Infielders Asuaje, Pirela sharp in AFL, Venezuela

Relievers Mateo, Jackson having strong winters

Infielders Asuaje, Pirela sharp in AFL, Venezuela

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

After the Padres traded Jedd Gyorko to the Cardinals for center fielder Jon Jay last week, the immediate heir apparent at second base is Cory Spangenberg.

But two other second basemen to watch are two Venezuelan prospects the Padres acquired earlier this winter -- Carlos Asuaje (as part of the package from the Red Sox for closer Craig Kimbrel) and Jose Pirela (who came in a trade from the Yankees for pitcher Ronald Herrera).

Asuaje, who turned 24 on Nov. 2, was recently named one of the top prospects from the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .329 with a home run and seven RBIs in 18 games for AFL champion Scottsdale.

Asuaje, who can also play third and the outfield, hit .251 in the Double-A Eastern League this year with eight homers and 61 RBIs.

Pirela's RBI double

Pirela, who turned 26 on Nov. 21, is hitting .338 (53-for-157) with a .419 on-base percentage for Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League. Pirela, who also plays third and the outfield, ranks sixth in the league in batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored (30). He has drawn 22 walks against 14 strikeouts.

Pirela hit .255 in 44 games (25-for-98) with a homer and eight RBIs with the Yankees over the past two seasons. Last season, he hit .325 at Triple-A last with three homers and 23 RBIs in 60 games.

Pirela is one of six position players from the Padres' organization spending the winter in Venezuela.

The latest to start playing is Alexi Amarista, who struggled as the Padres' shortstop last season -- hitting .204 with three homers and 30 RBIs in 324 at-bats, eventually losing his starting job. But the 26-year-old infielder was a hero in his native Venezuela last winter.

In 16 late-season games with Anzoategui last winter, Amarista hit .388 to help the Caribes reach the Venezuelan League playoffs. He then helped Anzoategui to the Venezuelan League title and a runner-up finish in the Caribbean World Series.

Amarista returned to Anzoategui this past week and was 4-for-24 with two RBIs in his first seven games as the Caribes began to mount another late-season run.

Other Padres in Venezuela are:

• Catcher Josmil Pinto is off to a 11-for-39 (.282) start with five RBIs in 10 games for Aragua.

• Infielder Daniel Bravo is 8-for-47 in 16 games with Aragua.

• Catcher Jason Hagerty is hitting .241 with a homer and seven RBIs in 16 games with second-half leader Magallanes.

• Center fielder Alberth Martinez is 11-for-67 with 17 runs scored in 41 games for Magallanes.

• Right-hander Luis Diaz is 1-1 with a 1.52 ERA in 10 starts for Caracas. He has allowed 37 hits in 53 1/3 innings with 37 strikeouts and 17 walks for a 1.01 WHIP.

Two relievers who spent time in the Padres' bullpen late last season are going strong in winter ball.

Marcos Mateo is 1-0 with 10 saves and a 0.00 ERA in 15 appearances for Estes in the Dominican Republic. He has 16 strikeouts with one walk and nine hits allowed in 15 1/3 innings while allowing 0.78 runners per inning (WHIP).

Jay Jackson is 1-0 with six saves and a 1.29 ERA in 14 appearances for Obregon in Mexico. Jackson has 22 strikeouts in 14 innings and a 1.14 WHIP.