," he said. "I'm waiting on my pitch instead of trying to get out there and being too aggressive and getting myself out early. With me batting leadoff now, I've been real patient."

Hermosillo manager Pat Kelly, who manages in the Braves system at Triple-A Richmond during the regular season, believes that Roberson has all the tools to be an everyday player in the big leagues.

"He's got tremendous talent and great tools," Kelly said. "You can see them starting to come together. The last part of his game that's starting to come is his offense. He's being more consistent from both sides of the plate.

"When that offense comes through he's got a chance to be an everyday player. He's a tremendous center fielder with a strong, accurate arm, and can steal some bases."



• The Puerto Rico Winter League came one vote shy of boarding up the league for the season. Citing mounting financial losses and the prospect of more, the ownership in Carolina and Mayagüez, the two teams that played for the title last season, argued that it made more financial success to shut down for the season and try to regroup.

Those efforts were rebuffed when the league's owners approved the 11th-hour sale of the Santurce team, (which played under three different names in two different cities since being moved out of Arecibo in 1999) to a group from Arecibo.

• With no "th" sound in the Spanish language, Los Mochis Cañeros lefthander Heath Phillips (White Sox) has suddenly found his first name changed to "Heat." So far, he's made good on the new moniker, firing heat to the tune of four wins--tied for tops in the Mexican League--and a 3.15 ERA.

• The Navajoa Mayos continue to cruise along in the top spot in the Mexican Pacific League, thanks in no small part to closer Scott Chiasson, who leads the circuit with 10 saves, and outfielder Chris Walker (Cubs), who has stolen a league-best seven bases. Chiasson is a six-year minor league free agent who could use a strong winter after going 0-2, 7.20 with Triple-A Colorado Springs and Double-A Norwich last season.

• Padres outfielder Freddy Guzman is finally off and running in the Dominican League for Estrellas. Guzman, who had Tommy John surgery in spring training and missed all of 2005, was leading the circuit in hitting, batting .372-0-2 in 43 at-bats. Guzman had six steals through his first 16 games.

• Pitching in Venezuela for Oriente, Indians reliever Edward Mujica picked up where he left off during the regular season. The 21-year-old righthander was 0-1, 1.17 for Oriente with a 14-2 strikeout-walk ratio in 15 innings. Mujica split his time at high Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron in 2005, going a combined 3-1, 2.54 with 24 saves.

• Yadier Molina may have caught 114 games for the St. Louis Cardinals this season, but he certainly isn't feeling the effects. The 23-year-old could have taken the winter off, or showed up in December as so many established players do in the Puerto Rico Winter League. Instead, Molina was in his Carolina Giants uniform from Day 1, joining practice the week before the Nov. 11 season opener as the Giants make another run at the title that eluded them last year when Mayagüez upset them in the championship series. "I wanted to," said the youngest of the three Molina brothers. "I feel good and I wanted to join this little family we've established here from the start."

• Braves infielder Wilson Betemit started off his stint for Escogido on fire in the Dominican League. Betemit, who could be in the mix for the shortstop job in the big leagues if Rafael Furcal leaves via free agency, was hitting .353-5-13 in 68 at-bats. Betemit hit .305-4-20 in 246 at-bats for Atlanta during the regular season.

• Indians first baseman Ryan Mulhern may have burst on the scene in 2005, hitting 32 homers combined between high Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron, but he's finding Dominican pitching to be something altogether different. Through 66 at-bats, Mulhern was hitting .227 and struck out 21 times against just three walks.

• White Sox first baseman Casey Rogowski was hitting for average with some heavy gap power for Azucareros in the Dominican. Rogowski, a 13th-round pick in 1999 out of Catholic Central High in Redford, Mich., was hitting .311-1-14 with 10 doubles in 74 at-bats. More importantly, Rogowski showed signs of tightening up his strike zone and pitch recognition with an 8-9 strikeout-walk ratio.

• Orioles righthander Chris Britton was brilliant during the regular season at high Class A Frederick, going 6-0, 1.60 in 79 innings with a strikeout-walk ratio of 110-23. And while the secondary numbers are there (11-5) for La Guaira in the Venezuelan League, Britton is getting hit hard. In eight innings, the 23-year-old allowed six runs in just eight innings and was carrying a 6.48 ERA.

Contributing: Jonathan Clark, Eric Edwards.

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