Braves prospects heating up in winter ball

Braves prospects heating up in winter ball

Opening Day is still several months away, but many young prospects around Major League Baseball, including a strong Braves contingent, are wrapping up another season of winter ball.

Perhaps the most impressive slugging numbers have come from first baseman Barbaro Canizares, who while playing in the Mexican Pacific League (Liga Mexicana del Pacifico) has only continued to produce at the same high level as he did while winning the International League batting title in 2010 at Triple-A Gwinnett. After hitting 13 homers this season for the G-Braves, Canizares has gone deep 10 times in just 49 games for the Obregon squad.

His Gwinnett teammate, outfielder Matt Young, has been similarly productive at the plate, batting .358 through 45 games for Navojoa. Young's average ranks second overall in the league among qualifying hitters. The 28-year-old has also knocked five homers over that span, showing a bit more pop than he did during the Minor League season. In addition to his strong numbers at the dish, Young has continued to post solid numbers on the basepaths, stealing seven bases to this point.

Infielder Diory Hernandez also continues to put up solid numbers wherever he goes, most recently playing for Escogido in the Venezuelan Winter League. Through 31 games, Hernandez has hit .304, with nine of his 35 hits going for extra bases.

Several relievers who could have a shot at impacting Atlanta's bullpen next season have gotten in some quality work, including Cristhian Martinez and Stephen Marek.

Martinez, who got a good taste of the big leagues working out of Atlanta's 'pen for a chunk of last season, has continued to put up strong numbers while pitching for Licey in the Dominican Winter League. The right-hander registered a 1.80 ERA, albeit in a somewhat limited sample of 10 innings for the Tigres.

One of the last remaining remnants of the Mark Teixeira trade, Marek pitched very briefly for Lara in the VWL, but registered an unblemished 3 1/3 innings in three games. His success capped off a strong '10 campaign that saw him take a big leap from Double-A Mississippi to standing on the doorstep of the Majors.

Ortegano, who pitched both as a starter and in relief for Caracas in the VWL, has compiled a 2.84 ERA in 25 1/3 innings this winter. The 23-year-old lefty struck out 20 batters over that span, while walking just five. The results are a positive sign for Ortegano, who struggled down the stretch for the G-Braves in 2010.

Another bright spot among Braves prospects is the work of right-hander Jairo Asencio, who has performed much better in the DWL than his 0-4 record might indicate. Asencio tallied a 2.91 ERA to go with six saves at the back end of Este's bullpen. The 26-year-old hit some rough patches, but tossed three scoreless outings to end his winter stint.

While the DWL wrapped up play on Dec. 21, the regular season for the Venezueluan and Mexican Pacific Leagues will continue on until Dec. 30. The inaugural campaign of the Australian Baseball League, where catcher Mathew Kennelly and left-hander Steven Kent are gaining some additional experience, finishes its regular season Jan. 22.

Bailey Stephens is a reporter for Follow her on Twitter at BStephens27. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.