10/20/2003 10:31 PM ET
Uribe trading books for bats
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
Juan Uribe will play for Escogido when the Dominican league opens on Oct. 31 (Harry How/Getty Images)
DENVER -- For the first time in a couple of years, Colorado Rockies shortstop Juan Uribe's winter will not involve books -- just bats and balls.
The past two offseasons, the Rockies worked with Uribe as much on learning English and learning a new culture in hopes of trying to make up for development time he missed. He had just 77 games above Class-A before being called up to the Rockies for good in 2001, and spoke almost no English.
The language and off-field issues have improved, but the Rockies realize it's all for naught if he doesn't overcome the inconsistency that has defined his past two seasons on the field. So the Rockies have told Uribe to go home to the Dominican Republic and play in that country's highly competitive winter league.
Uribe, who will play for Escogido when the Dominican league opens on Oct. 31, will be the most closely watched Rockies player this winter. He'll just be watched from afar.
"I think it's good that he's going to go home," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said before the regular season ended. He's a young man now. Go home. He's got to take care of himself. He's going to play winter ball.
Juan Uribe / SS
"He's got to be responsible and accountable for everything that goes on this winter. I'm not going to walk him through drills in Denver, you know, 'Stay here, do this, do that.' I think it'll be good for him."
Even before the 2003 season began, the Rockies came to the realization that using kid gloves was not the way to work with a kid with a talented glove.
Uribe, 24, played in 87 games and finished with modest numbers -- a .253 batting average, 10 home runs and 33 RBIs after returning from a broken foot that cost him the season's first two months. Those numbers were somewhat deceiving, since much of his success came in September (.304, 4 HR, 9 RBIs).
But at the end, Uribe realized that he needed to get better and was looking forward to heading home and having a big winter.
"I wanted to finish the year strong, and that's what happened," said Uribe, who by the end of the year was diving into interviews without looking for a teammate to translate. "It was like, wow, you know. For next year, you never know. I've got to hustle every time. My manager wanted to see me finish, finish the year strong.
"I'll go to the Dominican. I want to play. I need to play every day. I want to be better than I was this year."
The strong finish was not enough to convince the Rockies to hand him the shortstop job.
Hurdle noticed that Uribe seemed at his best when he had to compete for playing time. When he was first activated, Jose Hernandez was the shortstop and Uribe was shuttling between short and center field before the Rockies traded Hernandez to the Chicago Cubs. Late in the season, the call-up of prospect Clint Barmes seemed to spur Uribe.
Like last season, when the Rockies signed players such as Hernandez to contracts that were considered bargains, considering the past market value of such players, it's possible a more experienced shortstop will come in to compete.
But Hurdle liked the way Uribe reacted to the challenges. Uribe still makes mistakes on simple plays, but he didn't shy away from the intense coaching he received from third-base coach/infield instructor Sandy Alomar on that issue. Uribe also showed up early to work on bunting and situational hitting.
"He has made more adjustments as far as non-play-related things, as far as his work ethic and his ability to show up with a fresh mind every day, and a willingness to go out and get his work done," Hurdle said. "It's been as good as it's ever been.
"I credit that to him growing up, and the work with Sandy on a day-to-day basis. Sandy doesn't put up with any whining, he doesn't take excuses. You're either going to get after it or he's going to work with somebody else. Juan has taken that. There's been no brooding when he hasn't been in the lineup. He had a little bit of pouting sometimes earlier. There have been a lot of advances."
Mexico: Some winter leagues have begun play. Utility man Kit Pellow, whose ability to catch as well as play corner infield and outfield positions could earn him a job, batted .400 with a home run and five RBIs in his first 30 at-bats for Culican of the Mexican Pacific League.
Venezuela: Right-handed pitcher Kip Bouknight, who went 10-7 with a 4.04 ERA at Double-A Tulsa, pitched five strong innings (two hits and two runs) in his first start for Pastora. Right-handed reliever Alex Serrano (4-5, 3.09 at Single-A Visalia) has pitched a scoreless inning for Pastora, which also has infielder Javier Colina (.278, 17 HR, 61 RBIs at Tulsa) and right-hander Pedro Salas (2-7, 5.56 at short-season Tri-Cities). Outfielder Rene Reyes, who got a long look in Colorado at the end of the season after batting .343 at Triple-A Colorado Springs, is with Caracas.
Puerto Rico: Right-handed pitcher Matt Miller, who played briefly with the Rockies and was recently added to the 40-man roster, and left-hander Jonathan Valcarel are ticketed for Bayamon, although the Rockies don't want Vicarel to play because of an arm injury. Also in Puerto Rico will be left-hander Randy Flores (10-8, 4.98 at Triple-A Colorado Springs) for Santurce, and outfielder Melvin Rosario (.234 at Visalia) and right-hander Tomas Santiago (1-4, 4.50 at Tri-Cities) with Mayaguez. Play in Puerto Rico will begin on Nov. 1.
Dominican Republic: Joining Uribe on the Escodido team will be switch-hitting catching prospect J.D. Closser (.283, 13 HRs, 54 RBIs at Tulsa). Infielder Pablo Ozuna, who saw time with the Rockies at the end of the season, will play for Estrellas, along with second baseman Walkill Guance (.241 at Single-A Asheville). Infielder Hector Tena (.211 at Visalia), a cousin of Uribe, will play for Azucareros.